Rise of the Machines – Robotic Automation and the Modern Paint Factory 1

By now it should be obvious that machines and robots are rapidly integrating into many facets of daily  life.  From robots working on distribution systems in warehouses for online retailers like Amazon.com to robotic painters like we’ve detailed here at Rise of the Machines, it seems that more and more services and tasks are being done 100% by machines.

Clearly, there is good reason to automate some processes with machines. From decreased cost to increased reliability to increased safety, the reasons for replacing humans with robots are multiple. That said, automating a process isn’t always a good idea. In fact, without the proper balance between human workflow and robotic processes, a company can quickly find itself shrinking for the wrong reasons instead of growing for the right ones.  And as in any industry, it is important for modern paint professionals and modern paint factories to understand the difference between increasing value through automation and simply creating more work for your team.

Robotic painting in an automotive factory.

A robot painting rearview mirror cases in an automotive factory. Image courtesy of Gawker.

As detailed here by Automation Anywhere, replacing a process with something standardized and automated can sometimes backfire if the process is not ripe for automation.  As a point of reference, the best tasks for automation are those that need to be repeated often and can be done more efficiently by a robot then by a human.

Repeatability is fairly self-explanatory: it doesn’t make sense to implement a robotic system that must be reprogrammed and recalibrated every time there is a new job for it to perform.  Identifying paint processes that your team is currently performing that are repeated should not be difficult. Are you asked to paint the same type of furniture over and over?   Are the same class of cars – sedans, for example – making up a large amount of the paint work you are performing?  Tasks that are regularly repeated are perfect for automation.

Efficiency is a little more complex. Efficiency can be driven by a number of quantifiable metrics including speed, stamina, accuracy, dexterity or precision, and cost. To better understand how this applies to the modern paint industry, here are a few examples of increased efficiency in painting via robotic automation:

  • Increased Speed – Even with the advent of paint sprayers and rollers, robots are still able to complete many large scale paint jobs faster than their human counterparts.  Robotic painters can move swiftly to cover large areas that a human might not be able to access without a ladder or scaffolding.
  • Prolonged stamina and endurance  – Robots don’t need to take vacation or take a lunch break.  They don’t get sick and any maintenance required can be scheduled well ahead of time. As a result, a robot can effectively paint on an assembly line around the clock, never even pausing for a breath of fresh air.
  • Increased accuracy – Part of the beauty of painting is the human touch that accompanies the work.  Unfortunately, in professional industrial painting there is little room for human interpretation and no room for human error.  Robots are able to paint accurately in ways that humans cannot.  For example, a robot can be calibrated to apply the same coating thickness in a way that a human would not be able to replicate.
  • Enhanced dexterity or precision – While humans are certainly capable of painting fine lines, robots can paint fine lines in a repeatable way.  Consider an automobile painting facility; a robot can recreate the same thin stripe down the sides of a car over and over.  A human painting the same lines would no doubt have at least a tiny bit of variance between each new line.
  • Decreased cost or increased value – Machines can be calibrated to use only the exact amount of paint required for a job.  As a result, there is substantially less waste on paint jobs where a robot has been used to apply the coating.   Whereas a human may use too much paint and apply too thick of a coat, a robot performing the paint task can be set to use the exact amount necessary for the job and not a drop more.

 

So what’s left for the modern paint professional?  If robotic automation is taking over so much of the paint industry, what use is there for humans in the process at all?   Well, did you notice how each of the measurables listed above lacks any mention of interpersonal connection or communication?   Despite acknowledging the impact of machines and robots in the fast-changing 21st century, most people still prefer working with a human on tasks that are important to them. And as repeatability and efficiency are the growing hallmarks of paint robotics, intelligence and communication must be the cornerstones of a professional paint business. Painters have knowledge and understanding that can never be transferred to a machine.  Most clients aren’t paying for just a simple paint job, but rather for the trust that the paint professional instills in them that the work, whether its performed by man or machine, will be done correctly and at a fair price.

Furthermore, as the video above shows, there are still plenty of places where humans and machines must work side by side to achieve the paint results necessary. Looking at robotics as replacing the modern paint professional is a mistake; robotic painters and robotic automation are a complement to the work being done by professional painters.

Automated artwork done by robot.

Precision paint work performed by a machine. Image courtesy of The Creators Project

Automating simply for the sake of automating is rarely a good decision.  We recommend extensive planning if you are considering removing tasks from workers and placing those tasks in the “hands” of a robot.  Automation and process systems should be treated as a tool, not as the end-result of a paint job.  Can some work be done more efficiently with robotics? Absolutely. But a professional paint company that offers its clients a wide range of solutions that fit into a wide variety of customer needs will always have the advantage over companies that don’t embrace the new tools – including robots – available to them.

Click here to learn more about emerging robotic technology in the professional paint sector!

One comment

  1. Pingback: Paint Surface Preparation at the Harley Davidson Factory | BYK | Motorcycle Sanding and Painting

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