Choosing the right robot for painting applications

July 13, 2023
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Types of Painting robots: Articulated, SCARA, Cartesian, and Collaborative

Choosing a type of robot is the first step in automating a painting process.  The one that’s right for your production line depends on factors like the size and shape of the parts you need to coat, how fast you need to apply paint, and your budget.

Articulated robots, most commonly Six-Axis robot arms, are versatile and ideal for painting large or complex parts. Their multiple joints and rotary axes give them a wide range of motion so they can paint hard-to-reach areas. However, they tend to be the most expensive type of robot.

SCARA (Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm) robots are more affordable and compact. They’re best for simple painting tasks on small to medium-sized parts with flat or only slightly curved surfaces. While SCARA robots can’t handle as much weight or reach as far as articulated robots, their streamlined design means they work fast and precisely.

If you’re on a tight budget, consider a Cartesian robot. These simple but sturdy robots move along three linear axes (X, Y, and Z) and require little programming, so they’re ideal for basic painting large flat parts in simple strokes (such as roller painting). Though limited in motion, Cartesian robots are low-maintenance and have minimal upfront costs.

Collaborative Painting robots are the latest innovation. They’re designed to work safely alongside human workers, so they don’t require cages or barriers. Collaborative robots tend to be more expensive than traditional Industrial robots but offer greater flexibility.

No matter which type of robot you choose, be sure to select the proper end-effector (like a spray gun applicator) and programming to suit your specific painting needs. With the right equipment and setup, robot painters can achieve higher quality, consistency, and productivity than human workers alone.

What painting tasks can robots perform?

When it comes to painting applications, robots can handle a variety of tasks. Here are some of the major ones:

  • Automotive painting: Robots are widely used to spray paint vehicle bodies and parts. They can apply primer, base coat, and clear coat efficiently and consistently. The most common end-effectors (the tool attached to the robot) for this are rotary atomizers, which spin at high speeds to apply an even coat.
  • Industrial coating: Robots are also employed for applying protective or decorative coatings to fabricated metal products, plastics, wood, and other materials. Tasks include powder coating, electrocoating, and conventional liquid spray coating. The end-effectors depend on the coating method, e.g. powder coating uses a powder spray gun.
  • Surface finishing: Some robots can buff, polish, sand, or grind surfaces to prepare them for painting or just to improve appearance. The required end-effectors are spinning abrasive pads, sanding disks, or polishing wheels.

When determining if a robot is right for your painting needs, consider the shape and size of the parts, required finish quality, and production volume. Major manufacturers of Paint robots include FANUC, ABB, KUKA, Yaskawa, and Standard Bots.

With the latest robot models, painting has become an automated process that increases productivity and minimizes environmental impact. The future is bright for the collaboration between humans and machines in industrial coating applications.

End-effectors and tooling for Paint robots

The term ‘end-effector’ refers to the tool attached to a robot. You may also hear the colloquial term “gripper” or the painting-specific term “paint applicator”.

Spray guns

The most common end-effector for Paint robots is the spray gun. These can be electrostatic, HVLP (high volume low pressure), or air spray guns. Electrostatic spray guns apply an electric charge to the paint particles, which then adhere better to the grounded workpiece. HVLP spray guns use high-volume, low-pressure air to apply paint more efficiently with less overspray. Air spray guns utilize compressed air to atomize and spray the paint.

For most industrial painting applications, spray guns allow the robot to achieve a high-quality, uniform finish. They do require periodic cleaning and maintenance to prevent clogs and ensure an even spray pattern. The type of spray gun used will depend on the specific paint and application requirements.

Rotating atomizers

Rotating or spinning atomizers, also called rotary atomizers, are end-effectors which utilize centrifugal force to break up paint into very fine droplets. They can achieve a smoother, more consistent finish than spray guns and reduce overspray by up to 95%. However, they require paint with a viscosity in a certain range to work properly. Rotating atomizers are often used for high-quality automotive and wood finishing applications where surface finish is critical.

Roller applicators

For some painting tasks, rollers can be a good option and work well with simpler robots like Cartesian robots. Roller applicators allow the robot to dip into a paint tray and then apply the paint to large, flat surfaces using a roller. This works well for walls, doors, and other areas where small imperfections in the finish are acceptable. Rollers reduce paint waste since they do not produce overspray like spray guns. However, they may require multiple passes of the robot to achieve an even coat and can only be used with paints of suitable viscosity for rolling.

In summary, the end-effector you choose for your Paint robot should match the specific requirements of your application and work with the types of paint you need to apply. Conducting tests with different options on your parts is the best way to determine the optimal solution.

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Major manufacturers of Paint robots

ABB

ABB is a leading Swiss robotics company which manufactures a wide range of industrial robots, including those designed for painting applications. Their Painting robots include the IRB 5500, IRB 6700, and IRB 7600 models, which can handle various paint gun configurations and spray painting techniques.

FANUC

FANUC is one of the largest robotics companies in the world, based out of Japan, and produces highly popular Paint robots like the P-200, P-250, and P-350 series. These robots are ideal for automotive painting lines and aerospace applications that require a high degree of precision and durability.

Yaskawa Motoman

Yaskawa Motoman specializes in manufacturing industrial robot arms, including several models well-suited for paint spraying and coating. Their DX100, DX200, and larger HP20D robots are fast, flexible, and can handle multiple paint guns for a variety of painting techniques. They are a popular, trusted brand for many major automotive and industrial manufacturers.

Standard Bots

Standard Bots are a US-based robotics company, manufacturing six-axis robot painting arms out of their facility in New York. While Standard Bots don’t produce SCARA or Cartesian robots, their RO1 Collaborative robot arm is faster and considerably less expensive than competitors in this space.

Considerations when selecting a Paint robot

Type of robot

The type of Paint robot you choose depends on the specifics of your application. Articulated robots, also known as Six-Axis, jointed arms or anthropomorphic robots, are very flexible and can reach around obstacles. They excel at painting large products with complex geometries. Cartesian (or “Gantry”) robots move in straight lines, so they’re good for painting flat surfaces or in lines. SCARA robots have a horizontal arm with vertical joints that can make quick, precise moves, ideal for small parts or electronic components.

Available end-effectors

The end-effector, or “hand” of the robot, must be suited to your paint or coating material. Air spray guns can apply a wide range of coatings but overspray is hard to contain. Airless spray guns and high volume low pressure (HVLP) spray guns reduce overspray while still applying coatings evenly. For precision work, consider a roller, brush or inkjet-style applicator. Ensure the end-effector you choose is compatible with your robot.

Paint viscosity and type

Consider the viscosity, or thickness, of your paint or coating, as some end-effectors can only handle low- to medium-viscosity materials. Water- or solvent-based paints typically work with more end-effectors types than high-solids or abrasive coatings. Make sure the robot and end-effector are properly ventilated and grounded for your coating.

Programming and integration

Some Paint robots allow inline programming, where you manually move the arm through the required motions, recording the movements to be repeated. Others require coding by a robotics specialist. The robots with the best blend of user-friendliness and flexibility come with software which lets you program the robot's movements on a computer without prior coding knowledge. How easily can the robot integrate into your existing production line? Check if it uses standard relay interfaces to communicate with your other equipment.

Manufacturer support

Look for a reputable robotics company that provides strong customer support. They should offer operator training, help configuring the robot for your needs, and continued service after installation. You’ll also want to ensure the company is local enough to be able to deliver spare parts quickly when required and minimize downtime.

Choosing the right Paint robot for your needs will ensure high quality, consistent results and a good return on your investment. Analyzing the factors that matter most to your specific painting application will help guide you to the optimal robot for the job.

Conclusion

So there you have it, a quick rundown of the robot types and options out there for your industrial painting needs. Whether you need a simple spray gun mount or a fully automated multi-axis system with conveyors and multiple types of industrial coating, there’s a robot ready to get the job done. Do some research on your specific application and production requirements, check out reviews of different brands, and make sure you understand the pros, cons and costs of each option. The right Paint robot is out there, you just have to find the one that fits your needs and budget. With the variety of robots available today, you can achieve great results and maximize efficiency. So good luck finding your new paintbot partner in crime!

Next steps

Interested in bringing a Painting robot to your own business? RO1 by Standard Bots is the best choice for factories large and small:

  1. Affordable: RO1 is the most affordable robotic arm in its class, starting at almost half the price of incumbent competitors. 
  2. Powerful: RO1 is faster and more precise than competitors, despite having the highest payload capacity in its class at 18 kg.
  3. Integrated: RO1 comes equipped with universal M8 4 and 8-pin connectors, ready to plug and play with almost any paint applicator on the market.

Speak to our solutions team today to organize a free, 30-day onsite trial and get expert advice on everything you need to deploy your first robot.

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