Painting robot basics: A 101 primer for manufacturers

July 13, 2023
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What are Painting robots and how do they work?

So what exactly are Painting robots and how do they work? Painting robots are automated machines designed to apply paint in a manufacturing setting. They generally consist of a robotic arm, an end-effector which in this case would be a paint applicator like a spray gun or roller and programming that controls their movement.

The robotic arm moves the paint applicator along the surfaces of parts as directed by the programming. Many painting robots operate on a pre-programmed path to coat parts, while others use sensors and vision systems to dynamically apply paint. The key steps in how they work are:

  1. Parts are loaded into the work area, usually via a conveyor belt or by a different robotic arm equipped with a gripper (a robot with a “hand”). Humans may also load parts.
  2. The robot moves into position over the part and begins applying paint using its applicator. It may need to be reloaded with paint periodically.
  3. The programming guides the robot arm through the proper painting path to coat the entire surface of the part evenly. It controls the speed, angle, and other parameters to achieve an optimal coat.
  4. Once done, the part is unloaded and the process repeats.

The benefits of automated robotic painting

Introducing robotic painting to your factory comes with some major benefits.

  • Cost savings. Automated painting reduces overhead costs like labor, training, and PPE. Robots don’t require breaks or employment costs. You’ll also save on wasted paint and thinner since robotic sprayers are extremely precise.
  • Consistent quality. Robotic sprayers produce an even, consistent coat of paint every time. They ensure the right amount of paint is applied, preventing drips, sags and other imperfections. Parts are painted the exact same way each time too, so you get uniform, high-quality results.
  • Increased productivity. Robotic painters work continuously without fatigue, so they can operate 24 hours a day if needed. They paint faster and more efficiently than humans as well. All this adds up to higher throughput and greater productivity.
  • Safer working conditions. Automated painting removes workers from hazardous environments, reducing exposure to toxic fumes, overspray and other safety risks. This creates a safer, healthier workplace for your employees.
  • Flexibility. Robotic sprayers can be reprogrammed to paint a variety of parts in different sizes, shapes and configurations. They handle frequent changeovers and short production runs with ease. Some systems even allow you to store multiple paint programs for fast changeovers. Ideal for high-mix shops.

Making the switch to automated painting does require an initial investment, but the long-term benefits to your bottom line and work environment can make it well worth the cost. For manufacturers looking to improve productivity, quality and safety, robotic spray painting is the obvious choice.

Types of Painting robots: Spraying, Dipping, and more

Spray Painting robots

The most common type of Painting robots are spray painting robots. These robots are equipped with spray guns to apply paint, primer, sealant or clear coat. They provide consistent, high-quality finishes without fatigue.

Dipping robots

For small parts that require total, even coatings, dipping robots may be ideal. These robots repeatedly dip parts into paint, coating or other chemicals. They then remove and hang the parts to dry. Dipping robots are excellent for applying protective or decorative coatings to complex parts.

Powder Coating robots

Powder coating robots apply powder coatings using electrostatic spray guns. They provide an evenly coated, durable finish. Powder coating robots are useful for coating parts where liquid coatings may be difficult to apply or cure. They produce little hazardous waste since overspray can be recovered and reused.

Robotic Paint stripping

Some robots are designed specifically for removing existing coatings from parts in an automated paint-stripping system. These robots manipulate the parts through multi-stage processes involving chemical stripping, abrasive blasting and rinsing. Robotic paint stripping helps minimize health and safety risks to workers while still efficiently removing coatings.

Key considerations for implementing Robotic painting

Once you’ve decided to implement robotic painting in your factory, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind. The transition will impact your operations, so thoughtful planning and preparation are important.

Existing processes

How will introducing Painting robots affect your current painting processes and workflow? They may replace human painters entirely or work alongside them. Review your existing methods and determine how robots can improve efficiency, quality, and workplace safety. You’ll need to reconfigure the paint line and stations to accommodate the robots.

Space requirements

Painting robots and their equipment require adequate floor space for movement, manipulation, and task completion. They also need access to power sources and compressed air. Ensure you have enough space for the robots to operate (we generally advise a minimum of 4x6), for loading and unloading parts, and for technicians to program and maintain the equipment. Remember, the robot arm will be powered separately from the paint applicator.

Programming & testing

Robotic painting systems must be extensively programmed and tested before going into production. Some robots require a robotics specialist to create a painting routine, while others come with a no-code programming interface allowing your untrained technicians to easily create new automations for the robot. Programming and testing require time and resources, so plan for longer lead times when first implementing a robotic painting system.

Maintenance

While robotic painting will likely reduce costs long-term, the equipment requires ongoing maintenance to function properly. Plan for regular service of the robots, conveyance equipment, paint applicators, and other components. Technicians will need to inspect for signs of wear and perform preventative maintenance to minimize downtime. Be prepared to invest in ongoing maintenance, service contracts, replacement parts, and occasional repairs.

With some adjustments, robotic painting can greatly benefit your operations. Keeping these key considerations in mind will help ensure a smooth transition and maximize the value these advanced systems can provide. By understanding how they will integrate with your existing processes, providing adequate space and resources, allowing time for proper programming and testing, and planning for ongoing maintenance, you'll be well on your way to leveraging robotic painting in your facility.

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Getting started with Painting robots: Implementation and training tips

Choose your end-effector wisely

While a Six-Axis robot arm is a go-to for spray painting applications, you should make sure to spend time comparing the right end-effector for your robot. Look for features like automatic gun cleaners, and built-in, pre-programmed spray patterns. Compare specifications like paint capacity, spray gun types, and optional features across different brands and models. Make sure the end-effector can be directly controlled via your robot’s programming interface. 

Prepare your facility

Set up containment areas for overspray, proper ventilation, and any utility hookups the robots will require. You’ll need ample space for the robots to maneuver. Remove any obstructions or tripping hazards in the robot’s path. Provide eyewash stations and personal protective equipment for workers in the vicinity of the robotic painting cell.

Program and test

Work with the robot manufacturers or a third-party integrator to program your new robots. They can program precise spray patterns, arm movements, and conveyor tracking tailored to your specific products. If your production line is high-mix, you may want to invest in a full-time robot specialist or find a robot with no-code programming abilities. Thoroughly test the robots using a simulation mode or with water instead of paint at first. Check that all functions are operating properly and make any necessary adjustments before putting them into production.

Train your crew

Provide comprehensive training for all personnel who will operate, program or maintain the painting robots. Covering safety procedures, how to start up and shut down the robots, troubleshooting common errors, and basic programming. Schedule refresher training periodically and additional training when introducing new robot models or software upgrades. With the proper implementation and training, robotic painting can be a highly efficient and safe manufacturing process. But as with any industrial equipment, education and oversight are keys to success.

Conclusion

And there you have it—everything you need to know to get started with robotic painting in your factory. While the initial investment may seem high, many manufacturers find that robotic painting systems pay for themselves within just a couple of years. The transition may require some adjustments, but robotic painting is poised to revolutionize manufacturing. Why not let it revolutionize your factory? The possibilities are as unlimited as a painter's palette!

Next steps

Interested in bringing robotic painting 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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