Why automate your paint booth?
Manufacturing automation is a big – and growing – business. The number of industrial painting robots sold worldwide is expected to reach 400,000 machines a year by 2018, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). The IFR predicts that global sales will grow at a year-over-year average rate of 15%, with the big regional driver being China, which is already the largest and fastest-growing robotics market in the world, with sales in 2014 being 56% higher than in 2013. The automotive and electronics sectors are expected to continue to dominate the industrial robotics sector, together accounting for 64% of the market.
What is Driving the Paint Automation Trend?
Connectivity. There is a strong shift in most industries towards connected technologies, such as smart sensors, vision systems, data analytics software and cloud computing. These are forming the building blocks of the connected manufacturing facility and the smart supply chain.
Integration. Tight integration between the factory floor and enterprise business systems improves manufacturing efficiency and flexibility, and opens the door to the smart factory. As machine-to-machine (M2M) learning grows, the possibilities for integrated manufacturing processes increases.
Analytics. The increasing availability of Cloud-based software allows manufacturers to achieve advanced process control and optimization, condition monitoring and predictive analytics. These tools provide real-time data of the production facilities.
Industrial wireless. The growing demand for IoT technologies is driving the implementation of industrial wireless and overcoming previous, wired, limitations. Wireless sensors and IoT devices are becoming increasingly more affordable and advances in cyber security are making wireless a more viable option.
Advantages of Painting Automation
Cost. Automation and robotic technology is often considered to be too expensive, but the cost of automation is decreasing every year. The initial investment can still be large, but automating a finishing process will increase output while reducing costs and providing benefits for years to come. Overall, developing a long-term plan is essential for manufacturers looking to achieve significant bottom-line savings. Operating with the most energy-efficient equipment available may provide the largest savings, but no opportunity is too small, because it all adds up.
Quality. To stay competitive, manufacturers can’t afford to have variation in product quality, especially when it comes to painting. Robots can ensure that the spray gun parameters and spraying motion is exactly the same every time, which increases quality. Even the most skilled painters can’t ensure that type of consistency and precision for each part. Better consistency means less wasted material and higher throughout capabilities.
Technology. Equipment engineered to offer precise mixing and spraying can improve quality, reduce waste and VOCs and increase overall productivity. Accurate mixing and ratio assurance ensure two-component materials are mixed on-demand and at the correct ratio for optimal material performance. Electronic 2K systems have a track record for paying for themselves over time due to savings in waste and time. Using the right spray applicator can also reduce waste and improve overall finish quality.
Less waste. Paint automation can reduce material consumption by up to 30%, thanks to the accuracy of robots. Add a plural component proportioner like Graco’s ProMix PD2K, which mixes material close to the gun, and waste can be reduced even more. If an electrostatic spray applicator, designed to offer high spray performance, efficiency and spray quality, is added to the mix, transfer efficiency increases, and material waste falls.
Flexibility. Robots can easily be reprogrammed to do new jobs. Why create a new fixture when a robot can make adjustments on the fly? This flexibility not only saves time during change-overs, it saves money too. Automation also provides flexibility to change materials and colors more frequently, allowing you to simplify your production planning.
Workforce. Robots don’t punch out when the whistle blows and they don’t care if they have to work 24/7. In fact, they can do the work of three employees (three shifts at eight hours per day). For this reason, labor and overhead are usually the largest drivers of savings. Robots benefit the workforce in other ways, like doing repetitive tasks, which reduces on-the-job injuries and job dissatisfaction. Robots can also remove people from dangerous jobs, allowing them to focus on skilled labor jobs that require decision-making and judgment.
Which configuration to choose?
Once you have calculated the value of automation on your paint line, the next step is to determine the machine configuration that best suits your specific application. There are five basic industrial paint automation configurations.
- Single station can be semi-automatic, automatic, or robotic, and is primarily used for operations that are difficult to accomplish manually. A single station can be simple, low cost and offer good uptime, but its only automates a small number of operations, and often requires additional labor.
- Continuous machines operate without stopping and perform by moving with the work piece. Continuous machines lend themselves to very high volume and are mostly dedicated to a particular part. They are durable and quiet, but are fairly complex, which is reflected in their price.
- Synchronous machines utilize a mechanism whereby all work pieces are moved together to sequential workstations. They are often preferred when automating relatively high volumes with little changeover, or with large lot sizes. They offer a relatively low cost with high speed, and the possibility to increase throughput through multiple tooling. However, production is limited to the slowest operation in the sequence.
- Non-synchronous machines use individual workstations that operate independently. They are more suited to higher mix, lower volume automation projects and the production rate is generally slower than synchronous. However, the throughput can be increased by using multiple parts per pallet combined with multiple tooling. Uptime is usually higher than the synchronous alternative due to the independent workstations, and these machines often incorporate programmable changeover in order to accommodate high mix. A key advantage of non-synchronous machines is flexibility; the equipment is modular so stations can be added, removed or rearranged.
- Hybrid industrial automation systems combine synchronous and non-synchronous machines. With this arrangement, the high speed, throughput and accuracy of a synchronous system can be combined with the flexibility and high uptime of a non-synchronous system. The disadvantage is that this is usually the most expensive solution, and it has a large system footprint.
Considerations of Automated Paint Booths
While automation can increase manufacturing competitively, there are a few things to consider before investing. Small operation with low production quantities and large initial investment of machine automation might not be economical. Operations with high-volume parts, labor-intensive parts, or parts with similar configurations are a great place to use paint automation as these areas reduce the investment related to fixtures and spray path programming.
The industrial automation being developed today allows for a lot more flexibility compared to what was available in the past. As with any significant manufacturing change, benefits and risks should be evaluated carefully.
Keys to Successful Implementation
Before deciding to implement a finishing automation system, it’s essential to lay the groundwork. This involves researching and contacting multiple vendors to review your specific application, understanding and mapping the process accurately. It is also vital to make accurate cost comparisons to your current production. Short and long term risks should be clearly identified and continually mitigated. Deciding on the right time to start an automation project is important selecting the right equipment.
All the benefits need to be carefully calculated in terms of cost, quality, delivery, workforce and safety. At the same time, the risks of not moving to automation need to be considered, such as increasing global competition, healthcare costs, liability and safety. Automation should be approached as a long-term strategic decision and a great opportunity to redesign your process and explore your entire value stream. For this, a comprehensive automation strategy is necessary.
Automation is the future of manufacturing. It has never been easier or less expensive to automate – and it is only getting better.