Automation for Liquid Finishing: Questions & Answers

Once you’ve decided to automate or use painting robots, asking the right questions sets the stage for a successful move from manual to automated processes.

I’m interested in automating my manual finishing line. What are my first steps?

Baseline your current operations and have a very clear goal of what you want to accomplish.

What are you focused on? What do you want to achieve? Whether it is material reduction or increased capacity, increased throughput or less manpower – whatever it may be – you really need a good baseline measurement.

For example, a paint efficiency audit can help you access current equipment and processes. This will help you determine what to automate first in order to meet your goal.

Work closely with your automation partners – distributor, integrator and equipment manufacturers – to research that, and then come up with a solution together. 

What pitfalls do finishers often encounter when moving to automation?

A big pitfall is biting off too much at once. You don’t have to go from zero to 100. Take baby steps.

For example, going from using pressure pots and a manual paint sprayer to using a robot with a rotary bell atomizer is a quantum leap. End users who try to move that fast usually have unrealistic expectations because they haven’t seen the varying degrees of automation.

More gradual steps, like moving a two-component paint mixing system with manual spray guns to a two-component paint mixing system with automatic applicators on a robot, are less daunting.

Your journey to automation is only as successful as what you invest in it. If I tell my automation partners, “I want turnkey robots; I don’t want to know or have to do anything,” I’ll probably fail.

You need to take ownership in the education and understanding of how everything works.

How do I know automation equipment will be scalable as my business grows?

Ask – and get solid answers for – future-proofing questions like these:

  • Is this going to be applicable five years from now if my parts mix changes?
  • Will I need to replace equipment if I paint bigger or smaller parts?
  • What if I add more colors in the future?

How do I determine ROI for automation equipment?

Any automation partner can calculate return on investment (ROI) for their products.

Graco’s Automation ROI Tool can help you factor in labor, process improvement, material, quality and equipment costs before and after automation.

How do I understand total cost of ownership for automation equipment?

This total cost of ownership (TCO) formula can help you estimate all expenses associated with buying and operating a piece of equipment:

When moving to automation, be sure to factor in material savings, more consistent finish quality, less rejects, and lower return rates. Such benefits could make your total cost of ownership go down.

What technologies help minimize costs on an automated paint line?

Remote monitoring and control should be part of your automated paint system requirements. 

Internet of Things (IoT) services like Fanuc’s Zero Downtime connect robots to a secure network, through which each robot sends out a daily health report. That type of service may be worth the extra cost from a predictive or preventative maintenance perspective.

When I move to automation, what additional safety equipment could be required?

If your fire marshal or insurance company rate your paint spray booth a hazardous area, be sure any automated equipment meets their safety requirements before you buy it.

Light curtains and cages are also needed to ensure safety around a robotic paint booth.


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