After having difficulty finding qualified and skilled staff for his spray painting facility, Hilustre Coatings Pty Ltd’s general manager, Peter Harrison, investigated the possibility of using robots to replace humans.
The spray painting division of Melbourne-based Hilustre Coatings handles a wide range of products, ranging through kitchen cabinets, display panels, shop fittings and automotive components. One of the more unusual product kinds they paint are plastic panels for life size animatronic dinosaurs for a theatrical production.
Materials to be spray painted range from timber, metal, plastic and glass, meaning the spray painting operation requires a flexible spray painting operation, using relatively small volumes of a particular product.
Initially, the idea to consider robotics was prompted by the success of the company’s mechanised operations in its powder coating division, which provided more efficient ways of operating its business, according to Harrison.
One other major consideration in looking at robotics was the increasingly difficult position of finding skilled staff, which impacted on operations, Harrison said.
“We looked at the possibility five years ago, visited a number of robotics trade shows and discussed the concepts with several robotics suppliers,” said Harrison.
“However the capital outlay and cost of the associated software programs to cater for our specialised requirements was prohibitive for a business of our size.
“When we looked at other systems I was sure the robot could paint with precision, but our main problem is the ever-changing variety of parts we have to paint each day. To program the robot through the Teach Pendant is time consuming, which is fine if you only have a few parts and high volumes, but being a job shop we are painting different size parts in every job. A kitchen may have 70 different-sized doors and panels, so we needed a system that could make the robot create its own spraying path by just entering the size of the parts.”
Harrison met with Glenn Westonsmith of Robotsplus, an integrator that works with ABB robots. Hilustre worked with Westonsmith to devise a flexible software program that suited its requirements. The custom-designed Windows-based program is connected to the robot controller via a standard computer. The key feature is its ease of use — no previous robotics experience is required for the operator, says ABB.
The Windows-based program is designed to make system operation and adjustment easy. Parts are entered into a job entry page, including size of the parts, how many edges to be painted, and even a section of the underside of the panel to be painted. Various ‘paint patterns’ can be chosen depending on the type of finish required. This determines the number of coats and all of the robot-spraying parameters such as fluid and air volumes, etc.
Once entered, the parts can be identified via a bar code scanner or keyboard entry and the optimising program determines the position of each part on the delivery table to maximise efficiency of the spray-painting process. This is displayed on a monitor in the loading chamber, giving the operator an accurate view of the positioning and shape of the article, according to ABB. Parts then travel into the separate spraying chamber and the robot paints them producing uniform quality with 100-per cent consistency, ABB claims.
The installation of the robotic process allows Hilustre to train unskilled operators in a very short time. Processing around one million items annually, the variation in size, shape and product diversity means the program must be capable of quick and easy transition to cope with the requirements of the facility.
“We now run on an increased efficiency of some 40 percent, using one operator and having reduced the amount of paint per run while increasing the quality and consistency. Color changes are done in minutes and waste less paint and solvent. All of which produces improved economy for our operations,” Harrison said.