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Boeing’s New Bots Slash Painting Work

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

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New robotic aircraft painters deployed by Boeing Corp. have reduced a multi-day production process to just minutes, with perfect quality each time, the company says.

The Seattle-based aircraft giant is using the mechanical painters to help keep up with production demand for the Boeing 777, one of the world's most popular airplanes.

The new robotic painting machines are housed in a new facility and mounted on tracks on both sides of the 106-foot aircraft wing. The machines wash, apply solvent cleaner, rinse and spray two types of paint, as Boeing recently demonstrated for reporters.

Applying one coat used to take human painters four and a half hours. The robots do it in 24 minutes with 100 percent accuracy, according to Boeing.

Boeing robot painters
Images: Boeing

The new Automated Spray Method (ASM) system paints a 106-foot-long wing in 24 minutes with 100 percent accuracy, allowing Boeing to significantly ramp up production of the 777.

The new system follows the company's recent ramp-up in production to turn out 100 airplanes per year. "To accommodate the increase, program managers knew they needed a more efficient way to paint the plane’s wings," Boeing said.

By midsummer, reports say, all of the company's 777 wings will be painted by robots.

Speed and Accuracy

Boeing officials love the new system, which is known as ASM, or Automated Spray Method..

“You're taking a product that took hours, and it literally lasted minutes,” said Jason Clark, the 777 Director of Manufacturing.

Christine Shanks, an industrial engineer for the ASM project, said the mechanical system replaced dozens of painters and a multi-day series of projects.

“We used to have about 35 or 40 painters," she said. "And we used about four booths that we worked in, and we had a lot of crane moves in and out. So it was multiple processes and we used about five days worth of flow,."

Boeing Robot

The new robotic system replaces up to 40 painters, who have been retrained for new positions.

The robots not only work faster; they "ensure pinpoint accuracy on every wing," Boeing said in a release.

“The robot has two different guns on it and will apply two different paints at two different thicknesses, simultaneously together in a seamless operation so you won’t see the two different coatings,” said ASM Implementation Manager Ken Brewer.

Painters Move On

The robots' human predecessors have all been reassigned to new jobs, including programming the machines, painting the airline liveries on the fuselage, or working on more sophisticated painting tasks on other aircraft, Clark said.

Elizabeth Lund, head of the 777 jet program, said the robots are part of Boeing's lean-manufacturing initiative.

"When lean works properly, and this is a perfect example, you increase capacity and you don't lay people off," Lund said.


Tagged categories: Aerospace; Factory application methods; Labor; Painters; Shop-applied coatings

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