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Man vs. Robot: Who Paints It Better?

Friday, February 13, 2015

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The aerospace sector is one area trying to determine whether robots can do a job faster and more precisely than humans.

Take airplane painting.

Two new videos, one from Boeing and one from Virgin Australia, boast of recent jet coating jobs and offer a time-lapse look at the projects.

In one project, human painters get the props; in the other, robots do.

While Virgin Australia took 1,200 man hours and turned it into a two-minute time lapse video, Boeing says its robots can complete what used to be hours-long tasks in a matter of minutes.

11 Days by Hand

Virgin Australia's video shows how the company repainted one of its Boeing 737s. Done by hand, the project took 18 painters 11 days and 260 liters of paint.

Virgin Australia displays 11 days of painting work in al two-minute time-lapse video.

Virgin Australia launched in 2011, and the company has been working to repaint its fleet with the new livery.

Boeing's Robots

Then there's Boeing. The Chicago-based aircraft manufacturer has taken to robots to repaint its aircraft, including the 777, which the company calls one of the world's most popular commercial airplanes.

In 2013, Boeing set out to increase the 777 program at a build rate of 100 airplanes per year. To accommodate the increase, program managers decided that a more efficient way to paint the planes would be to build a facility using robots.

This video from Boeing shows how the company uses robots to paint its 777s.

The system is known as ASM, or Automated Spray Method, and the company says it's a "big improvement" over using painters.

"We used to have about 35 or 40 painters," says Christine Shanks, an industrial engineer for the ASM project.

"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."

But by using robots, "[y]ou're taking a product that took hours, and it literally lasted minutes," said Jason Clark, 777 Director of Manufacturing.

In addition to speed, robots make sure everything is accurate, Boeing explains. Plus, they can complete multiple tasks simultaneously.

"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," explains Ken Brewer, ASM Implementation Manager.


Tagged categories: Aerospace; Robotics

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (2/13/2015, 8:35 AM)

The Virgin crew are performing the stripping of old paint, washing, applying the masking and removing the masking, none of which are done by the Boeing robots. The robots JUST spray the paint. Additionally, the robots have much easier access - it's just a wing, instead of an entire aircraft. Robot painting certainly can be quite a benefit - but the "hours into minutes" claim is overblown. It can be accurate only if you just look at application. Any painter knows that prep and cleanup typically take much longer than actually spraying paint.

Comment from David Grove, (2/17/2015, 10:01 AM)

I agree with Mr. Schwedt in that all of the factors are not identified. I, however, am very interested in robotic painting where conditions are very dangerous due to access or the environment. There were many times offshore that I prayed no one would get hurt because the conditions were so difficult. Now, being in Nuclear, I continue to see the advantages in developing this process.

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