ABB & Applying Paint

Often, books about innovative management practices cite ABB Group (Zurich, Switzerland), a global organization consisting of about 1,000 companies that had $35-billion in orders in 1997, as being exemplary in many ways. It is lauded for the way that its businesses are either ahead of or quickly responsive to customer demands. Its portfolio includes products for seemingly everything from petroleum to pharmaceuticals; one of the areas that it has had focus for several years is in painting.

Within the ABB Flexible Automationfacility there are specific areas dedicated to painting, including a wide array of process validation equipment. To help accommodate the Paint Automation Group (as well as Automotive Systems-Powertrain Assembly, Robotic Products, and Customer Service), the Flexible Automation Center, currently at 342,000-ft2 is being expanded by 188,000 ft2. They are completely serious about having the necessary resources to meet the needs of industry.

Recently, ABB Flexible Automation (Auburn Hills, MI), a leading supplier of automation and robotic systems, formed a new operation: ABB Paint Automation Group. This is not in any way a new venture for ABB, in that painting is something that ABB Flexible Automation has long been involved with. The new group is a combination of the previously existing Paint Application and Paint Systems outfits with part of Customer Service added to the mix. The Paint Automation Group has the complete wherewithal to supply robots, reciprocators, gun and bell atomizers, paint booths, ovens, pretreatment devices, and environmental compliance equipment.


painting equipment
Note that this setup includes an array of painting equipment: side, top and (way in the back) robotic.

But this is not about reorgs or buildings. Rather, the company has developed some rather innovative technology that can be beneficial to those who are charged with developing efficient, cost-effective painting systems. In fact, although we’ve mentioned the need for more space in Auburn Hills, Paint Automation Group has developed a system that helps significantly reduce the amount of space needed in a paint shop.


RoDip 3
The RoDip-3: a different approach to e-coat application.

Flip It. The product in question is called the RoDip-3. This is actually the third generation of the system, with the original RoDip work starting in 1993. The “Ro” relates to “rotation.” The “Dip” is as in immersion. The RoDip-3 is designed to move vehicles through e-coat materials as an alternative to the conventional pendulum conveyor approach. The RoDip-3, explains, Kosta Milojevic, director, Product Development, in the Paint Automation Group, literally flips a vehicle 360o, end-for-end, in the tank. This is, of course, controlled motion. There are carriers which convey the vehicles through the tank; vehicles can be with or without skids. The drive chain for the carriers is located outside of the tank, on its sides, thereby helping minimize contamination. The system can be setup so that a body can be transferred across the top of the tank without a dip.

Steep angle the vehicle enters the RoDip
Note the steep angle at which the vehicle enters the RoDip-3 tank. One of the benefits is that by going in at a sharp angle, and exiting in the same manner, the overall tank size is minimized compared to conventional systems. Which not only reduces floor space requirements on the factory floor, but also reduces the amount of chemicals in the tank.

While this might seem extreme, consider. The elegance of this solution to applying a solution (in addition to coating, it could be used for cleaning) is evident. For one thing, think of what can happen when a vehicle is dragged through a tank with a conventional 45o pendulum system. Air can be trapped in the nooks and crannies. And that keeps the coating from being applied in those areas. But with the RoDip-3 approach, trapped air is unlikely to remain trapped in cavities as the vehicle is turned over in the tank.

Another benefit: the system requires less floor space than pendulum systems. In fact, Milojevic says that the ABB system can require 20% less space than a conventional system of the same throughput capacity. Why? Well just think of the comparatively shallow angle of attack that a vehicle enters and exits a pendulum system and the sharp dive-in of a vehicle into the RoDip-3 tank. In addition to which, the tank is about 25% smaller for the ABB system.


The MetaBell, initially developed in Japan in collaboration with Toyota, provides a fine finish because the waterborne paint is not only atomized well, but the spray is focused, applied at a higher velocity.

Using the Bell.

Typically in paint shops, robots wield paint spray guns. The guns throw out a lot of paint at high volumes. Bells are usually fitted on the top and side of the booth. The paint bells provide a better surface quality. Which brings us to the second technology development. It’s called the MetaBell. It is a paint bell for use by robots. It is designed to apply water-borne coatings. But the bell is designed so that the pattern is focused as the finely atomized paint is forced out at high velocity. The paint can be applied at the same rate as is the case with a spray gun. But the finish is better.

Indeed, the MetaBell is said to provide such a good finish through the uniform, fine atomization that when metallic paint is applied, the particles can be aligned in proper orientation; it isn’t necessary to use a spray gun after the bell for particle orientation.

There are robots. Side units. Top machines. Environmental systems. Everything required for a paint system.