Millions of vehicles are produced every year, and all too often, vehicles have correctable paint finish imperfections that were manually repaired. The automotive industry has long been in pursuit of the perfect finish for cars, but that perfect finish comes with a cost.
In today’s market, defects are addressed in a manual inspection. The process requires operators, often working in close quarters, to visually inspect the vehicles and then sand out imperfections – a truly labor-intensive job with too much variability.
Having been involved in the paint repair process since the invention of the first automobile, 3M was in a unique position to step up to the challenge. The 3M Abrasive Systems Division explored ways for this process to be performed by robots, and after several years of innovation, developed the 3M Robotic Paint Repair System, a proprietary software that identifies defects and tells the robots how to effectively repair them. The robots sand and polish the vehicles using 3M abrasives for automation.
Material removal is a pressure driven process that is all about finding the right synergy between the product and the robot. The system gathers digital data using cameras and other devices to provide a full end-to-end system that ensures all process components are communicating effectively.
"Today, Abrasive Systems is the lead division when it comes to customers wanting to use robots instead of human operators," said Carl Doeksen, director, Robotics & Automation. "More and more, it's not a human operator using our product, but robots."
The pandemic, in addition to the global shortage for production workers, is driving increased robotics and automation investments for 3M customers.
"It's a huge deal for the industry and a game changer for us," Carl explained, adding that manufacturers around the world – from Asia to Europe to North America – are changing over to robotics in larger numbers.
The 3M Robotic Paint Repair System team recently won the 2020 3M Circle of Technical Excellence and Innovation (CTEI) corporate level award, which honors exceptional individuals and teams for their outstanding contributions to 3M and for setting the standard for 3M technical excellence and innovation worldwide.
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