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Robot tool has precision painting application taped

26 January, 2023

A pair of robotics companies based in the US and Austria have joined forces to develop an end-of-arm tool that allows robots to apply masking tape for painting applications, especially in the aerospace industry.

Alabama-based Aerobotix and Linz-based FerRobotics say that their ATK (active taping kit) tool allows a robot to use varying force when applying adhesive tape, resulting in smooth masking on parts that can vary in shape. The tool – which allows control of parameters such as contact force, cutting and tape consumption – can also lay down perfectly straight lines of tape.

The automated masking process is predicted to revolutionise painting processes, and is already being tested on several aircraft.

“Customers have been asking Aerobotix to automate the masking process for years,” explains Chris Kolb, the company’s vice-president of sales. “The response was always ‘wouldn’t that be great,’ but the technology required to do it correctly just wasn’t available yet. The ACT (active compliant technology) device lets the robot “feel” the part and instantly adjust the force it uses to apply the tape. We needed this sensitivity to put masking tape down correctly and not damage high-value parts.”

The project to develop the technology, funded by the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), began when the companies had spare capacity to perform the necessary months of prototyping and testing during the Covid pandemic.

“We jokingly call it our pandemic baby,” says Kent Pfeifer, Aerobotix’ process engineering manager, who led the US team. “Both of our companies had some extra bandwidth during the pandemic disruptions, and because AFRL had some funding to back us, we just went for it.

The jointly developed tape application tool saves time and avoids errors
Photo: Business Wire

“We are running all types of masking tapes through the ATK and, so far, they’re all working great,” he adds. “What we didn’t realise going into this is that having the robot put down the first tape lines saves the painters a ton of time and errors, as they then don’t have to measure or use templates to get the tape lines accurate. The savings, in time and costs, is exceeding all of our expectations.”

“The ATK offers the highest process quality from one source, and with a design that’s compact and light,” adds Dr Ronald Naderer, founder and CEO of FerRobotics. He says that the compact, lightweight ATK tool is “extremely durable and is designed to apply various kinds of tapes on any part or surface with exact repeatability and without bubbles or wrinkles.”

AerobotixTwitter  LinkedIn  Facebook

FeroRobotics:  LinkedIn

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