22nd October 2020

QUEBEC FIRM DEVELOPS ROBOTIC PAINT SYSTEM

Spray painting is still, except in larger plants with high volumes, a manual operation. Now, a Quebec-based company has produced the OmniPainter, a robotic system that customers can lease, and which can be used in plants handling smaller to medium production volumes.

This unit uses artificial intelligence to learn its tasks. The first system is to be installed for beta testing this fall.

Omnirobotic, based in Laval, QC, is headed by Francois Simard, who was formerly a shareholder in AGT Robotics (Trois Rivieres, QC), a supplier of robotic systems for welding. 

"I was leading a small group of developers and researchers committed to self-learning technology," he says. "We could not justify the team operation budget within AGT and agreed to split off from AGT in 2016." There are no formal ties remaining between the two companies, though people in the two firms remain friends. 

"Omnirobotic is an autonomous industrial robot manufacturer, not a robot integrator," Simard adds. "We got $1-million in funding from Element AI, Real Ventures, Alexandre Taillefer and Genik to develop the OmniPainter and penetrate the painting industry."

This is the first industry on which his company has focused its AI capabilities. It aims to become a significant player in this space before moving on to another manufacturing sector.

The company's AI engine is used to convert painting into a chess-like game, Simard explains. For any and every object passing through what he calls a 3D reconstruction station, its 'brain' is analysing the object shape and evaluates several painting strategies in real time.  

For each scenario, a simulation is performed to determine what would be the outcome of that decision, just as for assessing a move in chess. At any point, the AI can go back into the decision tree and explore alternative scenarios to find a better one leading to a wholly painted part with minimal waste of time and paint or powder.  

At this point, the system is still under development, gathering data for its next iteration. The company plans to install three systems before the end of this year.

"We always start with a rental, of up to three months, then we let the customer choose to buy or lease the unit for a longer term," Simard says. "Of course, the customer can stop the trial at any time if the OmniPainters are not performing well enough for his production."

Omnirobotic is targeting manufacturers with high part diversity, and operating two shifts a week – 16 hours over five days a week – or more.  

"We ask for 16 hours of operation a day when we rent each OmniPainter at $25 an hour," Simard explains. "We expect the product to be hanging on an overhead conveyor. But some customers operating eight to 12 hours per day are looking to buy the OmniPainters, even if the ROI is slightly longer."

www.omnirobotic.com