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Watch: How your car is painted - dozens of robots and 2.5kg of paint

By Paul Connolly

Car paint? How boring. Literally like watching paint dry. Something we just take for granted. Of zero interest.

Just some of the expected responses if you were to raise the topic of car paint.

But actually, when you look into it, its’ quite an interesting subject.

And let’s face it, without paint, that shiny SUV gleaming on your driveway would soon be a worthless heap of rust.

Car paint has implications for the environment, for the price of cars, and for research and development because technology driven by the automotive industry has other real world applications.

Amongst the first robots, for example, were developed to spray-paint car frames.

Automotive paint, to give it its proper title, is used on cars to both protect and decorate them.

Enamel paint is currently the most widely used for a variety of reasons including reduced impact on the earth’s environmental.

It is applied in several layers, with a total thickness of around 100 µm(0.1mm).

And it’s a lot more complex than just spraying on a coat. There is significant preparation, a primer, a basecoat and then a ‘clearcoat’.

This is a top layer that lets the colour shine through but also withstands UV light so it protects the paint (and the frame beneath).

It plays a critical role in protecting against rust, too, which can impact on a car’s value and, in extreme circumstances, even fatally undermine the car’s robustness and ability to survive an impact.

Thankfully, environmental laws have down the decades stopped manufacturers from using lead, chromium and other heavy metals in favour of water-based paints.

A well-honed model of painting is usually followed, including:

Prep: a phosphate coat, followed by an E-Coat, are applied to guard against corrosion

Primer: applied as a leveller and protector, so the base coat works better

Base coat: contains the colour and effects, often divided into three categories: solid, metallic and pearlescent.

Clearcoat: Finally the ‘clearcoat’ is sprayed on; it is the coating that interfaces with the environment so it must be hard-wearing and chemically stable.

Luckily for us, the folks at SEAT share a passion for car paint:  “Creating a colour is an inside job”, says Jordi Font from SEAT’s Colour & Trim department.

“Its journey begins with a market study and ends when the paint is applied on the vehicle.”

Here are some of the stages SEAT goes through between developing a paint and spraying a car.

1,000 days:  it takes over 1k days research and work to create a new colour range

1,000 litres of paint for a symphony of colours: A specialised team analyses market trends and propose the range of colours of new models to be launched.

“In addition to following trends, a lot of intuition also goes into defining a new shade. You have to feel the pulse on the street and run with it”, says Mr Font. A total of 1,000 litres of paint are required to create a new shade.

Science behind a Pantone colour guide: Mixtures are carried out in the lab that makes the work of creating a new colour strictly an exercise in chemistry. In the case of the colour palette for the SEAT Arona, “by mixing 50 different pigments and metal particles we’ve created nearly 100 variations of the same colour to see which shade is the most suitable”, says the company’s Carol Gómez.

From mathematical formulations to real life: Once the colour is defined, it has to be tested on a metal plate to verify its application and the visual effect it produces.

A surgery room where 84 robots ‘operate’: In the booths, cars are painted at a temperature of between 21 and 25 degrees. 2.5kg of paint is applied on each car in an automated process performed by 84 robots that takes six hours per vehicle.

Seven coats in all, each as thin as a hair width but as hard as a rock, which are baked in an oven at 140 degrees.

An all-seeing CAT scan: Once painted, all it takes is 43 seconds to verify there are no deficiencies in the paint application. The vehicles pass through a scanner that checks for smooth surfaces and ensures there are no impurities.

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