Have you walked past that old shotblast machine knowing it just might take a shot at you? It is old and dusty and maybe leaks shot. Its unexpected downtime costs you money, and the ordeal of trying to get repair parts for something 30 years old or more can be daunting. The good news is that you don’t have to live with this. There are numerous options available to improve your shotblasting operation. This article will outline many of those and share some ideas on how to make shotblasting a successful part of your overall operation.
In today’s challenging business climate, with company cultures changing and growing quickly, the important focus on safety and reliability has changed how we need to think about the equipment we operate in our plants. Your equipment no longer just needs to run. It needs to run longer, with less maintenance. It needs to run quieter, it needs to be dust free and it needs to be safer to access and operate.
The rules have changed, and your blast system needs to change with today’s business requirements. No longer are qualified, experienced maintenance techs pounding on your door looking for work – you’re turning over every stone and using all available resources to try and keep your facility staffed. Studies predict that this is only going to get tougher in the coming years.
Improving Shotblasting Operations
We can, however, improve or replace existing equipment that can substantially reduce the load on our limited staff and increase profit by focusing on a few key areas. These include:
- Improved safety and OSHA compliance – the number-1 priority
- Increased productivity – get more out of your system
- More reliability, less unplanned downtime
- Lower operational costs – less shot, power and parts use
- PLC controls with system diagnostics
Once your team has reviewed your existing blast equipment and determined the requirements for your particular blasting process, options can be presented to consider both upgrading existing equipment and/or the purchase of new equipment that will assist you and your team to make an informed decision. There are certainly opportunities to improve existing equipment, even if it’s a 50-year-old machine. However, you must make sure you understand the limitations to meeting your goals and expectations.
Most importantly, it is critical to take a hard look at your equipment’s safety situation by doing a full evaluation. Old equipment can be updated with proper access platforms that can be engineered into the existing equipment, along with safety gates, safety tie-offs and e-stops, which all add improved safety and access to the machine. You may be surprised by the number of safety concerns that need to be addressed and updated on your existing equipment.
Updating blast wheels and/or adding additional wheels to your existing blast has been a regular improvement for many traditional tumble-blast machines. Results are impressive, typically increasing productivity by 30-50%. Imagine your current machine cleaning almost twice the product – it’s not only possible, it’s been proven.
Other improvements to existing machines include upgrading to new doors that keep the shot in the machine and improved shot control valves that provide feedback and far-easier maintenance. The list of possible upgrades is only limited by what your needs are.
One area that needs attention on most existing machines and is usually left out of the discussion is the separation system. Designed to remove dust, scale and broken-down abrasive, the separator can be the key to a successful system or the culprit to a poorly running, costly and dusty machine. Most older systems, and even some newer machines, have separation systems that are sub-standard or simply incapable of doing the job.
Today’s most-efficient separators will operate utilizing automated separators and sensors that provide substantially improved performance and monitoring. A majority of separators –
the most unattended but most critical components of the blast system – are also located 20-25 feet up an old ladder above the floor where it is 20 degrees hotter. In far too many cases, existing machines have unsafe or even no access to the separation system. Both existing and new equipment can be designed with proper platforms providing easy access, preferably using stairways versus ladders. Separation systems can also be designed using twin elevators that allow for separators to be close to the floor.
PLC controls can be updated and programmed to monitor the entire blast machine. Bar-coded recipes can be included for detecting parts, determining proper blast time and loading/unloading required. We can also include documentation right at the panel for lubrication instructions on all bearings and motors throughout the machine, as well as shot-data records, replacement parts lists and much more. Programming can include preventive-maintenance checklists and maintenance items with the ability to include a program that would alert you of things that may need to be addressed before the equipment can be restarted.
The goal is to think about our equipment operating with less human interaction, and controls can play a big part. Updating to the latest controls even allows you to review your machine’s operation from your cell phone.
New Equipment Designs
Your equipment can have a new, fresh look. As stated earlier, regardless of the age of your blast equipment, innovative new designs and service can bring old equipment back to improved production levels, which means improved productivity throughout your shotblasting process. Aside from investing in your existing equipment, there are several new equipment designs such as drum blasts, traditional tumble blasts and wire-mesh belts being installed in forging facilities today.
When looking at new equipment designs, it is important to consider the following: part weight and sizes; surface-profile requirements; production requirements and goals; preferred loading and unloading methods; the available footprint for new equipment; any access or height restrictions; and electrical and power requirements. Additionally, can the parts be tumbled with part-on-part interaction, or do they need to be placed on a belt or hung on a spinner tree to avoid damage? All these items will need to be discussed as you are looking at new equipment and planning your project.
A number of forgers with the right part mix have moved away from the traditional steel-flighted tumble-blast machines to a lower-maintenance drum design. Drums eliminate pinch points found with traditional flighted tumble-blast equipment and eliminate much of the maintenance required. While not ideal for all parts, many parts up to 500 pounds can run in a drum machine.
Drum machines that can change the angle of the drum during the blast cycle are ideal for the forger cleaning a wider variety of parts. Every part tumbles differently, and by changing the angle of the drum and even using bar-coded PLC recipes to ensure the best angle for cleaning, you can make a substantial improvement in your blast cycle times. In several instances customers have gone from two machines to one drum blast, allowing them increased productivity while reducing the use of an entire machine – saving on floor space, electricity, aftermarket parts inventory, maintenance and downtime.
Special angle machines have also been designed for specific products such as small hand tools.
Wire-mesh systems are also common in forge facilities to clean longer or delicate forgings that cannot be tumbled due to part damage. Here again, the same principles apply. Safety, productivity and maintenance should be your focus. Newer designs should include a full safety package and safe access to all areas of the blast system. Easily removed and replaced components such as wheel parts, liners and seals that reduce or eliminate traditional threaded nuts and hardware, which have always been a challenge, will make ongoing replacement simple, fast and predictable. These improvements will continue to relieve some of the pressure on your limited staff during the life of the machine.
The number of wheels and wheel horsepower will determine productivity for your specific needs.
Whatever your blast situation, know that by reviewing your current system and engaging your full team (finishing, maintenance, operators, engineering and safety) – supported with experienced manufacturers – a solid game plan can be put together for both updating your existing equipment or investing in a new machine that can make a substantial improvement to your operation.