Abrasive Blasting 101
Automated sandblasting cabinets seem like they’d be the answer for companies looking to reduce labor and increase production volume. We’ve compiled the four most frequently asked questions about cabinet automation to help you to decide if it’s something you can benefit from.
Fun Fact: The hardest part to process with automation is a round basketball shape followed by a small round shaft.
Automation can create a more uniformly blasted part surface if the blasting process has human supervision at all times during machine operation. Abrasive blasting is an analogue mechanical process, not electronic circuits, so it can be fine one minute and generate an unacceptable part the next. One of the reasons constant supervision is so important is that abrasives change size as they are used and recycled. This change in size results in slower part processing and so an operator needs to adjust either the duration of blasting or replenish the abrasive over time.
More often than not, automation is used for consistency of the part blasted surface than for cost reduction. Automated sandblasting cabinets don’t necessarily reduce labor costs for two main reasons:
Reason One: All blast cabinets require regular service and machine maintenance. If your staff understands how to fix pneumatics, electronics and other worn out mechanical parts this may be easy to manage internally. If you’re not mechanically inclined, you’ll need to factor machine servicing fees into your budget. Being that Automated sandblasting cabinets are usually operated daily, your machine may need maintenance more frequently than machines operating in other circumstances.
Pro Tip: Fewer than five automation blasting cabinet manufactures exist in the US as of 2019. These cabinets are incredibly specialized, so you can’t call your local plumber or electrician to repair/maintain them.
Reason Two: Automation still requires operator supervision because there are many variables affecting the part-processing time. These variables must be managed to ensure consistent results.
This question is application dependent. If you’re processing a simple, flat part that only requires one blasting angle then output may increase with automation; however you can’t flop just any part onto the conveyor of an automatic blasting cabinet and have it drop out the other side processed perfectly. Additionally, how the part is held in place during that Category I or II Hurricane is important. Magnetic and Vacuum are two of the first way to hold a flat part when the part is light in weight.
Real World Example: To obtain a perfectly processed part, there has to be an overlap during operation. When you mow a lawn 10’ x 20’ you are not mowing only 200 square feet. With the overlap required to get uniformity you are really mowing about 280 square feet of lawn.
Now consider you have a part that is more complex. If it requires anything less than about 90% total blasting of the surface you’ll likely notice your production drop with automation. Many people mention “robots” as a solution to this problem. Programming robots to manage automation for different parts requires creation and setup, so you better have lots of the same part for years to come without changes or the robotic programming will become obsolete.
The cabinet manufacturer may supply one set of holding fixtures for one part, but the best answer to this question is: the user. Many automated machines require part-holding fixtures to be specially made or made by the company using the equipment. If you process 50 different part sizes/ shapes you will need part-holding fixtures for each of them. This can really eat into the labor you think is being saved by using automation.
Consider these FAQs before you leap into purchasing an automated abrasive blast cabinet. Unless you’re processing a limited number of part sizes and shapes, automation is not likely to reduce labor costs or increase daily production output. Most automated blasting cabinets use the slower processing siphon delivery because it doesn’t require manually refilling the abrasive pressure pot. More complicated shapes require more varied gun angels, which can increase cabinet costs.
Make sure you have the in-house mechanical skills required to operate automation and perform daily maintenance. Remember, less than five (5) automation blasting cabinet manufactures in the US exist today, so you can’t call your local plumber or electrician to repair/maintain these cabinets.
Always remember that special part handling tools can also reduce time and save labor. If you’re not sure whether an automated abrasive blast cabinet is the right fit for your needs, give us a call or visit our Buying Guide.