It’s hard to dispute that technology, on the whole, has made our lives easier and more convenient. Myriad functions have been automated – and improved – to mitigate the effects of human intervention. We make purchases more intelligently, we manage data more efficiently, we can control devices with our voices and eye movements, and we ultimately move through life with less left to chance.
In the world of manufacturing, this mitigation of human intervention promises even greater and more measurable, efficiencies. At Rosler Metal Finishing, quality improvements and cost benefits that have resulted from the mechanization and automation of mass finishing and shot blasting operations deliver dividends that transcend the manufacturing floor.
Since the first microprocessor-controlled machine appeared on the manufacturing floor in 1974, hundreds of new varieties have been shipped across the world. With each improvement, these automated attendants encompass a larger footprint, are able to handle heavier loads and more axes, and require fewer controllers to do their work, according to a McKinsey study.
Automation has revolutionized smaller tasks as well, including simple parts bin handling, lift assists, automatic media adding systems, or multi-step process control systems (like those where noxious chemicals are dosed, without human risk, into the process).
So how do these automation upgrades pay off for you? Let’s start by taking a look at where mass finishing and shot blasting has fit into the manufacturing paradigm. Then we’ll dive deeper into the benefits of today’s automated processes which have a lasting impact on the finished product.
The Role of Mass Finishing and Shot Blasting in Modern Manufacturing
When mass finishing and shot blasting were “invented” years ago, their sole purpose was to replace the tedious job of manual deburring, or the stripping of rust and paint from a surface. Early equipment was simple and required substantial operator involvement, but represented great strides productivity and quality improvement.
Over time, both technologies grew into sophisticated surface treatment technologies that have become essential for the proper function of components used across many industries. Today, state-of-the-art mass finishing equipment is used to place the finishing touch on orthopedic implants like knee femorals, tibia plates, or hip stems before implantation. Complex shot peening systems are also used for extending the service life of critical aircraft components.
Mass finishing and shot blasting have made a significant contribution towards zero-defect manufacturing with absolutely repeatable, highly cost-efficient, surface improvement processes. To a large extent, this only became possible through further mechanization and automation.
What Are the Benefits of Automation?
When deployed properly, automation offers numerous tangible technical and economic advantages, including:
- Improved surface treatment quality, including tighter tolerances. As an example, the automation of the shot peening of turbine blades has greatly improved the peening quality as measured by Almen values.
- Consistent, repeatable quality. A stable process environment means no variations in the output. This can be seen with the automated polishing of orthopedic implants in dedicated mass finishing equipment, which delivers consistent high qualities, batch after batch, day after day.
- Time savings with reduced manufacturing lead times. As an example, the direct linking of the blast cleaning of steel plates and beams and their corrosion protection in a single, automated preservation line process can drastically reduce turnaround times.
- Improved operational efficiency, which translates to fewer rejects and lower costs. A manufacturer of outboard engines, for example, could reduce its reject rate from 12 percent to 0 by simply converting to an automatic drag finishing process for paint preparation.
- No need for trained mechanical labor. Automation relieves the pressure of finding qualified, well-trained mechanical labor that understands the complexities of surface finishing in a shrinking marketplace.
- Cost savings. Automation pays for itself through lower expenditures for personnel, faster turnaround times, and much lower reject rates.
Is Automation Always the Best Solution?
It’s clear that automated mass finishing and shot blasting systems produce better surface finishes in a consistent, repeatable manner, reduce the finishing costs, and help reduce lead times. Therefore, for industrial volume production, automation is a “no-brainer.”
However, for work pieces that are produced in very small volumes or are particularly large, bulky and heavy, partial automation may offer a good compromise. This is definitely the case in prototyping shops or foundries and forges making special, custom castings or forgings. As with any business process, you’ll simply want to analyze what the right balance of automation is for your particular application and budget.
In our next Automation Blog Series post, we’ll take a closer look at the machinery, consumables, and hardware needed to enhance automation in manufacturing operations.
For more information or to discuss your automation needs and challenges, contact us. With more than 80 years of experience in the surface finishing industry, we are confident that we can deliver a solution for your process.