Wheelabrator has launched new digital tools that were developed specifically to help customers reduce cost around three key areas of the blast process:
- abrasive consumption,
- energy use
- maintenance and downtime.
The tools were built using Norican’s Monitizer software and NoriGate hardware, both already proven on equipment at sister companies DISA and StrikoWestofen, and are available for many existing and all new Wheelabrator machines.
Heinrich Dropmann, Senior Vice President Global Wheel at Wheelabrator, explains: “Digital technologies allow us to make the blast process more transparent than ever before and optimise it accordingly. We’ve been working with a select group of pilot customers to identify the applications that would make the biggest difference to their productivity and profitability and quickly zeroed in on these three.”
Tests showed that tackling abrasive consumption alone, using digital analysis and monitoring, can unlock €200-250 in annual savings per kilowatt blast power installed. For a typical hanger-type machine with four 11 kW blast wheels, this means up to €10,000 saved per year. Over the course of 20 years, savings generated by this one digital tool could pay for a new machine.
Heinrich continues: “The digital tools we’ve developed enable customers to really pinpoint the parameters that are driving abrasive consumption, energy use and wear in their specific operational setting – and then do something about it. They can very quickly get a much better handle on their blasting cost, without impacting the volume or quality of their outputs – or even improving them.”
The three tools can be deployed as standalone solutions or plugged into a wider Industry 4.0 system – be it from Norican, customer-built or from another supplier. The NoriGate data gateway is used to extract data from each machine – from the control system and from sensors – while the Monitizer software collects, visualises and analyses it in customizable dashboards.
Heinrich explains the Wheelabrator approach: “This is not about collecting data for the sake of it. As experts on the blast process, we can select the right data points to track, so we can combine them meaningfully and in a way that gives us insights into what’s running at optimum and what isn’t. It gives customers the data they need to continuously improve the process and save some money along the way.”
Reducing abrasive consumption – a significant cost factor
Abrasive costs represent a major part of the overall running cost of a blast machine and the volume of abrasive going through the machine, relative to the blast result achieved, is a key determinant of wear inside the machine. Using less abrasive to achieve the same blast result in the same time therefore is the holy grail of blast process optimisation.
And while modern blast machines have evolved considerably to improve this equation, real-time tracking and analysis of abrasive throughput and other process parameters can push this further. Yet again, this is not something that can easily be done without digital help.
Wheelabrator’s first new digital tool gives an accurate picture of abrasive use over time and relates it to other metrics, so root causes of high use can be identified quickly. Even complex or more subtle causes of increased abrasive throughput can be unpicked and resolved. The costs of monitoring and analysis are low compared to manual methods.
In numbers: For a hanger-type machine with four 11kW blast wheels, the tool helped reduce abrasive consumption (and spend!) by 17% and cycle time by 20%. On a roller conveyor machine with six 15kW turbines, through-feed speed could be increased by 20% and abrasive spend reduced by 8%. Reducing or optimising abrasive consumption doesn’t just save money on abrasive, it also reduces energy use. Less wear means less maintenance and reduced spend on wear parts – by around 10%, according to Wheelabrator estimates.
Saving energy – not as simple as it sounds
Shot blast machines – wheel blast ones in particular – use a lot of energy due the power required to accelerate the abrasive. Bringing that energy consumption down while maintaining a stable blast process could unlock savings and support sustainability agendas.
However, most blast machine users do not and cannot currently record energy use of their machines alongside other process parameters to identify periods of high usage or unproductive time. Without this data, there is no way of improving a machine’s energy performance in a targeted way.
The second of the three digital tools from Wheelabrator does just that – it tracks the right parameters to strategically optimise standby and idle times, turbine rpms and more. This means operators and managers can instantly see if their machines are using unusually high amounts of energy, find the cause and tweak the process. Over time, the running of the machine can be adapted for ever better energy efficiency without negatively affecting blast results or throughput (in fact, both may be improved as a side-effect of energy reduction efforts).
In numbers: Just by reducing idle time by 1 hour per day, the tool was able to unlock €14,000 annually in energy cost savings for a roller-conveyor machine with eight 45kW blast wheels. Doing the same on a less powerful pass-through monorail machine with eight 15kW blast wheels still achieved a saving of €4,000 per year. Both machines were operating in three shift 240 days per year.
Taming a violent beast – preventive maintenance
Lastly, the inside of shot blast machines is a violent place. Wear comes with the territory. As with all equipment, keeping unplanned downtime to a minimum saves money and resources – as well as ensuring production targets and deadlines are met. Yet monitoring operating status and condition of a shot blast machine is still a manual, occasional process.
Here too, digital can help. By tracking things like turbine vibration levels, pressure differentials in filters and key performance metrics, Wheelabrator’s third digital tool can present a real-time picture of the machine condition and offer an early warning system for wear and drops in performance. This enables preventative maintenance at the optimum point, not too soon, not too late, preventing unscheduled downtime without overspending on parts.
In numbers: The tool helps prevent sudden or undetected parts failure, which causes expensive damage. For example, pre-empting blade breakage through early detection and timely, planned exchange cost €1,500 at a reference customer, whereas letting the blade break incurs costs of at least €4,500, depending on the extent of the damage. Blocked filters at one customer resulted in extra cost of €7,500 for clean-up and increased wear. An extreme example of a preventable fault are cracked filter cartridges, which allow fine dust to escape unnoticed and settle on surrounding machinery or even further afield. On one occasion, ferrous dust damaged the paint on cars parked in an adjacent carpark. The cost for repainting exceeded €25,000.
It’s only the beginning
The three tools were designed with quick payback for customers in mind, solving the most common issues and cost drivers machine owners are faced with. But these very specific applications are only the start of the journey.
NoriGate and the Monitizer platform are highly flexible, powerful and adaptable. What customers can do with the system can be evolved and expanded over time, with more tools and capabilities already in the pipeline, backed by Norican’s commitment to digital innovation.
Heinrich concludes: “Customers who start collecting blast process data now, using one, two or all three of our new tools, are at the same time building up their digital database of historical data that can be analysed in new ways in future. So even if you want to take things slowly, you will have a wealth of data to learn from as new capabilities, like AI and automated process intervention, become available. It’s a highly sensible, pragmatic way of approaching all things digital. And if you’re ready for more straightaway, we invite you to get in touch, so we can show you what we’re working on!”