If you want finishing equipment at the leading edge of technology, buying new isn’t the only option. Equipment upgrades can often be the best choice instead.
How do you improve blasting performance? Buying a new machine can be a great answer to that question but it’s far from the only option. Instead, upgrading or converting existing equipment offers a rapid, versatile and cost-effective solution that enhances productivity, quality and resource control.
Wheelabrator offers Equipment Modernisation Programmes (EMPs) for both original and non-Wheelabrator equipment that tackle common production challenges head on, from the need for higher throughput and lower media consumption to increased finishing quality.
The initial aim might be to restore machinery to its box-fresh operational state, but EMPs have enormous extra potential to improve both the process and the bottom line. They reduce cycle times and boost capacity to remove production bottlenecks, cut maintenance costs and downtime, improve reliability and enhance health and safety.
In fact, EMP upgrade possibilities are almost endless: auto abrasive replenishers that include level sensing and bulk containers to cut downtime during refilling, conversions like low-wear cabinet lining systems that significantly reduce ongoing replacement part costs or the host of tumblast mill upgrade options such as dual wheel packages, recycling system upgrades, loaders and additional discharge conveyors.
Grasp the EMP opportunity
Where the basic structure of a machine is sound, selecting the right upgrades can revitalise existing equipment that has long since repaid its initial investment. So rather than simply being an unavoidable maintenance cost, the natural cycle of replacing wear and other parts with a shorter lifespan such as blast wheels and reclaims represents a golden opportunity. By installing the latest components as part of an EMP, it’s possible to keep your equipment right at the leading edge of blast technology and even bring its performance up to the level of the latest models.
Upgrading, repositioning or adding additional blast wheels is a popular option within many EMPs, with the revamped machine typically offering reduced wear, faster cycle times and a higher cleaning standard. Upgraded blast wheels can also deliver lower ongoing maintenance costs, higher uptime and better reliability.
Wheelabrator’s blast machines last 20, 30 years or more. That’s a testament to their durability but it’s also a long time to run the same machine with the same specification as fresh challenges emerge, process requirements change and new innovative products constantly appear. Rather than waiting until a new machine becomes the only option, an EMP lets you significantly improve the core Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) metrics of availability, performance and quality – right now.
Germany’s Diehl Metering is a good example. Its finishing equipment was deeply integrated into its processes and was still doing an excellent job. Choosing an EMP improved its workflow while reducing maintenance requirements and resource use.
No time for downtime
Because an EMP is based on the existing plant, there’s no need to shuffle other machines around to make space for a larger new one. Quick to implement, an EMP minimises any disruption to production. In fast-paced, highly sophisticated industries such as medical technology or automotive manufacturing, that speed is often the most important factor with EMPs offering the quickest route to a “new” machine.
Modern systems like airwash or magnetic separators provide superior abrasive separation that ensure post-cleaning contaminant levels stay within tolerance. Upgrading rubber linings to polyurethane or manganese plate reduces wear caused by the abrasive, lengthening maintenance intervals and cutting costs. Roof tunnels and floors (louvre plates) can also be upgraded to reduce wear.
The cost of enhancing capability via an EMP will be far lower than buying new and, even better, upgrades and modifications can be covered by maintenance budgets rather than being classed as a capital investment. That tends to make winning internal sign-off for a modernisation project far easier than for a completely new machine.
As EMPs are upcycling rather than recycling or simply junking existing plant, it’s worth noting that EMPs are environmentally more responsible, but it’s their concrete business benefits that really catch the eye, whether it’s reducing cost per part or helping meet rising output targets as the business grows.
EMPs help comply with ever-more-rigorous ergonomic, health and safety or emissions standards, offering new ways to filter exhaust emissions or prevent dust contamination of the workplace through upgraded components like hydraulic loaders and safety gates. Replacing a bag dust collector with the latest cartridge filter technology maintains suction during online cleaning, allowing continuous machine operation.
Respond quickly to changing times
A common reason for an EMP is a change to the product – dimensions, complexity, type or surface specification – that requires a higher machine specification. More generally, EMPs help manufacturers achieve higher capacity and shorter cycle times with minimal interruption to production.
When Poland’s AVK Group upgraded the blast wheels on its oldest machine, it gained shorter cycle times and increased production capacity, along with easier parts sourcing that has allowed better maintenance planning and reduced downtime. Fellow Polish manufacturer Hyżyk Steel Structures changed to Wheelabrator’s TITAN direct drive blast wheels and immediately improved energy efficiency, maintenance access, machine uptime, and noise levels.
In fact, whether it’s through productivity, quality and resource control improvements or capital and ongoing cost savings, EMPs always boost the bottom line. Following flood damage, UK-based Sheffield Forgemasters chose to refurbish and modernise its blast room instead of replacing it – and cut £280,000 from the invoice.
When US Foundry spotted that it was spending too much on abrasive, it invested $14,000 in machine adjustments, a change in abrasive type and a new part. As well as increasing capacity, the EMP upgrades are now saving a staggering $64,000 annually.
Solving the toughest blasting problems
EMPs are a fantastic opportunity to take advantage of the latest technology, but they are a forcing ground for completely new ideas too. Though new machine concepts and completely new ways of doing things remain a key part of industry R&D efforts, it’s the subtle changes that emerge when working in partnership with customers – the improvements on components and their interplay – that often have the most telling impact on operations. A bespoke solution originally triggered by a customer’s request for support can end up becoming a stock product that benefits the whole industry.
Wheelabrator’s HD rotary screen started out like this – the solution to an iron foundry customer’s request for a more durable rotary screen for the separator sections of its blast machines. The new design’s abrasive-resistant material improved durability, matching the toughness of the rest of the machine and, with replacements needed less often, significantly reducing costs and downtime for the foundry.
The HD rotary screen is now a standard product, fitting both Wheelabrator machines and non-Wheelabrator equipment. This means the original customer can order their “bespoke” screen from stock at any time while letting others benefit from this technical advance too.
The fast route to blasting innovation
Upgrading or converting existing equipment far from a new idea: Wheelabrator started carrying out EMPs back in the 1970s, initially in response to growing demand for second-hand machines. What really is new is the chance to tailor the installed machine to the customer’s exact requirements, equip it with the latest technology and have it engineered by experts.
EMP benefits have become widely appreciated too: nowadays, many customers ask specifically for an EMP instead of a new machine. With over 30,000 machines in the field, Wheelabrator’s EMP customers can be found in all industries and world regions. Whether it’s air, wheel or vibro technology, all brands can be upgraded – including non-Wheelabrator equipment.
An EMP project goes well beyond exchanging individual machine components. Wheelabrator and Wheelabrator Vibro’s deep experience and knowledge of blasting science means they can get under the skin of a customer’s machine, looking at the whole process of blasting – efficiency, cycle time, pattern – and forensically analyse the existing configuration to tweak and optimise machine and process performance.
Looking at parts in isolation can be a trap as the solution may not lie where expected. Upgrading the usual suspects, like a blast wheel, can often provide an inexpensive and effective quick answer, but can also be costly and disruptive if it doesn’t fully address the issue. Analysing carefully and planning in detail avoids this possible hurdle and means the customer always knows how long an EMP will take, what it will cost, and how quickly the investment will pay for itself.
Whether the challenge is familiar or unique, an EMP solution delivers the benefits of Wheelabrator product innovation right now. Comparing the lead times of an EMP versus a new machine, an EMP is the fastest possible way to access the latest blast technology developments. It delivers maximum TCO performance for minimum outlay, using the equipment that’s already working hard on the factory floor.
CMB doubles blasting capacity with a rapid EMP
Keeping pace with exponential order growth was the challenge for automotive casting specialist CMB at its 200,000-square-metre Suzhou facility built in 2013. Despite a monthly line capacity of 8,000 tonnes, this division of China Metal International Holdings was struggling to satisfy demand for cylinder blocks finished using the Wheelabrator DV2 shot blast machine.
At the start of 2018, CMB considered installing another machine but limited workshop space left no room. Instead, following a detailed consultation and several months of design fine-tuning, the Wheelabrator team started an Equipment Modernisation Programme.
First, they reconfigured the machine to operate with two columns, each clamping two workpieces. To allow this, they upgraded the manipulator to give free movement across two axes. With 24/7 working, the installation was finished within a week.
The recommissioned machine’s capacity jumped from two components in a 72 second cycle to four components in one 90 second cycle. As well as double the loading capacity, blasting efficiency also rose by 40%. CMB’s output increased by over 30%, with the previous monthly total of 50-70K cylinder blocks climbing to over 100K pieces.
Mr Peilin Su, manager of the CMB equipment department, said: “This equipment modernisation project has not only increased our productivity, efficiency and cost-efficiency, it helped us to avoid the expense of new equipment or reconfiguring our factory layout to create extra space.
“Before the modernisation, we were worried that doubling the output of the machine might impact quality. However, the Wheelabrator team has done a fantastic job and the results are exceeding our expectations – the quality of the finished parts is exceptional.”