VOL. 14 November ISSUE YEAR 2013
in Vol. 14 - November Issue - Year 2013
Running Up Front at 70
Figure 1: Bolt-secured glove rings, recently added to Empire
Figure 2: Round plates mounted on a sliding loading cart secure and rotate 6,000-pound cylindrical parts during processing
Figure 3: Five work stations, plus rotation, provide easy operator access to weld seams on the entire part
Figure 4: Automated system reduces media, energy and labor costs while improving product quality and facilitating record keeping
Empire Abrasive Equipment combines the latest testing, design and manufacturing methods with 70 years of air-blast experience to evaluate and satisfy customer needs with blast cabinets, rooms and automated systems.
While doing business in its 70th year, Empire Abrasive Equipment exhibits the enthusiasm of a startup, hungry to improve standard products, develop new ones, and engineer hardware to meet specialized customer needs.
Empire's Pro-Finish® cabinet line, for example, received a recent enhancement with the addition of bolt-secured glove rings that expedite changeovers and include armrests for improved operator comfort and performance (Figure 1). Consisting of more than 100 models, Pro-Finish® cabinets have earnt renown worldwide for their rugged construction and versatile performance. Available with an extensive range of factory options, these cabinets help users minimize maintenance, conserve space, handle parts, and automate various aspects of the blast process. Moreover, their modular design simplifies alterations and upgrades required by some air-blast applications.
For example, when a part won't fit into a standard blast cabinet and a blast room won't fit into a customer's production facility and/or budget, or when the cost of an automated system is too high and the quality of manual blasting too low, Empire's Modified Cabinets Division goes to work. By drawing on the modular design of the Pro-Finish® line, the Modified Division is often able to address unique customer needs with a minimum of custom engineering. Since formalizing its leadership in modifying cabinets during the 1980s with the creation of a separate division, the company has produced over two thousand modified systems, some reducing capital costs by 70 percent in operations otherwise requiring a blast room or automated system.
As a leading producer of blast rooms and automated blast systems in addition to cabinets, Empire brings a balanced perspective to serving customer interests. At the same time, its Modified Cabinet Division enjoys convenient access to room and automation technology, both of which play an important role in a 25-foot long, special-purpose cabinet built to cleanup weld seams on large, cylindrical components. As shown in Figure 2, two circular mounting plates (courtesy of the automation division) are provided to hold and rotate parts during processing. Once attached to the plates, the 6,000-pound parts move along tracks into a cabinet equipped with five work stations, each with its own glove set and viewing window (Figure 3), so operators can access all welds. The flow of glass beads supplied by a 6.5 cubic foot pressure vessel can be controlled by any one of three treadles, and a "W" type pneumatic recovery floor (supplied by the room division) beneath the cabinet grate returns media to a tunable, 1600 CFM reclaimer for recycling. Beyond meeting a highly specialized customer need, this project demonstrates the synergy between Empire's product divisions.
Empire's fast, fluid and flexible performance at 70 also stems from modern engineering and manufacturing techniques. The engineering department, for instance, deploys three-dimensional modeling software to design precision equipment while checking for interferences and functionality prior to actual fabrication. Then, when models go to the fabrication layout department, they can be converted quickly into flat patterns for CNC plasma-cutting in the manufacturing department. These internal resources shorten lead times and improve efficiency by minimizing rework and scrap.
They also facilitate the design and production of large-scale automated systems (Figure 4). The system shown addressed four fundamental problems encountered by a company producing similarly shaped metal parts in a variety of sizes. For starters, the manual blasting methods being used failed to meet quality standards; they produced too many rejects and too little consistency. Secondly, labor requirements were too high. At the same time, throughput was too low. Finally, over-blasting was throwing money out the window by squandering media and compressed air.
Beyond addressing these problems, this automated solution would also have to handle two types of media simultaneously while accepting input from a barcode scanner and producing a report on each batch of parts processed. To meet these and various other customer requirements, each batch is loaded onto a carriage holding up to ten parts, all masked with a common feature for robotic gripping. Vision systems within blast enclosures verify part quantity in each batch and assure proper positioning for robotic picking prior to blasting, during which the robot manipulates parts within a pressure-blast stream for precise coverage. Media classifiers control the other variable, abrasive size, to achieve on-spec finishing within tight tolerances. Fault sensors detect out-of-range performance, such as low blast pressure, and provide a paper trail to any mistreated parts for future rework.
During its 69th year, Empire expanded into paid-for testing services. Traditionally, the company provides test blasting for prospective customers at no charge to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of its approach versus those of direct competitors or alternative technologies. To stay up front, Empire continues to improve its test lab and demonstration center, a facility that has led the industry for more than a decade. With the recent addition of highly precise and easily programmed robotic cabinets to its test lab, Empire can now adjust blast variables quickly to provide manufacturers with valuable processing data at an attractive price.