in Vol. 18 - July Issue - Year 2017
Never Stop Improving
Joe McGreal, VP of Sales and Marketing, Ervin Industries (Picture of Atomization of abrasive in the background)
Ervin Test Machine (Testing for Abrasive Durability and Transferred Energy)
Abrasive samples embedded in Bakelite base for hardness testing at Ervin Test Laboratory (Adrian, MI)
The popular Ervin ‘Shot Card’ shows samples of shot and grit with screening tolerances as per SAE specifications
When discussing blast cleaning and shot peening, the focus has traditionally been greater on the equipment and less on the process and inputs that validate the process. Those familiar with the process will agree that a key input for both blast cleaning and shot peening is the "tool" (media), and Ervin's manufacturing facilities personify this fact. Starting from sorting and selecting the right mix of steel scrap for the furnace, to melting, pouring, thermal treatment, screening and packaging, these ISO 14001:2004 facilities never fail to fascinate both discerning technical and astute commercial minds. The attention to detail is obvious in every part of the manufacturing process. Joe McGreal, VP of Sales and Marketing at Ervin Industries explains that, "the company's quality standards exceed the requirements of SAE & AMS and every ton of cast steel shot is closely monitored through every process to achieve the highest quality". Ervin’s loyal and growing customer base relies on the repeatability and accuracy of their cleaning or peening operations and it’s critical that we deliver on this promise cycle after cycle". This sums up the company's dynamic vision in very simple and tangible terms. The MFN team met with Mr. McGreal to learn more about Ervin, its 97-year old legacy and vision for the future.
(?) MFN: Joe, how would you characterize almost a century of Ervin’s presence in this industry?
(!) J. M.: Ervin is currently managed by the third & fourth generation of the founder, John F. Ervin’s family. Through the years, we continue to deliver on a simple yet effective formula from our founder: "Know your customers. Sell them only quality products. Adapt to new and changing markets. Never stop improving".
This is the culture at Ervin Industries and the reason we are recognized as a quality benchmark for cast steel and stainless abrasives. Our founder, John Ervin was granted the first patent for Steel Shot in 1936 and recognized as the leading pioneer in the technical development of these products. Today, Ervin Industries is the largest manufacturer of steel abrasives in North America with three manufacturing locations, and is its leading exporter. Our business has taken us globally, with two other manufacturing facilities in Germany, and one in the UK. When he opened his first foundry in 1920, our founder John Ervin brought with him a salesman’s passion for customer service. Our customers expect superior products and support; this is what we’ve come to demand of ourselves, it’s how we differentiate ourselves from all others. John also brought his engineer’s mind for product development. Ervin Industries has developed on this technical vision leading to the following established products:
• AMASTEEL – Cast steel shot and grit abrasives (SAE and AMS specifications compliant)
• AMACAST – Stainless steel shot
• AMAGRIT – Stainless Steel grit
• Ervin CW Shot – Conditioned cut wire
• Ervin Technologies – Advanced, engineered metal particles with critical control of shape, size, chemistry, microstructure and performance
(AMA stands for Alloy Metal Abrasive)
Metallic shot and grit are what the blast cleaning and shot peening industry knows us for, and these continue to be our primary focus. However, at Ervin we haven’t stopped innovating. Our Ervin Technologies (Tecumseh, MI) facility pushes the boundaries of metal particles everyday to bring some of those conceptual techniques into commercial realities for various industries and research professionals. More on this later, but the point being made here is that our company, in addition to drawing technical inspiration from innovations that happen at Ervin Technologies, apply such advances to our metallic shot and grit manufacturing operations. This is following through on our founder’s vision of the continuous need to improve.
(?) MFN: How does Ervin differentiate in a market that’s largely viewed as being commoditized?
(!) J. M.: In my 26+ years with the company, I’ve responded to this question in many different, satisfactory ways. The best response, in my assessment, requires knowledge of theory. Our customers understand that shot blast media consumption bears significantly on their operating costs. The two most important features of metallic shot or grit that affect value and performance are durability (life) and transferred energy or impact energy (work performed). Ervin AMASTEEL, AMACAST, AMAGRIT and Ervin CW Shot are very consistent in size, shape, hardness and chemistry. These features lead to lower breakdown rates and allow every single metallic particle to fully perform the function that it was intended for. Though our customers are aware of this fact, they don’t have to take our word for it. Our lab regularly conducts tests and publishes data on comparative analyses carried out with other leading makes of metallic shot and grit. For example, in 2016, 37 field samples of a leading brand of metallic shot and grit were collected and compared with Ervin AMASTEEL revealing the following results: Average durability of Ervin AMASTEEL was 116% of this competing make, with the percentage varying between 6% and as high as 45% for some sizes. Over 40% of the competing metallic shot and grit didn’t conform to SAE specifications, with the issues being the hardness, screening, chemistry, microstructure and general appearance. For the skeptics that feel that the test is in an Ervin Test Machine, with propensity to declare results that favor Ervin, I can assure you that the machine has no intelligence to recognize the origin of metallic shot or grit that it’s presented with for testing, and the test is based purely on fundamental concepts of physics.
It’ll interest your readers to know that Ervin invented the laboratory Test Machine that is used to measure the durability and transmitted energy of the metallic shot and grit. This Test Machine has become the standard measuring tool in the industry, and is used by most shot blast media manufacturers to assess the quality and consistency of their manufacturing processes. This machine is also popular among high-volume users of metallic shot and grit to ensure that their abrasive is within specification limits when purchased. Over 250 such portable and easy to use Test Machines have been sold over the years.
Such exercises help us to not only differentiate but also allow us to offer a high value proposition to choose Ervin over other metallic shot and grit.
(?) MFN: What are some of the innovations in your manufacturing process that help you achieve such results as above?
(!) J. M.: It all starts with the quality of inputs. We choose our scrap steel very carefully and our metallurgists, in collaboration with our scrap supplier, have devised the optimum percentage mix of select steel scrap that is optimum for meeting our chemistry requirements to arrive at the desired metal composition. This is one of our competitive advantages, and true to the term, it is ubiquitous within the company. In your journey through the manufacturing process at Ervin, Adrian, you’ll see that everyone starting with the scrap handler at the yard to the technicians in the furnace control room and the testers in the lab are intimately familiar with this requirement. Our 40T furnace turns out multiple heats per day, and the metallurgy of every melt is checked several times at different stages by our lab, and altered if required.
Ervin has established a unique water quench process that we have found to positively affect the durability, transmitted energy and helps us control the metallurgy of the metallic shot and grit. Some of our customers in the pipe-coating industry work with specifications that require the use of low-chloride shot. In such cases, we can re-tune the quenching process to use de-ionized water and achieve conductivity levels that are the lowest in the steel abrasive industry, well below ASTM testing standards D4940 for Conductivity and D512-2 for Chloride.
Molten metal from the furnace is atomized with individually controlled and operated spray nozzles to (a) optimize pouring efficiency, and (b) maintain uniform grain structure and chemistry. This is where it all starts and is vital to building the necessary grain integrity for every subsequent process. Upon completion of water atomization, the collected abrasive passes through the first stage of 'Rough Screening'. This is yet another stage where Ervin’s metallurgists and engineers have designed customized furnaces to heat-treat the shot and grit by size. This addresses the fact that different sizes have varying surface areas and the complete benefits of heat treating can be achieved only when similar areas are treated together (exposure time versus surface area). The heat-treated shot and grit from individual furnaces is once again quenched in a water stream before final screening to meet SAE specifications (J444 for Cast Shot and Grit Size Specifications for Peening and Cleaning). The final tempering takes place in individual furnaces to four different hardnesses of AMASTEEL. As you can see, Ervin manages its manufacturing process to assure desired and expected results. The quality of our shot and grit and conformance to specifications speak for themselves, and are a direct result of our attention to every single part of our production process.
(?) MFN: How does Ervin interact with the equipment manufacturers in the industry?
(!) J. M.: We have a great working relationship with both large and small equipment manufacturers in this industry. Our global footprint also allows us to support their equipment all over the world. Their growth translates to ours, and we have been regularly acknowledged by them for supplying a quality product. The consistency of Ervin’s quality results in one less variable that they don’t have to worry about. Also, we have several specialists in our team that are intimately familiar with wheelblast and airblast machines. This allows us to provide value addition in terms of process advice to our end-users, thus providing an additional point of differentiation.
(?) MFN: With the differentiation and value-addition, are you able to combat low-cost abrasive suppliers?
(!) J. M.: The threat of low-cost suppliers cannot be ignored. However, Ervin understands its market quite well. This is the market where quality is revered. Our customers understand the economics of their operation well enough to not trade their product quality for short-term gains, which by the way, lead to higher operating costs in the long run. Whenever an opportunity presents itself, our lab will process metallic shot and grit samples sent from customer sites and compare them to Ervin products. The results, without fail, demonstrate the superiority of Ervin shot and grit.
(?) MFN: What does the future have in store for Ervin?
(!) J. M.: The future for us is very exciting. The world markets continue to respond very favorably to quality and are increasingly eager to understand their manufacturing costs. Ervin fits perfectly into this pursuit with cleaning abrasive and peening media with exceptional endurance and impact energy. On the peening side, we have recently introduced Cut Wire shot. Like Steel & Stainless Steel shot, Ervin CW is unique. After conditioning, we add an additional step in our custom heat treat furnaces to improve life (endurance) in most cases by more than 15%. At this point, we are focusing on AMS 2431/3, AMS 2431/8 and SAE J441 conforming material, to assist customers that are allowed by their specifications to use Cut Wire shot as an alternative to cast steel shot.
Yet another product that we’re experiencing growth in is our stainless steel grit – AMAGRIT. This highly recyclable stainless steel blast media is now getting the recognition it deserves. It is steadily converting previous users of glass bead, aluminum oxide and garnet for grit-blasting applications. AMAGRIT’s excellent corrosion resistance, superior hardness (+57 HRC) and precise microstructure provide maximum durability and impact energy transfer. Its life expectancy of up to 1000 to 1 when compared with commonly used non-metallic blast media raises its profile in critical grit blasting applications. It is also environmentally friendly, contaminant free and inert.
At any given time, there are a lot of interesting projects underway at Ervin Technologies. Rapid Solidification Rate (RSR) technology that we have adopted at this facility enables production of fine-grained (nanometer-scale) and amorphous metals with uniform chemistry. The resulting unique microstructures from very high cooling rates are not possible through gas atomization and other conventional methods. Our process also allows us to process in atmospheres such as argon, helium, nitrogen or vacuum, in addition to air. This facility, with all its technical capabilities, acts as an R&D center not only for Ervin but also for innovative companies in the advanced manufacturing sector that use it to test new materials. Some of our commercial products being manufactured here include stainless steel shot (AMACAST), Shot Gun shot for non-toxic shot shells, micro peening shot, specialty fine-grained and amorphous alloys, Advanced magnetic materials, Metal Injection Molding powders, 3-D printing powders, Electrochemical electrode powders etc.
(?) MFN: What message would you like to send out to the industry?
(!) J. M.: A very simple one – If you measure what you do, you can improve it, never stop improving! This message has worked wonders for Ervin. We have worked with many customers who had written off blast cleaning and shot peening media as commodities and then come back to Ervin when they realized the damage this thinking was causing in their production and to their productivity. Specifications have been drafted for a reason and conforming to them has its distinct advantages for quality and cost. Ervin is your partner in performance. We encourage the MFN readership to visit www.ervinindustries.com and take advantage of the technical information available, or contact us with their blast cleaning and shot peening media related questions. We look forward to helping your readers increase the profitability of their business.
MFN would like to thank Joe McGreal for this interview!