MFN was able to get an interview with Mike Langtry and his colleagues at Langtry Blast Technologies Inc..
We have been regularly hearing about businesses that have succumbed to the effects of the pandemic. This may have been your favourite neighbourhood restaurant or a family-run local business that was not considered essential enough to stay open and survive. However, the story has been strikingly different with our partner companies in advanced manufacturing industries like Automotive, Aerospace and Medical. Langtry Blast Technologies (LBTI) is no exception to the rule. As the MFN team could not physically conduct this interview, Mike Langtry, President of LBTI gave us a view of their assembly floor to the extent that Zoom would permit. The floor was a beehive of activity with multiple machines in different stages of assembly. Interestingly, most of these machines were destined for Asia, which at the time of interview continued to be a restricted-access zone for business visitors. Mike explained his success to the MFN team, and teamed up with his technical and operational staff to talk to us about how they have addressed the continuing demand for grit blasting, blast cleaning and shot peening equipment in global markets.
(?) MFN: Mike, what has LBTI been up to since we interviewed you in 2018.
(!) M. L.: LBTI has its own version of TED (Technology Engineering and Design) going on within our carved-out niche in the industry! The last three years have been an extension of the previous 16 or so years where we have capitalized on existing, successful designs and continued our path of innovation by embracing new technologies (controls), provided solutions for new applications, and gained ground in new geographies.
Though we are mindful of the sad fact that many businesses have had to scale down or even close their doors permanently in the past year, we have seen nothing but expansion and great promise for the future. We attribute that to several factors. Our customers have always been considered mission-critical businesses and stayed open all through this crisis. Our history of reliability with these customers and word-of-mouth to new ones have positioned us as a viable partner to many businesses. We have worked very hard to get here, and I am proud that we have thrived at it!
(?) MFN: That is great to hear, Mike. What are some of the new technologies and industries you have been working on?
(!) M. L.: As you are aware, Aerospace and Automotive have always been our focus industries. The exaction and precision demanded by these industries have prompted us to not only standardize but also improvise on earlier designs of standard components used in our equipment. Sub-systems including robotic interfaces, multi-axis positioners, interpolation, and integration of work handling arrangements with blast nozzles, advanced safety interlocks extending beyond simple safety circuits, seamless use of multiple media types in shot peening have all been updated with engineering refreshes. Our engineering and purchasing teams have actively identified and collaborated with supply chain partners for robots, servos, drives etc. to re-evaluate the efficacy of existing designs and found ways to ease their maintainability aspects. This has allowed us to reach several strategic goals – shortening lead times for critical components by way of more accurate planning, rationalizing machine costs, often resulting in potential savings, and obtaining accurate estimates of manufacturing lead-times.
In terms of new industries that we have penetrated, we are quite excited that this list keeps getting diverse! In the past three years, we have seen everything from grit blasting complex, thin-walled, aircraft components, composites, to targeting the ID of narrow tubes used in the Oil & Gas industry. Though these might seem like conventional applications, we have extended our reach in these projects through transformation from being purely blast machine builders to integrators of handling and automation equipment that tie in with the core process, i.e., blasting or peening. This has allowed our customers to not only rely on a single source, LBTI, for their needs but also maintain uniform quality standards while relying on a single source for a successful installation. This process has led to a few remarkable innovations, namely, a servo-driven, closed-loop, non-ferrous flow control valve, a pneumatic diverter valve for segregating the collection of different media sizes into dedicated storage bins ultimately to conduct drop tests, and intuitive controls to further enhance yet simplify operator controls. As a result, our engineers now bank on in-house talents to design critical components than rely heavily on external suppliers as in the past.
We have also launched a new, standard product that we term 'M3'. The M3 unit addresses an existing gap in the market for a system to create a custom blend of virgin and in-use blast media in desired proportions. Though stand-alone media reclaim units are currently in existence, none of them provide features to separate and eliminate unusable media while blending new media in accurate proportions. Our design engineers and applications team collaborated with potential users of this product to arrive at most practical design criteria for a newly designed system. The result is a reclaim unit that fits conveniently within a standard freight container for portability. The M3 unit consists of a hopper to receive virgin (new) media that gets elevated to an Airwash Separator by a Bucket Elevator. The airwash separator eliminates the fines and dust in the media, dropping it into a Vibratory Classifier for separation of large-sized contaminants (foreign objects) and unusable fines. The cleaned and classified media then drops into one of the two sections of the Storage Hopper. An onboard cartridge-style Dust Collector provides the necessary ventilation at different suction points.
In-use media is typically vacuumed off the work floor, where it remains after a blast operation, to a cyclone mounted on the M3 platform. The cyclone separates the dust and discharges the useable size to the second section in the main storage hopper. The outlet of the main storage hopper is fitted with a proprietary Mixing Valve that allows the user to adjust the proportion of each media type (virgin and in-use) and arrive at the desired blend for blasting.
(?) MFN: That is an elaborate arrangement for media reclaim – where can this system be used?
(!) M. L.: The need for this arrangement was initially expressed to us by the US Navy for deployment aboard a vessel for blasting. Since then, the unique M3 system has been the first of its kind to be approved by the US Navy. As this developed, the M3 units have found homes in oil rigs and other transient blast environments focused on using the desired blend of media without being forced towards disposal after a single blast cycle. As with all our projects, there are continuous improvements taking place with the addition of accessories including air dryers and other media maintenance features to ensure a productive blast process that makes optimum use of available energy.
(?) MFN: Has the pandemic changed the way you do things?
(!) M. L.: It most certainly has. We have started designing and manufacturing multiple redundancies into our machines so that they may be serviced by customer-organized local resources, especially when they are half-a-world away! Needless to say, this is a direct result of our inability to travel for some part of 2020. To explain this concept, I have requested that our shop supervisors Henry Wiens (HW) and Abe Reimer (AR) join our discussions.
MFN has summarized the feedback provided by HW and AR as below:
(!) H. W.& A. R.: Machine assembly and de-bugging are two critical aspects of our job, and our goal is to help customers that have to service our equipment without the benefit of knowing how they were initially integrated. With local customers that are a phone call or short truck ride away, we ensure that we respond with a solution within 24 hours – whether it be by phone or a visit. However, since this was getting exceedingly difficult last year, we increased the rigor with which assembled machines were tested so that any potential issues with continued use were identified before the machine left our assembly floor. Pre-Covid, we regularly had customers visit us for machine testing prior to shipment. However, since that was not possible with the last few machines that shipped, we took it upon ourselves to assemble an in-house ‘Customer Team’ comprising of colleagues from engineering, manufacturing, and sales to simulate a customer visit. The purpose was to test the machine, validate it to this team and seek their approval before presenting test results to the outside customer. This exercise worked quite well and ended up being a template that most end-users ended up adopting and using through Zoom or similar platforms.
In addition to that, we scrutinized frequent-wear items and devised features on the shop floor to reduce wear and facilitate easy replacement. Our blast hose management system for multi-nozzle machines is an example. During mock customer testing of a recently-shipped machine, we identified that hose wear could have been exacerbated by continuous ‘rubbing’ of hoses with a fixed section of the cabinet. The potential issue was flagged by one of our technicians after a few hours of observation, something that would have yet taken several months based on our customer’s usage pattern. However, to mitigate this possibility, we designed a linear rail system to carry the hoses in a collective pattern, minimize erosion, and allow for the entire bank to be replaced when necessary.
The MFN team also spoke to engineering personnel at LBTI. A summary of discussions with Gary Niu (GN), Jonathan Velenosi (JV) and Alex Sorce (AS) of the LBTI engineering team is as follows:
(!) G. N.& J. V.& A. S.: Every day is different here at LBTI engineering. Whether it is an insistent sales engineer talking about a new application and the ‘best’ solution or seeking answers to a persistent problem, there is no shortage of excitement! In the past 18 to 24 months, we have developed interesting nozzle designs that conserve energy at the discharge point by moderating the flow. This has been particularly useful when peening inside tube IDs where the deflector tip at the discharge of the nozzle lance typically causes an abrupt and drastic loss of energy upon impact. This ‘gradual discharge’ design has allowed us to recover over 25% of the energy that would have otherwise been lost to the older style deflector tip.
Our efforts have also resulted in the development of a tuning fork-style nozzle specifically designed to peen thin-walled components (example, blisks). Though this design has existed with our company for a while, we have perfected it now to allow consistent flow of smaller media sizes as well.
(?) MFN: Sounds like a lot of activity at LBTI, Mike. What are some of your strategic targets for the next few years?
(!) M. L.: Our success has been a well-kept secret, and it is time to reap the rewards. I am proud to announce the procurement of a 2-acre (8000 sq. metres) property to house our second plant. The new facility will be in the town of Tillsonburg, Ontario, which is about 125 KM from our current location. The location was chosen to enable customize plant design as is the luxury with new construction. Tillsonburg is along the ‘automotive corridor’ in Ontario, which has traditionally offered good business potential. To put this in perspective to your readers, Ontario has five (5) global OEMs assembling vehicles with the second largest vehicle-producing jurisdiction in North America by volume. This has attracted 700+ parts suppliers and 500+ tool, die and mould companies. Though the market in Canada is restricted by its population, 80% of our auto output is exported to the US and other countries. We enjoy comparable statistics in Aerospace when combining Quebec, our neighbouring province. All this provides proximity to customers and world-class suppliers alike.
Coming back to our Plant 2, our architect’s plan is to build up about 30,000 sq. feet (2800 sq. metres) in fabrication and assembly bays. In addition to an office area, complete with training rooms, the new plant will be comprised of dedicated blast and paint booths. We propose to utilize the booths to prepare steel for LBTI equipment as well as offer finishing services to local steel users. Over the years, we have had (and turned down) multiple requests to fabricate and finish steel components. Upon establishment of this initiative, our plan is to build automated peening machines and work towards NADCAP certification so that we may start processing components for our aerospace customers when their volumes do not justify new equipment purchase. The new facility will introduce us to this line of business. A robotic test machine is also being manufactured for installation in the new facility. This will allow us to simulate applications and present suitable solutions for our potential customers, estimate cycle times, surface finishes and related critical process data well before the design stage. Personally, for me it has been interesting trying to balance a thriving business and at the same time plan for this exciting future growth!
(?) MFN: Mike, the future does look very promising for Langtry Blast Technologies, and we wish you the best with your efforts. We will be tracking your progress and hope to visit your new facility in the future years as you get established there.
MFN thanks Mike Langtry and his colleagues at Langtry Blast Technologies Inc. for participating in this interview for MFN magazine.
For Information: Langtry Blast Technologies Inc
5390 Munro Court, Burlington
Ontario, L7L 5N8, Canada
Tel. +1.905.681 2030, Fax +1.905.681 2814