VOL. 24 November ISSUE YEAR 2023

MFN Trainer Column

in Vol. 24 - November Issue - Year 2023
Success of the Shot Peening Process: Operators Are The Key!

Operators are the key to the success of any shot peening process. As a trainer, in our interactions with the operators, I am surprised by their level of understanding and willingness to learn. It is even more surprising to find simple practical solutions from them at times when we are scratching our heads. It is mostly for the technical theory of shot peening technology that we find it challenging to elucidate. But when properly understood, motivated and encouraged, the simplest of the operator will perform well against the toughest of the challenges.

It would not be wrong to say that the operators know more than what is written in the books. The operators, from working closely with the machine, develop a very good rapport with it. To the point that they can even tell any abnormality just by the sound of it alone. I sometimes compare their skills to that of a skilled horse trainer, who can understand and control the animal with the slightest hint. Likewise, by knowing the machine inside out, the operator gets the best out of it. 

Today’s state-of-the-art equipment is simply stunning and extraordinary. The need to create predictability in our processes has led to more and more automation in our machines. We innovate and use modern technology to get the best results. But, even the best of the equipment will not produce results if not operated properly. This brings us to the realisation that machine operators are the most important part of the whole set-up of our production unit.

Different types of machines have different characteristics. Like when you compare a pneumatic machine with an airless machine, they have completely different working principles and control mechanisms. The only way to find out is by going through process establishment through trial and error. Some machines are small and simple, some are huge and more complex. Frequent breakdowns due to improper handling may cause huge maintenance expenses. And handling such powerful machines is like taming the beast. 

There is a need to understand the process nitty-gritty at all levels across the organisation, or in other words, across all the verticals within the organisation. The scope of a part designer in defining the shot peening specification is different from that of a quality inspector. And in the same way, that of a machine operator is totally different from that of a manager. For the designer, it is important to make sure that the part is protected from fatigue-related failures. For the quality personnel it is important to ensure that the required quality standards are met and that process integrity is maintained. 

We are aware of the various factors and parameters responsible for proper application of shot peening. We know the importance of doing shot peening correctly. Hence, ultimately for the machine operator, it is important to ensure that the parts are correctly handled and carefully processed. Otherwise, all the previous efforts will be in vain. Yes, there is a need to make the processes ‘system dependent’ rather than ‘people dependent’. And in that case, a skilled and intelligent machine operator is essential.   

It is not so easy for them to train themselves, as they say ‘everything is difficult before it is easy’. And it may take a couple of times for the machine operators to go through the entire sequence of operations to master it, to become familiar with the machine and what it is capable of. We need to be very careful in training and motivating them during their process of learning. 

With the young engineers and modern machinery around, machine operators are often ignored or looked upon as less important. They are expected not to use their ‘brains’ but simply follow instructions. But the fact is that they have a greater responsibility for meeting our production targets. They work under pressure and deliver every time.

Two things for today’s engineers, I am sure many of the old school chaps will agree. One, try to spend more time on the floor than on the internet if you want real learning. Two, we should all appreciate the operators, they relieve our pressures by getting ‘work’ done on the floor! They are the key to our success!

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