in Vol. 16 - September Issue - Year 2015
From Small To Perfectly Formed: A Complete Global Airblast Offering
Alain Portebois, Sales & Marketing Manager, Charleville Technology Centre, Wheelabrator
Flexible Lance Internal Peening system - detail
Vacu-Blast PLC automated airblast machines
MP 1000 compact range CNC peening system
Wheelabrator MP2RF 16000 peen forming wing panels
Wheelabrator is the world leader in surface preparation technology, offering a complete range of airblast, wheelblast and mass finishing solutions. MFN had the pleasure to talk to Alain Portebois, Sales & Marketing Manager, Charleville Technology Centre, Wheelabrator Group.
(?) MFN: Mr. Portebois, thank you for taking the time to speak to us. Maybe you could start by giving us a little overview of your role at Wheelabrator?
(!) A. P.: Of course - I'm based at Wheelabrator's Technology Centre in Charleville, France, which is our specialist technology centre for airblast shot peening for high-spec applications. Historically, we have very close ties to the Aerospace and Automotive industries, where we work with leading OEMs and suppliers on critical processes in aircraft and transmissions manufacture.
The package we offer globally from Charleville ranges from standard equipment, special equipment and the development of completely new processes, through to machine deployment and on-site training, as well as subcontracted peening of components.
We work closely with the Wheelabrator Technology Centre in Metelen, Germany, and with our colleagues in Burlington, who cover the "imperial world", but also support colleagues globally with specialist training and design expertise.
(?) MFN: The name Wheelabrator tends to suggests a wheelblast focus and we're hearing a lot about that side of the business - what role does airblast play within the group?
(!) A. P.: An increasingly important one, if I do say so myself. Wheelabrator is all about the complete offer, so we want to be able to cover all relevant technologies and be, to a degree, technology-agnostic.
We now work across disciplines in finding the best blast processes for customers worldwide, be it a combined wheelblast/airblast machine or equipment that requires sector expertise from elsewhere in the group. For everyone at Wheelabrator, the world has become a much smaller place, and the wheelblast/airblast divide today is much less important.
Our airblast offering is a global one, with specialisations in individual Wheelabrator locations helping to enhance a complete range for all applications, industries and geographies.
(?) MFN: Where's the demand for airblast coming from at the moment?
(!) A. P.: Lightweight part design is a great driver for advanced shot peening in the Automotive field and always has been in that of the Aerospace field- and these are mostly airblast processes. Nevertheless, there are also a myriad of micro-trends, where we see demand surge for a specific type of machine. We can respond to that because our offering is both broad and deep.
(?) MFN: Is airblast technology still considered a niche or high-end application, or has it gone mainstream?
(!) A. P.: For a long time, airblast at Wheelabrator has been serving a high-end niche in Aerospace. As you will know, today there's a lot more mainstream manufacturing needing both technologies: airblast and wheelblast.
High-efficiency engines in the Automotive field come with ever more complex internal surfaces that then require strategic strengthening through shot peening. That can't be done through wheelblast alone.
We have certainly been seeing airblast go mainstream over the past two decades in Automotive, in particular in markets where fuel efficiency has become important.
(?) MFN: Where do you think are the growth opportunities for airblast equipment, both with regard to geography as well as application?
(!) A. P.: Automotive and Aerospace are still growing as segments for airblast, due to ever more complex blast processes required for every new component generation. Internal blasting is a huge growth area, especially in Automotive.
My colleagues in Germany have just developed a new concept for flexible lances for intricate internal areas of, for example, engine blocks. These efforts are only going to intensify as such engine designs are rolled out across all vehicle categories.
Our North American Technology Centre is seeing increased demand for their airblast equipment range across applications and industries. In the long term, there are also growth opportunities in China, with the country embarking on an ambitious journey in Aerospace, resulting in a need for high-end airblast processes and equipment.
(?) MFN: Which types of airblast equipment do you offer?
(!) A. P.: Our ranges are roughly categorized by SmartLine, Standard and Special, comprising a broad variety of machine types.
SmartLine equipment (in the US often referred to as Express Delivery) is at the off-the-shelf end of the spectrum, with very cost-effective, yet high-quality basic equipment with very short delivery times (as little as five days for our EcoAir range).
Our SmartLine airblast offering comprises a range of other closed-circuit machines, manual blast cabinets (wet and dry) of all sizes for light daily use, as well as small to medium-sized blastrooms.
Due to our heritage and local specialisations, we can swiftly respond to emerging demands for a specific machine type, adding them to our global ranges that are then manufactured locally. For example, in terms of manual blast cabinets, we have recently added a larger model to the range, in response to customer enquiries for large cabinets.
Customers have also been asking us increasingly about front loader cabinets, as they take up less room and have certain advantages regarding ergonomics, so we're now offering four front loader cabinets as part of our Standard range. Due to the specific mini-cyclone technology, the cabinets are also less expensive than those with pneumatic recovery systems.
The Standard range allows more customization and more scope for automation than our SmartLine products, while benefitting from standardized components and tried-and-tested concepts. It includes our ten-model-strong Vacu-Blast cabinet range, Ventus, as well as satellite, turntable and pass-through machines from our Module 8 range, with its flexible and cost-efficient building block principle.
A number of machines from our MP and MC ranges are also available as Standard now, including our MP 2TR4 machine, a compact peening system designed for the peening and blasting of complex rotary components, mainly for the aerospace and automotive industries. Its advanced component handling system virtually eliminates downtime.
At the top end of the spectrum, we've got our special range for the most advanced or most integrated processes and applications. This includes AIC (Advanced Internal Cleaning) machines, the aforementioned Flexible Lance machines, CFX-DG equipment for duplex peening, MPF for aircraft wing peening, and all manner of hugely complex machines for specialist applications. These are often designed in conjunction with the customer to fit seamlessly into complex production environments. The possibilities with regard to automation are almost limitless.
(?) MFN: In general terms, Wheelabrator is considered a premium OEM - do you offer any smaller, more basic or standard equipment at entry level?
(!) A. P.: We offer an extensive range of entry-level equipment that benefits from Wheelabrator's manufacturing and engineering quality, as well as economies of scale leveraged through our global network.
Our EcoAir range, for example, is ideal for light blast operations of a few hours a day. The short delivery time of five days, the good quality and very reasonable price, makes this product a highly competitive option. In addition, it comes with all the advantages of being part of the Wheelabrator equipment family - from comprehensive service and proven durability through to fast access to parts.
Across equipment types and applications, we always strive to offer SmartLine versions of popular machines. The saving here is made not with regard to quality, but in the number of options available and in a more basic specification. SmartLine machines are the distilled product of our long experience and our thousands of machines in the field, which allow us to cut down on costly engineering time.
(?) MFN: What are the current technology challenges and development drivers for airblast?
(!) A. P.: As mentioned before, internal blasting and peening of complex workpieces is a major area of focus, as is the combination of blast processes and the integration of these into demanding production environments. Here, we're developing equipment for tasks that had never had to be done before (for example, peening along the narrow inside of a three-dimensionally-bent automotive stabilizer).
Wherever engineers in Automotive decide next to take away a bit more material to reduce weight, there is likely to be a peening process required to strengthen the now slimmed-down component. And more often than not, this will be an airblast process.
The march of airblast in Automotive, with its high-volume, super-efficient production, has added another challenge for us. When, in Aerospace, the question was "How can we peen this safety-critical part the most effectively and reliably?", the question in Automotive often is "What's the most efficient way of blasting this part - and then blast a million more of them?".
A knock-on effect of these production pressures is the desire to evolve equipment over time, designing it to be adaptable to accommodate faster development cycles with minimum disruption to production. We've become quite good at that.
(?) MFN: To conclude, could you sum up what all of this means from a customer perspective? Why should a customer choose Wheelabrator for airblast equipment?
(!) A. P.: All this cutting edge R&D and application expertise trickles down the equipment ranges, accelerates learning in our service organisation, and is shared globally within Wheelabrator, which ultimately benefits every customer, regardless of the type of equipment they choose.
There's nothing we as a company haven't seen and no blast application we couldn't provide equipment for. It means we'll find the solution that best fits the customer's requirements, without prejudice.
MFN would like to thank Alain Portebois for this interview!
Wheelabrator Group Technology Centre
24, rue Camille Didier BP 39
08001 Charleville-Mézières Cédex, France
Tel. +33.3.24 33 63 21
Fax +33.3.24 37 39 37