VOL. 8 March ISSUE YEAR 2007
in Vol. 8 - March Issue - Year 2007
Modern Technologies for Surface Pre-Treatment
Perttu Junnila, Managing Director (left) and Hannu Hernesniemi, Sales Director (right)
Blastman B20-robot at workshop tests before delivery to customer
Industrial robots are nowadays used in many different fields and applications. Blastman Robotics OY made it a point to integrate such systems for the surface industry. MFN had the pleasure of talking to Perttu Junnila, Managing Director and Hannu Hernesniemi, Sales Director of this Finnish company.
(?) MFN: What is Blastman Robotics OY?
(!) P. J.: Blastman Robotics OY is a supplier of automated industrial solutions in surface treatment by abrasive blasting. Our aim is to strengthen our customers’ profitability by using sophisticated solutions. The core part in our deliveries is the Blastman abrasive blasting robot that is specifically designed to endure the harsh conditions of a blast chamber.
In addition to the robots, we also deliver integrated solutions that may contain a blasting chamber, abrasive handling system, air conditioning, compressor, conveyors and other accessories.
(?) MFN: Please tell us a bit about your history.
(!) P. J.: The story of abrasive blast robots begun in the early 1980’s in the Finnish machine workshop Tampella, whose occupational health care doctor raised the question of possibly automating the dangerous manual blasting. Tampella’s engineers took up the task, and as a result, in 1982 the first joy-stick operated manipulator was installed in Tampellas workshop. In 1985 the first robot with automated control system was delivered to a customer.
The product developed into a business, that in 1988, was transferred to Rautaruukki, a Finnish steel manufacturer. Rautaruukki continued the engineering and marketing of the robots until 1997 when Blastman Robotics OY, a newly founded company, took over the operations.
Today Blastman is the leading abrasive blast robot manufacturer in the world. We operate globally. The main share of our deliveries go to Europe, but we also have customers from Asia and North America.
(?) MFN: Who is a typical customer for Blastman?
(!) H. H.: Companies that use abrasive blasting in surface pre-treatment. We are especially strong among workshops that produce or maintain railcars. Foundries, manufacturers of transportation equipment, bridge beams, containers and cranes are other examples of our customers. To put it briefly, anyone who needs or uses abrasive blasting for surface pretreatment is a potential customer.
(?) MFN: Why do your customers invest in the robotization of abrasive blasting?
(!) H. H.: First of all, it enhances the efficiency of blasting. The indefatigable robot boom can handle powerful high pressure blast nozzles day in day out. Secondly, the robot is easily adaptable to blasting of different sized and shaped objects. The robot does not set limitations to the choice of blast media. Thirdly, the result of automated blasting is continuously of high quality. That helps the following surface treatment processes. And lastly – today more and more importantly – work safety and motivation are greatly improved. Many of our customers have told us how difficult it is to recruit personnel to do heavy and dangerous manual blasting.
(?) MFN: What separates Blastman robots from regular industrial robots used in abrasive blasting?
(!) P. J.: We are often asked how reliable the robot is in the extremely harsh conditions of a blast chamber. Some industrial robots have had to be dismantled just a couple of weeks after installation because dust and abrasive had entered into the robot’s joints paralyzing the operation. Experiences like that have had a negative effect on how a robot could be utilized in abrasive blasting.
Durability and reliable operation in blast chamber conditions are two of the main focal points in the development of Blastman robots. References are the best proof of reliability. For example, the Swedish ABB transformer factory - by the way, the ABB group also manufactures industrial robots - still uses daily a Blastman robot installed in 1989 to clean transformer cases.
The robot control system is a result of our in-house development. We have taken into account the special features of abrasive blasting, ease of use, and simple programmability. Blastman models equipped with a control cabin can also be used as manipulators, enabling joy-stick controlled cleaning of individual work pieces. For complex work pieces, simulated off-line programming software is also available. Off-line programming frees the robot for production.
(?) MFN: Do you cooperate with other abrasive blast equipment suppliers?
(!) P. J.: In some cases, yes. We may, for example, deliver a robot into an existing blast chamber. Sometimes we may be a supplier for another blast equipment company. However, it’s more and more common that Blastman is solely responsible for entire turn-key projects. We are very strong in leading projects and our customers rely on us as a supplier of entire surface treatment solutions. In some of our biggest projects we, together with our suppliers, have been responsible for delivering entire painting solutions.
(?) MFN: You said that Blastman operates globally. How have you organized the marketing?
(!) P. J.: We have representatives in the most important target countries. Their task is to find new potential customers to automated abrasive blasting technology. We aim to improve the representative network and build to new market areas. For this reason, we are always on the lookout for new partners to market out products.
(?) MFN: What does the future hold for Blastman Robotics?
(!) P. J.: There is a tendency in Europe to move the production into countries that have cheaper labour costs. Those Western European companies that wish to maintain production in their home country, must invest in automation. The automation of abrasive blasting is an essential part in developing production facilities in the future. It’s going to be difficult to recruit people to do manual blasting which is considered to be a heavy, dirty and dangerous job.
On the other hand, the threshold of investing into robotics has become lower and will do that in the future, too. The unparalleled efficiency of robotized blasting compared to manual blasting has gained us new customers even in countries that have low labour costs. For example the Indian Railways commissioned a delivery of two robots that are now used in garnet blasting stainless steel railway cars.
Throughout our existence, we have always concentrated on research and development in order to be able to offer our customers more sophisticated and cost effective solutions. We will keep doing so, and our aim is to increase our market share as an expert and a turn-key supplier of abrasive blasting systems.
We at MFN would like to thank Mr. Perttu Junnila and Mr. Hannu Hernesniemi for this interview.