By Heinrich Dropmann
Sales Director, OEM Wheel Germany, Wheelabrator
If you ask me what the trends are in Automotive that impact our day-to-day work as a blast equipment manufacturer, it’s not new materials or radically new processes that spring to mind.
The three things we’ve seen and responded to here in Metelen (and across the Wheelabrator network) all revolve around speed. They are: testing, acceleration and integration.
Testing, testing, testing
Blast processes play an important role in lightweight construction nowadays, allowing engineers to design parts thinner and lighter, and then strategically strengthen them through targeted shot peening.
To navigate this balancing act between reducing material and maintaining the mechanical strength of a part, process control, testing and measuring have become increasingly important.
This means that a shot peening process for, say, a new gear shaft, has to be fine-tuned and tested to perfection before the machine is even delivered. Because no one in the car industry today has time to fine-tune in situ – the pressures on production are just too high.
Can you do that faster?
Even the pre-delivery testing itself has been streamlined. We now have a fully-fledged in-house test lab, complete with our own x-ray diffractometer, to avoid having to send parts to external labs for analysis.
The inherent need to do things faster runs through everything we do for Automotive. For example, we’ve been optimising our turn-around times on standard machines and parts, as well as on engineering time. We’ve also physically moved everyone closer together, to save time when working on a complex problem across teams.
Finally, and probably most importantly, Automotive is pioneering “designed in“ time savings, through better workpiece handling, more efficient processes and automation.
Innovation now often happens at the interface between production steps, and revolves around making the line more efficient without cutting corners, designing more compact machines and workpiece journeys.
We’re increasingly being asked to deliver complete systems that integrate seamlessly into existing production lines, using robots specified by the customer or developed in partnership with automation experts.
Doing this for a shot blast machine, with its violent inner workings and complex logistics is no mean feat. That’s why some of our biggest innovations recently were about coupling mechanisms, sealing systems, robotic arms and door systems.
Overall, I don’t expect automotive’s need for speed to slow down anytime soon. In fact, with China discovering the power of automation, we are likely to continue on the path towards ever faster, more precise and more efficient blast processes, delivered by ever more compact machines that neatly slot into highly efficient production lines from Stuttgart or Ingolstadt in Germany to Spartanburg, South Carolina.