Sand Blasting with Blastman Robotics - The World Leader in blast cleaning robotics

14. Apr. 2022
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Sand Blasting with Blastman Robotics - The World Leader in blast cleaning robotics

The unique Blastman robot delivers innovative solutions, applying the latest advanced technologies to overcome blast cleaning challenges.

Today the blast cleaning process of Blastman Robotics is an integral part of countless industrial processes around the world, but its position has not come for nothing. The company has an intriguing history leading all the way back to the dawn of industrial robotics.

The cornerstones of Blastman’s success were laid in place early on, but the development of methods and technology didn’t end there. How did all of this happen and what are the ingredients of Blastman’s success story? Read the whole article and find out.

 

Additionally, you can also jump to the most interesting section straight from here:

 

  1. Sand blasting in a nutshell
  2. Sand blasts from the past
  3. Roots solid as steel
  4. How a success story is forged
  5. Today’s leading expert in sand blasting
  6. Sand blasting with broad shoulders
  7. Leading sand blasting technology - read why Blastman is the no. 1 solution for customized robotic solutions
  8. Future of sand blasting is here but still evolving
     

Sand blasting in a nutshell

Sand blasting (or abrasive blasting), is a method of propelling a high-pressured stream of abrasive material against a surface to smooth, roughen or shape it, or to remove surface materials such as remnants of paint coating. The abrasive material is usually propelled with pressurized fluid, such as compressed air, or a centrifugal wheel. The first abrasive blasting processes originate as far back as the late 1800’s.

The blasting process can utilize many materials from highly abrasive (metal and sand) to mildly abrasive (soda and dry ice). The blasting process can also be roughly divided into either manual or automated methods of which the latter is becoming more and more common. In the automated method the workpiece is handled by robots inside a blasting room.

Sand blast from the past

The now extinct Finnish heavy industry company Tampella was in the early 1980’s very much alive and kicking. Among other things it manufactured machinery for harsh environments but had a lot of problems with its blasting station. Challenges with occupational safety eventually led the doctor of the factory to urge the management to invest in a solution that would free the workers from operating inside the blasting station.

This led to a group of approximately 20 engineers putting their heads together and setting out to develop a robot capable of operating in challenging conditions inside the blasting station. At the time practically the only usable technology was hydraulics. Luckily through Tampella’s mining industry branch, Tamrock, the team had strong expertise in the field.

Embarking on this mission can nowadays be viewed as the starting point of Blastman Robotics. Completing the first robots required a lot of basic development work, which in turn required a lot of resources. This was only possible within a large corporation such as Tampella. In 1985 the first commercial sand blasting robot with an automated control system and programming capabilities was proudly delivered to Valmet.

Roots solid as steel

The other root of Blastman’s family tree leads to the famous Finnish steel mill, Rautaruukki. In the 80’s the mill had its own engineering department for executing projects for its own factories. Within the engineering team operated a group called Aumek. As Rautaruukki built its own factories, the group gained experience and know-how that would later prove essential.

In one of its export projects Rautaruukki Engineering delivered a sand blasting line for the surface treatment of sea containers in Siberia, and Aumek was heavily involved. By this time Tampella had come up with robotic products and one was decided to be fitted for the blasting of the inner surfaces of the containers. This effectively made the project a joint effort.

After the project Aumek oriented itself into surface treatment projects. Rautaruukki and Tampella actually ended up competing over a number of projects until Rautaruukki purchased the robotics business of Tampella. As is now evident, this marked a significant turning point in the story of a certain future sand blasting company.

How a success story is forged

The blast cleaning robot was initially only a product of Rautaruukki Engineering. At some point the businesses were decided to be separated, and a surface treatment group was founded within Rautaruukki Engineering. The group consisted of many employees who would later serve long careers at Blastman.

In 1997 Rautaruukki decided to focus on its core business, steel production, and a window of opportunity opened. A management buyout took place and Pentti Salonen, who would become the long-lasting CEO, established Blastman Robotics.

In the beginning Blastman had challenges in its sales efforts. Since industrial automation and robotization was in its infancy and faced a lot of fear and preconception, practically every selling process was a mountain to be climbed. On the other hand, Blastman had a mountain to back it up as well, as from the client’s point of view the purchase was made from Rautaruukki and not just some small and yet nameless company.

Additionally, Blastman had people with history in the sales of Rautaruukki and knowledge on the purchasing process of a big company. This proved invaluable also through experience on contractual law, making it possible for Blastman to take greater risks while keeping them under control. This of course was useful for the customers as well.

Another factor in Blastman's jumpstart was the way it differed from many other companies in its extremely strong project expertise. As Rautaruukki Engineering had already been a project organization, Blastman was immediately able to execute export projects - at first to Russia and Germany and eventually globally.

The sales and marketing efforts were in fact purposefully aimed at big companies that were known to have the ability for heavy investments but also enough production capacity to make the investments profitable. This way, regardless of the initial challenges, Blastman’s strength from the get-go was, and still is, its clientele of big companies.

Today’s leading expert in sand blasting

Since the founding of Blastman Robotics the market mentality towards automation has shifted from reserved to striving. Whereas in the beginning there was a heavy burden of proof on how automatic industrial machinery was even a possibility, Blastman now has solid evidence and working references on a huge variety of industrial sectors all over the world.

One of the cornerstones of this success is the time well spent since the robotic departure from Tampella. In other words, decades of first-hand experience in sand blasting technology and its automation.

In recent years Blastman has experienced a generational change as many of the old guard have retired and been followed in by younger blood. Blastman also does educational cooperation especially through thesis and diploma thesis work and some of these students get recruited too. A lot of time has gone by since the original design and development process, and many of the original experts have departed, but on the other hand the knowledge is somewhat in the technology.

Additionally, instead of hanging the newcomers out to dry, the know-how and methods have been successfully passed on with smart mentoring. The characteristic project expertise has stayed in the picture and combined with the modern education on engineering and automation, it has taken Blastman’s competence to a new level.

The shift is not only natural but essential, as the same shift has been ongoing in the customer organizations as well. The ways of communication in selling and buying have changed and are carried out through a new kind of dialogue. Just like Blastman is invested in keeping its technology cutting edge, the same goes with its ability to communicate and cooperate.

Sand blasting with broad shoulders

To this day Blastman Robotics follows the principle of the late Pentti Salonen, stating that a deal should mean not only a purchase order and delivery but a beginning of a long-lasting partnership. This is extremely important since after installation sand blasting equipment is dependent on its provider.

When this is reflected on the decades-long lifespan that is necessary for a sand blasting line, Blastman’s well-known reputation in the industry has created an advantage. As a potential client gets an offer from for example a small local company, it begs the legitimate question, whether that company is going to be around for the next decade or two?

Blastman is devoted to taking care of its customers and supporting their operations for example by providing maintenance service and consumable components. The company feels the need to prove every day that its customers get what they have been promised and even that can be developed further.

 

Leading sand blasting technology - read why Blastman is the no. 1 solution for customized robotic solutions


The basic concept and methods of sand blasting have remained unchanged for a very long time which is due to the harsh environment and the process itself being destructive. The robotics consists of modules that can be utilized to the needs of a variety of different industrial needs. Thanks to its broad clientele, Blastman has accumulated a lot of experience and can thus provide even better solutions in return.

One of the competitive advantages of Blastman Robotics is that the company designs and manufactures its own robots specifically for the demands of the sand blasting process. This means that unlike some competitors, it doesn’t use normal industrial robots that aren’t able to withstand the conditions of a blasting room to the same extent and are unfortunately expensive to repair.

On top of that, Blastman is able to provide customer specific tailor-made solutions. The basic concept of its robotics is of course pretty much a constant, but is always fitted to the needs, and the control system built to the specifications of the customer.

Blastman’s customer projects are divided pretty early on between normal and special. The normal projects too have a lot of wiggle room but concern the kind of changes that can be prepared for in advance. Special projects in turn require more extensive customization and usually last longer. Special requests are handled during sales and usually concern accessories and added features. Challenging projects are not a cause for concern either, when one can trust the technology.

Customers typically provide Blastman with a 3D model of their workpiece on the basis of which the dimensions can be implemented. Lacking a model is not an obstacle in moving forward with a project since also the modelling can be done for the customer.

Future of sand blasting is here but still evolving

Blastman is not only a manufacturer of robotics but moreover a provider of comprehensive automation solutions. In comparison to simple robotics or software suppliers the difference is in the way Blastman feels the need to handle the entirety of the customer's process to be truly able to provide automation for such a challenging job as sand blasting. The level of automation inside the blasting room of Blastman Robotics is ever growing and enables for example different measurements during blasting. A fully automated room is also more cost efficient for the customer.

An example of Blastman’s dedication to continuous improvement are two facilities that are in actual production use by customers and have been built in cooperation with them. This way the company has a possibility to run tests or to provide a customer a chance to become convinced on a solution.

One of Blastman’s advantages is that the automation of sand blasting is somewhat a niche and there is practically no research information about it unlike for example welding automation. Meanwhile Blastman itself not only has strong experience but also research data on what withstands the grueling conditions of sand blasting.

More than any other automation provider, Blastman considers manual sand blasting its truest competition. The mentality, however, doesn’t only stem from a business point of view. Because of its roots in the actual invention that would save countless people from the strain and dangers of manual blasting, the company only wishes for the shift to accelerate.
The less human beings in sand blasting rooms the better.

The outbreak of Covid-19 has naturally caused global uncertainty. However, as the market is examined through adversities, the interest towards automated sand blasting is growing still and not least because of work safety. This is not a trend that is likely to change.

Sand blasting hasn’t always represented the cutting edge of technology. Blastman is proud to have taken the method there, aims to keep it that way, and hopes to advance the awareness of its high-end usability. To follow progress or to lead it are two completely different things.