Prepared for the Road Ahead

How Wheelabrator's Surface Preparation Solutions are Shaping the Automotive Industry (Article first published in MFN)

Vanessa Ashworth

Vice President, Marketing, Norican Group - Published

The passenger car market comprises some of the world’s biggest brands, so it is no surprise that this market is fiercely competitive.
Manufacturers continue to innovate in order to maintain and enhance their brands, by introducing new models that are more fuel-efficient, maintenance-friendly and reliable, whilst driving down their manufacturing costs.

All automotive manufacturers are feeling the immense pressure of the economic downturn. The automotive market is by far the largest user of surface preparation equipment and services (including its different tiered suppliers and foundries) it is up to the surface preparation industry to support it and its concerns in order to help this critical industry grow.

In order to deliver a lighter, more fuel efficient, high performance, reliable, low maintenance car to today’s cash-conscious, environmentally-savvy consumer, the automotive manufacturers and suppliers design with lighter and newer materials, produce less waste, introduce sturdier components and increase production line speed. This also means designing processes with high reliability, both for the automotive components and the final assembly.

Stronger, Faster, Lighter

Stronger & Safety Critical

Developments in shot peening equipment have enabled automotive OEMs to reduce costs and improve performance in a large number of components. The days are long gone when this revered process was saved for Formula One and luxury car components. Automated, complex, air blast and wheel blast peening machines are used to process transmission components, springs, axles, torsion bars and some drive train parts for most cars on the road today.

Many automotive components are safety critical, and as such, processes must be reliable, repeatable and traceable. As safety requirements and legislation become more demanding, parts that have been designed to be lighter must also have stronger construction. This is where Wheelabrator works in partnership with the auto OEMs to design and define processes to deliver shot peening equipment that meets and exceeds their specifications.

Stronger: Gear peening

Shot peening of gears and shafts is an established application. However, the torque rating of these transmission components has undergone dramatic change in recent years.

It is very common to find Wheelabrator CFX 200 automated airblast peening machines for gears and CFX 600 machines for shafts at major gearbox manufacturing facilities around the globe. These are indexing table type machines that are packed with features engineered into the machine after years of working with the stringent specifications of major automotive OEMs such as Volkswagen, Volvo and Scania, to list a few.

To improve competitive advantage, the OEMs need to introduce longer warranties on wear parts, again, with lighter parts and cheaper materials. This presents a challenge that only the correct shot peening process can deliver. Since 100% inspection of automotive parts is not economically viable, Wheelabrator shot peening equipment can be supplied with a Process Reliability Package going far beyond conventional parameter checks and measures.

Processes must also be repeatable – and repeatable at all installations around the globe. To maintain global brand reputation, the final product must perform to expectation no matter where it is produced. Automotive OEMs have factories that cater to demand, in every corner of the globe, as does Wheelabrator.

Repeatable solutions from Wheelabrator support process repeatability, common operating procedures and the flexibility to move and support equipment to follow demand.

Faster: Process Repeatability

Process repeatability takes many forms, and Wheelabrator has developed a machine build process to eliminate the design and engineering time of re-designing the blast cabinets and media reclaim systems for every project. Realising that the process and the blast technology, the controls and monitoring are the most critical features of the blast machine, the Wheelabrator Module8 concept ensures that no time is wasted on “box” design. It is a reusable, modular concept focusing on process and machine reliability, it is flexible for the changing needs of customers, and can speed up the delivery of equipment. 

Drastically reducing design time and manufacturing modular sections that can be used for all machine types mean that costs are minimised. The customer then pays for the technology that matters, and not for the box. This also means that “standard” machine types, with little or no customisation, can be produced very efficiently and offered at attractive prices. The Module8 designs are based on the following eight principles: Flexibility, Wear Reduction, Ease of Maintenance, Safety, Product Reliability, Process Reliability, Quality and Lead Times.

Flexibility is increasingly important as automotive components are constantly being improved and adapted, and the blast machine should not be rendered redundant with each adaptation. Born of the Module8 concept, the Frame Machine (FM) peens 2100 mm of weld length in different areas of an axle beam in about a minute.

The system also takes advantage of this peening cycle time to manipulate the beam and expose the opposite side (side B) to the blast nozzles. This is carried out exterior to the machine, when a second axle beam is being processed for side A, so no time is lost in unproductive handling operations. Blast nozzles are manipulated by robots located on one side, exterior to the cabinet, and the design allows for additional robots to be integrated into the process anticipating any future expansion.