Photo By Clifford Davis | JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (July 27, 2018) Sandblaster Ken Almas readies to blast an aircraft component in the Fleet Readiness Center Southeast blast booth. The lower cross draft velocity will help blasters like Almas not have to refill their media tanks as often, making them more productive. (U.S. Navy photo by Clifford Davis/Released) see less | View Image Page
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A mechanical engineer at Fleet Readiness Center Southeast is helping to rewrite the book on industrial processes concerning component blasting. Not only will his findings change the rulebook on industrial ventilation, it will also mean big savings and greater efficiency for the Navy aviation maintenance, overhaul and repair facility. “We estimate this will save between $40,000 to $50,000 per blast booth per year,” said FRCSE mechanical engineer Michael Clarke. “And we have 12 of these booths.” Clarke sits on the board of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists industrial ventilation committee that publishes “Industrial Ventilation Manual.” The group will be changing its guidance due to his findings – a change that will reverberate far beyond FRCSE. “The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists sets the standards that U.S. companies and the Department of Defense adhere to,” Clarke said. Blasting, uses minute material – known as media – to blast off coatings like primers and paints from metal parts that need to be refurbished at the Navy aviation repair, maintenance and overhaul facility. “Back in 2013, I noticed the guys doing the blasting were quickly running out of media,” Clarke said. “It was costing a lot of money to replace it so often.” The blast booths, where the work is done, are sealed rooms with grated floors. The artisan holds a tube and directs the blast to the desired portion of the part. Artisans wear special Tyvek suits and supplied air abrasive blasting helmets, due to many of the coatings being removed containing heavy metals. To ensure a safer and clearer environment inside the blast booths, a “cross-draft” air flow is created by large fans. The way it’s supposed to work, is that the blasted coatings and smashed media are sucked into a filter system before being contained in hazardous material containers. Media that can be used again is supposed to fall through the grates on the floor to be reclaimed and used again. Clarke had a theory, and set out to see if it was correct. He began carrying out tests in the booths along with process engineer Cory Skinner. “We use aluminum oxide, plastic and glass beads as abrasives,” Skinner said. “They were all getting sucked into the filters to one degree or another, but the glass bead was the worst because it’s so light. “When it impacts the part, the glass bead actually shatters. Instead of reclaiming those pieces, it gets sucked out.” During the testing, Clarke found that slowing the 100 feet-per-minute cross-draft velocity to 60 feet-per-minute dramatically increased the media the facility could reclaim without reducing visibility. Since employees already wear sealed suits with respirators, the reduction would have no effect on safety. “So this study was to show that we could make production more efficient and not increase the workers’ exposure,” Clarke said. As the only DOD employee of the board at the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists industrial ventilation committee, Clarke shared his findings. “The minimum velocity had been set at 100 feet per minute at least since the 1980s,” Clarke said. “Now they’ll be lowering the minimum range to 60 feet per minute. “It feels good to know that we’ll be saving money and making our blasting process more efficient.”
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