New technologies often change the way we operate. In the world of industry this is often about doing things in a way that is quicker, easier or just plain better. Yet, importantly, technology has also helped to forge a safer way of operating.
That’s been especially evident in the world of industrial blasting. The process of cleaning, stripping and preparing a surface for treatment and/or painting is heavily used in construction, manufacturing, transport and military sectors yet it used to be a pretty dangerous pursuit.
Sandblasting: The origins of the blasting industry
It was through the clever observation of a natural phenomenon that blasting first became used in industry.
The erosion caused by sand, whether on rocks or on window frames and buildings in desert regions, meant that people had long recognised the impact it could have when blown onto a surface.
Yet Benjamin Tilghman realised that, through this, Mother Nature had provided inspiration for a highly useful industrial process. A concentrated blast of sand could be used, therefore, to shape or smooth a surface – and it was used in this way to clean surfaces from boats to bridges and many others in between.
Effective but dangerous
Tilghman was right – but sadly the process that spawned from this idea was fraught with danger. The use of sand as an abrasive created dust as a byproduct and, when inhaled, this left workers with severe health difficulties.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) points out that tens of thousands of people were likely to have contracted silicosis as a result of their work with sandblasting and that, because of the danger, the use of silica was banned in Britain in 1950 and the rest of Europe in 1966.
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Plastic media blasting: A safe way forward
Despite the danger, there was still a need for the function provided by sandblasting.
There was a need to take the theory and adapt it into a new way of working that did not throw up the dangers of sandblasting. The key was to find an alternative media to sand and, in plastic, that solution was found.
Plastic media blasting – carried out in blasting cabinets – also allows for tasks to be carried out in a more intricate way – offering a process that is not only safer but also more delicate. Specialist cabinets can even, for example, create the distressed look on denim jeans and portable units can allow for operators to easily tackle tasks on a smaller scale.
Safety and environmental considerations also go hand in hand with this form of blasting. Cabinets are able to sweep up the blast media that is used and recirculate it through the machine for re-use.
Machines: A new way forward for safer blasting
Clearly, changing the media involved has proven successful in terms of making blasting a much safer process. Whether it’s plastic media or the use of something such as water, this has made it a far less dangerous job.
However, while the sand is one thing that can change, there is another element that can be taken out of the process of sandblasting to make it a safer process. Namely, the people.
The emergence of robotic technology is predicted to boost global demand – with the market for machines predicted to be worth almost $400 million by 2022. Luckily, the robots don’t have lungs – making automation particularly attractive.
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