Tips for Buying Blasting Equipment

Recently, I was asked, “Do I really need an after-cooler?” It seems that these guys are being told that they might not need a cooler, if they find they do later, then they can buy one. I thought this was a good time to discuss after-coolers, what they do, why some companies are running two and why some companies aren’t running them at all.

When shopping for aftercoolers, it comes down to air flow. How much air will my aftercooler flow (CFM) at a certain pressure (PSI)? Many of the companies out there are using coolers too small for their air compressors. (185 CFM @ 100 PSI coolers) This causes them to run two coolers instead of one. We recognized this problem over seven years ago and have been running the single cooler system. (250 CFM @ 100 PSI) making our coolers 25% larger. When we upgrade compressor size we upgrade cooler size, allowing us to run one cooler. We don’t keep adding coolers, we use the correct size unit for the job. The other issue that compounds this is that some companies don’t run fans on their coolers. This absolutely leaves them no choice but to run two, not having enough air flow making one ineffective. There are other problems associated with this, and I will tackle this subject another time .

There are two bi-products of condensing air for blasting, one is heat, and the other is water. Obviously, the more humid or hot your weather, the more water and heat you must deal with. During the compression of air, the water will be passed along through your air lines to your blaster. Also, during this time the water will heat up, and it will start converting to a vapor. The water separator on your system will not handle a vapor, and it will allow the water to enter your blaster.

This is where the aftercooler comes into play. We run the air through the cooler to condense the water from a vapor, back to a liquid. Now your water separators can pull the water from the air. During the heat of the summer, (over 100 degrees where we blast) you can expect half a gallon per/hour of water. We run three water separators on our system, to make sure the air is totally dry. We run one separator on the after cooler itself, this pulls 95% of the water from the air. While your air is traveling through your air hose it will condensate and develop more moisture. In our system, this is handled by the two additional water separators.

Back in the day, when people first started building soda-blasters, they quickly noted that water was a major problem in the blasting. They had two choices, upgrade or modify the equipment, or modify the soda. They were the only ones in town making the soda-blasting equipment, so it made better marketing sense to alter the soda. This would prevent any other soda manufacturer to sell to their customers, because they had the only soda with “flow aids”. Now why would anyone need flow aids in their baking soda? The reason is that their equipment had design flaws and they didn’t offer after-coolers, hence water problems. So when you put normal food grade soda into their machines it clogged and ran poorly. This is also why when people think of soda they think of clogging, it was from years of people trying to run pure soda through bad equipment. I probably sell 5-10 cooling packages a year, to people who own that equipment. That equipment is still being sold today, and it is very expensive. Be very careful, house hold names aren’t always the best!!!!

I hope this helps clear up some of the after-cooler confusion, and as always, please call or email with any questions.

Operating a large service business, we have received our share of equipment that didn’t work. Whether by design, poor representation or just flat out the wrong machine, we have been on your side of the purchasing fence. When we need equipment for our shop, we look at things differently than we did a few years ago. I am going to offer suggestions, which may ultimately help in your blasting system purchase.

A Little History

When I started about 10 years ago I was going to be soda blasting cars. Although I had been thrown the normal lines and sales pitches; tons of applications, endless work, $150.00 per hour, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Because of that, I fell on my sword as a soda-blaster. I told the whole world, “I am not a sand blaster, I am a soda blaster”. That was great; however I was turning away a lot of work. Or even worse, I was trying to do work with soda, when it was obviously the wrong choice.

Over the next few years while growing my service business, I started to manufacture my own equipment. At first I had someone else building the machines, which has evolved into us making our own equipment. Also during this time, I started to experiment with other medias. I took my soda-blaster and found companies that either already had media that would run in my machine, or I had it made to my specs. So I have now turned my soda-blaster into a multi-media blaster. This is where I learned that the worst kind of blaster is a guy with no options. Sandblast guys do it all the time, blast cars with sand and warp them. Unfortunately, there are soda-blast guys doing the same thing. They may not be warping cars, however they are using soda where it is not the correct choice.

The largest blast project we finished this year involved 2.5 trucks of blast media, not one bag of soda was used. Kind of odd since I make sodablasters, however soda was not the right choice for this project. Do not get me wrong, when soda is the correct media, it is great. The reality is, about 25% of my blasting is with soda that means I would be leaving $100,000’s of blasting on the table if I had no options.

Know Your Blasting Needs

If the answer is yes, there are about 4 or 5 companies that make good equipment. I would carefully consider all of them. If you would like to do other types of blasting then the list gets cut in half.

If mobile blasting is in your plan then you need to consider a few things about the blasting equipment you are buying. How heavy is the equipment? This is very important, our business is about 95% mobile. We pull our machines off of our trailers most of the time. We very rarely leave the equipment on the trailer. So a heavy machine or a machine that is awkward to remove from your trailer might not be a good choice. An example is when we log home blast. The terrain around log homes is generally not flat. If your machine is permanently bolted to your trailer you will never be able to get around the house. If you can move the equipment, but it’s heavy as a tank, then you run the risk of not being able to move the machine. If the machine you purchase is really heavy, let’s say 250 pounds, and you load 100 pounds of media in it, then you are toting 350 pounds of machine. That is way too heavy, and we have seen many go toppling down the hill. This is a very small example; however it can be applied to many applications. The bottom line here is if you plan on moving the machine around, consider weight. If it’s going in the corner of your shop and will never we moved then buy any size.

When talking to the soda-blast guys it seems that there are two compressors that seem to be popular. The airman 185 is one choice and the Sullivan-Palatek 210 is another. We sell both, so our customers have a choice. This is where it is important to know your needs.

The Sullivan has a 150 PSI option that will allow you to blast at higher pressures, or possibly work farther away from your air source. It also consumes about 1.5 gallons per hour more fuel. So if you are going to use the higher pressure 25 hours per year, is it worth burning the extra fuel for the other 755 hours? 1.5 gallon X $2.50 per gallon X 755 hours=$2831.25 in fuel. If you multiply this by 4 years then you are spending over 10 grand more on fuel. This is based on working 15 hours per week to start. You can multiply that times how many hours you want to work in a week. Work every day and you are saving over 7 grand a year on fuel. You can see that the savings in fuel can pay for your complete blast system over time. You need to decide which is more important, the extra pressure, or the fuel savings. Remember, most soda-blasters run #5 nozzles which flow 140 CFM, either compressor will flow this requirement. On the other side, if you run a business cleaning cooling towers on the top of buildings, I would take the bigger air. If you are always blasting 40 stories high, you will need the extra air. We have a high pressure 375 in our own shop, and I think we only cranked it up to 150 PSI, 3 or 4 times in 5 years.

I will be adding additional items as they come up through my discussions with my employees and customers. If you have questions not covered here, please feel free to email or call me anytime.

During the past few days we have been trying to get the new website finished. I called my buddy Chris in Dallas, who owns a large blast shop. I asked him for some pictures for my new website, sighting that we wanted to show some customers pictures.

When I got the pictures, I was reminded how good his shop is. While looking through the pictures, I remembered discussing some of these projects with him. Although I had not personally been on the projects, I do remember the discussions; pressures, Medias, time, bidding, etc. Chris’s shop has grown and evolved so our discussions are less frequent, his is one of the best blasters in the country. While looking through the pictures, it made me realize how much influence good information can have on an up and coming blast shop. This thought, along with other events of the past few weeks has lead to my second dialogue on, “Tips for Buying Equipment”

Who are you buying your equipment from?

During your buying experience you are going to talk to numerous guys, who are going to tell you that they have the best equipment. Who isn’t going to tell you that their equipment is the best? So how do you get to the bottom of all of the stories? A good start is to talk to more than one person from the company you are considering your purchase. Are they telling the same story? Do they know their own equipment? Do they know the business? Make sure they have been in the field, blasting, bidding, running crews. If they haven’t, how are they going to give you any useful information after the sale? In other words, make sure they are guys you would hire to work on your prized possession.

When deciding on a company to go with it is a good idea to check references. Get at least five references, and make sure some of them have had the equipment for at least two years. Also, if you request references, and it takes two days to get them, don’t bother. You need someone to give references quickly without hesitation. If people are hesitant or reluctant to give references, move on to the next company. Talk to people who have used the equipment for years. Ask questions about things like:

  • How is the service after the sale?
  • How is the infield support and troubleshooting?
  • Do they help with bidding?
  • Now that you have run the equipment, did they tell the truth while selling it?
  • Did they sell you what you needed?
  • Ask them if they were working on the weekend, can they get support?

These are important questions, because it’s not just the equipment or the drive that will make or break your new business. It is the commitment from the vendor after the sale that can make or break your new venture.