Wheelabrator Machine: What Does It Do and How Does It Work?

Put simply, a Wheelabrator is a machine that helps clean and surface-treat a variety of parts quickly and effectively. 

These are made-to-order machines that industrial firms use to carry out surface cleaning and finishing at scale. Each is designed to help clean a specific set of parts. 

The machine throws hot steel that is micro-sized at high velocity towards the parts that are cleaning. This steel is shot at the surface of the parts in a slingshot fashion using a wheel. As a result, it’s common to hear this process referred to as wheel-blasting. 

By doing this, the steel particles abrade the surface and help clean it for further finishing or paint later.

You can find a few of these machines that are available off the shelf include:

Tumblast

Tumblasts are most commonly used to remove scale and rust, shot peening, and for cleaning die casting. With this Wheelabrator machine, the parts that need to be cleaned are placed on a belt inside the machine. This belt tumbles the parts around, and a wheel propels steel pieces into the parts in a controlled manner. This abrasion cleans the parts without the use of any chemicals.

Spinner

Spinner machines use hangers. The parts are placed on these hangers and moved through the wheel blast. These parts then rotate within the cabinet while being blasted. 

Table

With table machines, the parts are sitting on a large rotating table and the steel shots are propelled at it to clean the surface. The blasting wheel sits above the table.

The Wheelabrator is coated by ABITL Finishing. To see other parts finished by ABITL, view the rest of our gallery.

Though these are three common Wheelabrator machines you’ll find, there are many more. Each machine is specially designed to meet a specific use-case. 

What’s common amongst all of them are that each contains five basic parts:

1. Blast Wheel

All Wheelabrators will have a blast wheel or set of wheels. These wheels are the core component of the machine. The wheels create a large amount of controlled, centrifugal force to hurl the steel shots at a high velocity towards the parts that need cleaning. 

A cabinet is where the parts that need to be cleaned are placed. This is usually a large metal box that holds both the wheel that flings the particles at the parts. The parts themselves are held within this cabinet.

2. Material Handling System

The material handling system helps to handle the parts that are being blasted. This system ensures the parts are moved in and out of the cabinet while the machine operates. 

3. Shot Recovery and Recirculation System

As the steel particles are shot at the parts, this shot must then be recycled for repeated use. This function is carried out by the short recovery and recirculation system. The particles recovered by this system and cleaned and decontaminated before being used again. 

4. Dust Collection System

The dust collection system is used to remove the debris from the cleaning that occurs in the cabinet. It removes any dust and other fine abrasives instead of letting it accumulate in the cabinet. 

All Wheelabrators are large metal boxes due to the size and complexity of these elements that make it up. They are made of durable metal to contain the high levels of stress from the blasting that takes place inside. 

Many of the parts in the Wheelabrator need to be replaced often due to the significant wear and tear that happens in the cabinet. 

How It Works

So how does the Wheelabrator machine work?

Most Wheelabrator machines have three main steps in their operation. These are Loading, Blasting, and Recycling. 

We’ll dive into each of them below:

Loading

In order for the blasting wheels to hurl abrasive material at the parts in order to clean them. These parts need to be loaded into the Wheelabrator. 

This is usually done by having a storage hopper that feeds the center of the wheel the necessary steel shots or abrasive grit. Generally, a cast allows an impeller to rotate the wheel, and this same impeller carries the abrasive grit to an opening in the blast cabinet where the steel shot or abrasive grit is placed on the bladed portion of the wheel. 

Similarly, the parts that need to be cleaned are also loaded into the cabinet. Depending on the type of machine, they will either be placed on a rotating table or hanging and fed into the blast cabinet.  

As they are fed in, the bladed wheel uses centrifugal force to hurl abrasive at the surface of the part to clean them — more on this part below. 

Blasting

When the bladed portion of the wheel picks up any of the steel shot or abrasive grit, it is slowly accelerated until it starts to reach the outer ends of the wheel. 

The operator of the Wheelabrator can control how fast and at what direction these particles are. Then, the operator flings these out from the blade so that the most effective way of cleaning the parts is maintained. 

Machines usually have one or two wheels that carry out the abrasive blasting function, and they are commonly located below the parts. The wheels blast the abrasive grit upwards at the parts placed above, and the parts are also controlled by the operator in its motion so that surfaces of the part are all cleaned evenly and from a constant distance. 

Related: Is Abrasive Blasting the Right Metal Finishing Solution for You?

Recycling

Finally, as the parts are being cleaned, the abrasive grit or steel shots that have done this work fall to the bottom of the blast cabinet. 

Here, they are moved using a conveyor system into an overhead separator which then recycles the steel shots or grit back to be blasted. 

After a certain period of time, the abrasive material will become dirty and too fine. At this point, the old steel shots are no longer useful and will need to be removed and replaced by new steel shots or abrasive grit that’s fed in while loading. This removal happens automatically using the dust collector. The dust collector will also clear out the debris created from the cleaning of the parts in the cabinet. 

Benefits of Using a Wheelabrator Machine

Wheelabrator technology is popular because of the huge advantages they have versus other blasting machines or surface cleaning tools. These advantages are:

Simplicity

The Wheelabrator uses simple, yet efficient technologies with minimal moving parts and training required to operate. A professional can quickly understand how to operate Wheelabrator equipment. Even the maintenance of the machine is fairly straightforward, and as a result, inexpensive. 

Versatility

The fact that the Wheelabrator machine is a large metal box, and the blast cabinet itself is a large cavity. This makes it a versatile choice in handling parts of various sizes and shapes. 

Similarly, the blasting mechanism is also versatile in handling various parts of different materials that go through and can clean a variety of surfaces.

Customization also helps here, with many Wheelabrator manufacturers providing custom builds to accommodate a variety of manufacturing needs. 

Safety

When used correctly, machines are also quite safe and do not emit any toxic chemicals or residue. This makes them harmless to both people and the environment. In any part of its process, the dangers in operating the machine are also limited. 

High-quality Output

Wheelabrators also are extremely effective in what they do. The machine can clean almost any surface and remove all contaminants very effectively without damaging the original surface of the part. It’s particularly effective in rust removal, ensuring that metal finishing looks polished and clean.

The blasting also provides a much more thorough clean to the surface that is even throughout the part. The blast pattern is also very accurate, ensuring that small, targeted areas can be cleaned effectively and precisely. 

Parts are also moved through a Wheelabrator at a faster rate than with other options such as air blasting. This means more parts can be prepped in a given time.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Metal Finishing

Environmentally Friendly

The Wheelabrator machine is also one of the most environmentally friendly options when it comes to surface cleaning and preparation.\

No chemicals or acids are used in its operations, and the only clean up is for physical debris and abrasive shots/grit used by the machine. 

Cost wise they use much less energy to operate than other technologies, and maintenance costs are lower as well.

The machine also is motorized and doesn’t involve air pressure to project it’s abrasive material to help clean surfaces. This means its much more energy-efficient and cheaper to operate compared to pressure based options.

Related: Find out why powder coating is the greener choice here

Slight Disadvantages

As with any process or tool, there are a few drawbacks and it’s no different when it comes to the Wheelabrator. 

  • These machines do not perform as well on part surfaces that aren’t uniform or flat.
  • If the material of the parts being prepped isn’t hard enough, the steel shot or abrasive grit may damage the surface.
  • The mechanical components may be durable but can be expensive to replace when broken due to the high-quality materials used in order to withstand the daily wear and tear that goes on inside the machine. 
  • Wheelabrator machines are huge and take up a lot of space. This is mainly due to the large area needed for the wheel. 

Wheelabrator machines are great and effective products to help prep surfaces for painting or coating. They’re fast and efficient but do have their limitations in terms of what parts can be used with the machine. 

Find out more about the Wheelabrator machine’s technical details here.

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