Engineering future success

Published:  12 October, 2017

PWE spoke to Kenneth Gauld, managing director of AJT Engineering Reliability, about the opportunities for reclamation work and other environmentally friendly engineering processes.The continuing growth of the circular economy has seen a surge in demand for environmentally friendly engineering services.

Traditionally, if a business needed a specific component, a new one would simply be manufactured from scratch. However, a scarcity of raw materials, coupled with the requirement to reduce the environmental impact of extracting, processing then transporting materials, has seen a notable shift in emphasis away from this process.

Increasingly, businesses are looking to engineering specialists to repair, reconfigure and reuse existing equipment, particularly when it is made from valuable and highly recyclable materials.

The opportunity to reclaim materials is largely untapped but offers significant benefits. It is estimated that the UK’s construction industry, for instance, consumes more than 400 tonnes of materials every year, and generates almost 100 tonnes of waste, around a quarter of which ends up in landfill. However, it is estimated that reclaimed materials make up just 1% of all materials currently used.

The move has been backed by the creation of the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform in March this year, formed with the aim of fostering cross-industry partnerships.

For the engineering sector in particular, the dawn of the circular economy has opened up a plethora of opportunities. Some companies have chosen to retrain their workforces to become specialists in the surface engineering sector, working closely with the Institute of Materials Finishing.

Conserving raw materials

Designing metal products for reuse or remanufacturing is another way of conserving resources. Often, only a limited amount of energy is used in reprocessing or treating metal, while the durability of materials such as steel ensures a longer life cycle.

Hard chrome plating (HCP), for instance, takes place at between 50-60°C and increases the wear and anti-friction properties of a component.

The process itself requires a high degree of technical expertise to complete; however, the results are impressive. HCP deposits can tolerate temperatures as low as -70°F up to 800°F and withstand pressure of up to 30,000psi, depending on the parent metal and the operating conditions.

Kenneth Gauld, managing director of AJT Engineering Reliability told PWE that the British Metal Treatments (BMT) workforce - part of the AJT Engineering group - has undergone extensive training both in-house and externally through the Institute of Materials Finishing to perfect their skills in areas such as electroplating, correct current calculation, deposition applications and the unique process routes for specific substrates.

Staff, he explains, have been trained both in theoretical and practical practices to provide a full understanding of why companies require the electroplating process, which in turn gives a full working knowledge of how different materials are processed.

He exaplined: “The deposition process is complex and the knowledge and expertise required by our depositors is of considerable note. Through reclamation, we can prevent the need for complete manufacture which in turn lessens the environmental impact.”

The process itself has several steps:

• Cleaning / degreasing

• Masking the component, to show the areas requiring treatment

• Etching

• Electroplating

• Removing the masking agent

• Cleaning

Gauld says that BMT is now something of a one-stop shop, able to carry out tailored, turnkey projects as well as providing detailed technical support throughout the surface treatment sector, to address environmental or health and safety concerns at the early stages of any project.

Case study

British Metal Treatments (BMT) completed a successful environmentally responsible material reclaim project for its customer, Howden Compressors.

Howden is a renowned engineering business which provides industrial products including compressors, fans and heaters for use in a range of applications, from mine ventilation to heating and waste water treatment. It recently invested £1.2m in its range of compressors and aims, over the next three years, to develop and expand its global presence in the oil and gas industrial compressor markets.

The highly skilled workforce at Port Glasgow-based BMT carried out work for Howden, to add hard chrome plating to rotors produced for use in oil-free twin rotary screw compressors.

BMT and Howden are located close to each other, which meant very few logistical problems arose while transporting components between the two sites.

Howden needed to treat both new-build and repair compressors with hard chrome plating, chosen for its anti-friction properties and long wear life. BMT undertook this work before the rotors were dispatched back to the customer for final grinding.

As the deposit was electrolytic, an extremely strong bond was formed between the component and the deposit, resulting in improved adhesion compared with standard mechanical adhesion carried out through HVOF and metal spray processes where corrosion resistance can be compromised.

HCP also has a high resistance to atmospheric oxidation, and therefore offers a good resistance to most oxidising and reducing agents. As the plating process takes place within a temperature range of between 50°C and 60°C, detrimental effects on the properties of the substrate are avoided.

Howden was keen to take advantage of the various benefits of HCP, including the fact that deposits can be removed from many substrates without damaging the parent metal, allowing components to be stripped and re-plated.

A spokesman for Howden said: “The knowledge and technical expertise of the team at BMT means difficult operations can be planned effectively, ensuring efficient use of resources at both their plant and ours.”

Kenneth Gauld, managing director of BMT, added: “Our employees have undergone detailed specific training, working closely with the Institute of Materials Finishing (IMF) to provide them with the comprehensive working knowledge of how different substrates are processed and the intricacies associated with each.

“We are something of a one-stop shop and are able to carry out tailored, turnkey projects, while providing unrivalled technical support throughout the surface treatment sector. Many of our customers are surprised at the extensive range of our engineering capabilities and have been delighted they can source this work in the UK.”

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