Brandon Acker.jpgAckerMany companies are outsourcing their abrasive blasting to job shops, but may want to bring the operation in house for a number of reasons. There are several factors to consider – economic, structural, resources, manpower – in making this decision. Paint and Coatings Industry Magazine interviewed Brandon Acker, President of Titan Abrasive Systems, to discuss the considerations and give readers and overview of what needs to be examined before making the decision between bringing a blasting operation in house or continuing to use outside sources. 


PCI: Many companies are outsourcing their blasting to job shops, but may want to bring the operation in house. What are the primary reasons companies are considering doing this? 

Acker: Farming out your abrasive blasting operation can be an ideal solution from a cost, quality, and product-delivery standpoint. But there are times when handling your abrasive-blasting needs within your own four walls, performed by your own employees, is a far better option. There are a number of sound reasons, but perhaps the most beneficial is a reduction in lead times. 

When you employ a job shop, you’re at the mercy of their schedule. If you want a part blasted quickly because a scheduled product delivery has been moved up, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Conversely, when you create your own in-house blasting operation, you can blast whatever you want, whenever you want. If a job requires immediate attention, the schedule can be adjusted as needed. Delivery times on products may still be an issue, but performing the blasting operation yourself will not be one of the bottlenecks. 


PCI: Did COVID-19 affect delivery times for job shops that were doing abrasive blasting?

Acker: During the Covid epidemic, there were severe supply chain issues, which hindered companies from getting parts for their products. The ripple effect was felt all the way down to product delivery, with manufacturers often missing delivery deadlines and upsetting their customer base. Job shops doing abrasive blasting felt the same pinch, whether it was because of issues getting their media or even parts for their machines. While we’ve seen a noticeable recovery, those issues have not been completely eliminated. 


PCI: Are there cost savings to be gained from setting up an in-house blasting operation?

Acker: Make no mistake: setting up your own blasting operation is going to cost you. You’ll need a blast room (for smaller parts, you might only need a blast cabinet), blasting equipment, protective gear, and perhaps some modifications to your plant to accommodate everything. But the ROI will make it all worthwhile. You’ll be saving money in quite a few areas, including: 

  • The actual blasting: The cost depends on how many parts you blast, how often they get blasted, and the complexity of the blasting procedure (i.e., if the parts need to be blasted to very tight tolerances). But when you “in-source,” regardless of the other factors, those charges disappear.
  • Blast media: When you take everything in-house, you’ll still need to purchase your own blast media. The difference is that when you outsource, your vendor will usually mark up the cost. With your own operation, you’ll be buying media at list price. 
  • Shipping and handling: It’s certainly costing you time and money to pack and ship your parts to your blasting shop. Depending on how many parts, how big they are, and how far away you’re sending them, this cost can become exorbitant. 
  • Parts damage: Regardless of how careful you package and transport your parts, there’s a chance they get damaged, either going there or coming back. It might not happen often, but once is too much, especially if it delays an order and angers a customer. And you may have to swallow the cost of an expensive part. 


PCI: What about quality? Do you risk producing lower-quality work with in-house resources? 

Acker: Most job shops turn out quality work. Their people are skilled and their equipment is solid. But chances are, they’re blasting parts from multiple manufacturers. So there is no way for them to know the nuances of each product as well as the suppliers who make them. As a manufacturer, you know every dimension, every curve, every weld of your part. Expecting an outside vendor to retain this kind of detailed information on every part they’re blasting is unrealistic. 

There are other issues that can adversely affect quality. Perhaps your plant is located in an isolated area where there are few shops from which to choose. You may end up settling for less-than-optimal results, then eventually be forced to search for another vendor – one who could be hundreds of miles away. Do you settle for lower quality, or do you incur the costs associated with shipping your parts to a faraway location? 


PCI: Cross-contamination is always a primary consideration in abrasive blasting. Are the chances of cross-contamination higher or lower with an in-house operation?

Acker: Cross-contamination is a major concern, whether your blasting is in-house or outsourced. Let’s focus on an in-house operation for a second. Maybe you’re blasting one part, or multiple parts all made from the same material, like stainless steel. You’ll find the media that performs best and stick with it. 

Even if you use a second or third blast media for other jobs, you’re going to thoroughly clean out the blast room each time a job is finished to ensure cross-contamination doesn’t occur. Alternatively, you might have several blast rooms for each blast media you employ. 

A blast shop, however, normally blasts all kinds of materials, and it’s unlikely they all require the same blast media. So your part may be relegated to a blast room where a job was just completed using steel grit or aluminum oxide (both highly abrasive), but your part may need a softer media, like plastic. Are you willing to take the chance that the blast room being used was adequately cleaned so that cross-contamination doesn’t result in a poorly blasted, or even damaged, product? With an in-house process, you don’t have to take that chance.  

PCI: Does using an in-house operation create the opportunity to gain outside revenue streams?

Acker: Absolutely. Right now, you’re bringing your blasting jobs to an outside vendor. If you were to purchase a blast room and all the associated equipment, you could potentially be one of those vendors. This depends on how much time a day your blast room will be busy with your own projects, but if you can find some regular openings in your schedule, you may be able to take on outside work representing a significant revenue stream.


PCI: How would I start bringing my blasting operation under my own roof?

Acker: At the outset, you have to make sure that your facility is capable of housing a blast room and the associated equipment (i.e., reclaim system, dust collector, etc.). Here are some pertinent areas that need to be addressed: 

  • Image 1.jpgIf you want to install a full-sized blast room, you’ll need the space to put it – lots of space. Room Size: You need a spot with enough total floor space to house the blast room. And the size of the blast room will depend on the size of the largest part you regularly handle. In fact, you need a room designed to not only fit your biggest part but work on the part(s) comfortably. 
  • Location: If there’s not enough room, you might have to construct an addition. Also, are there any obstructions in the way, especially hanging from the ceiling (not to mention actual ceiling height)? 
  • Noise: Blast rooms create noise. The most common sources are the dust collector blower and the blasting nozzle. (Decibel levels of 112 to 119 dBA are generated when air is discharged from the nozzle, though workers wear hearing protection, and the blast room walls help dampen noise to the outside area.) There are multiple solutions to the noise issue (i.e., blower silencers and portable sounds walls). Still, it’s best not to locate the room near any people working, offices, or reception areas. 
  • Dirt: Dirt is not a huge concern if your blasters keep the dirt inside the room and don’t track it around the building – or open the blast room door while the room is in operation. 
  • Regulations: NIOSH puts out some strict standards related to abrasive blasting and worker safety. There is a vast array of resources, but this is a good place to start. 
  • Training: You have the option of using in-house personnel or hiring from outside. If training is necessary, there is a learning curve (most reputable blast room vendors will provide some basic training). However, you might consider professionals if your blasting requires tight tolerances or if you’re blasting for extended periods of time each day. 


PCI: The ultimate question that a manufacturer has to ask is, “what’s the ROI?” How would you calculate that before making this decision?

Acker: That’s the proverbial elephant in the room. Despite all the reasons I’ve already cited, if it doesn’t make economic sense, creating an in-house blasting process is unwarranted. 

When it comes to ROI, there’s unfortunately no simple answer. There are myriad variables to calculate: the cost of the blast room and equipment; how many hours a day you’ll blast; how many parts you blast in a day, week, and month; the time and cost of training people or hiring outside help; possible building modifications; and whether you have employees on site who can handle technical issues. It’s a tedious process but one which your financial people have to tackle – with a significant amount of help from many other personnel in your organization. 

But for some companies, cost isn’t the primary factor. They simply want control over when their products get blasted, and they also believe that quality can be better controlled when the work is done in-house. For them, that is the ROI. 


PCI: How can weather be a factor when considering an in-house blasting operation?

Acker: It’s ironic, but some sources are not just outside because they are outside your organization; they are actually blasting outside. If your vendor is blasting outside, your job’s delivery – and possibly, quality – depends on something as unpredictable as the weather. If it rains for three days, then there is no blasting taking place. With your own indoor blast room, you can blast away to your heart’s content – 24/7 if you want to.


PCI: When does it make the most sense to continue to use outside sources? 

Acker: The answers to the questions I’ve presented in our discussion, as well as an examination of the considerations I’ve brought to the surface, will dictate whether it’s practical and profitable to bring your blasting operation in-house. Likewise, those same questions and considerations will tell you whether it makes sense to continue with the status quo. 

So for example, perhaps you don’t have the room for a blasting operation. Maybe you don’t have the personnel to run the machines and don’t have the funds to invest in training. Maybe you’re thrilled with the quality you’re getting from your outside source and feel no need to change. Maybe you can’t afford a blast room or even a blast cabinet. In the end, you have to ask all of the questions and take into account all of the considerations cited here. Your answers – whatever they are - will lead you to a decision to bring blasting under your roof or to leave well enough alone.

*Images courtesy of Titan Abrasive Systems.