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Technical Features

The Relative Low Cost of Incorporating Automated Magnetic Separation Solutions

Image courtesy of Industrial Magnetics Inc. Dennis_OLeary_IMI.jpg
This equipment is important when discussing plant design, renovations.

Every day in personal and professional endeavors alike, we are all faced with a multitude of options from which to choose: need or want, regular or premium, Starbucks or store brand, regular or supersized fries, extended appliance warranty or roll the dice, don’t budge on curfew or forever be thought of as some offspring of Voldemort? And so begins the inevitable balancing act that can certainly be categorized as a “cost versus value” formula, which invariably results in the choice of one over the other.

It is no surprise that nearly every market space is and has been facing a wide swath of shortages for nearly two years in the making. The existing labor shortfall in the U.S. has been exacerbated since March of 2020, now sitting at somewhere north of eight million according to many experts. Everyone has felt the pain from the loss of the pace, quality, and availability of the goods and services to which we have grown accustomed.

On a macro scale, this plays out no differently in the manufacturing landscape than it does close to home. On a micro scale, however, there is so much more to consider, and it begins with a deeper dive into a per-piece-cost vs. total value proposition mindset.

The importance and availability of high-quality and low- or nearly zero-maintenance, automated magnetic separation equipment deserves a seat at the table when the conversation turns to plant design and renovations. Why? Because the significant cost of failure is exponentially higher than the cost of the magnetic solution itself. The obvious question might be, “Do current, non-automated designs work to capture metal contaminants?” Absolutely, no different or worse than an automated design that is set to cycle and clean at programmed intervals. The differentiating factor is the human capital component and the already-established delta between existing and necessary workforce levels. It might not be in your facility, but the shortage is real, and the reality is that something’s gotta give.

Perhaps that something is strict adherence to cleaning cycles, since non-automated solutions require and rely on hand cleaning, push/pull cycling of magnetic drawers, and other laborious work that has been proven to have catastrophic results if a full cleaning regime isn’t enforced. An automated solution guarantees 100% cleaning as programmed to ensure all contaminants are removed from the product flow before they can build up and potentially wash back off and contaminate downstream particulates or damage capital equipment. It also ensures the highest quality product will be presented to downstream equipment.

From a safety perspective, limit switches and the like will ensure a magnet won’t open until all other process equipment has been de-energized, and nothing will start back up until the magnet has been cycled to “clean” and is subsequently cycled to operational mode. It is an intrinsically safer option that protects your investment in human capital- capital that you can reassign as a greater asset elsewhere in your facility.

How about ergonomics? Magnets, unfortunately, are sometimes an afterthought or retrofit. In either scenario, it is rare that the placement of the magnet is oriented in the stomach-to-chest range, which means that a manual cleaning option is neither efficient nor ergonomic. This, again, may well lead to less than desirable cleaning schedules that could jeopardize the facility if the sole goal is to “just get a magnet in there” instead of considering an automated option.

The bottom line is that the additional cost for air cylinders, protective guards, and limit switches required for a self-cleaning, automated solution will certainly be a cost savings when compared to installing a ladder and an access platform every time the magnet is not installed at the floor level. Think of it this way: You no longer would have to remind an employee you can’t hire to clean a magnet that’s not easy or efficient to access.

Self-cleaning solutions provide additional savings by limiting production line downtime versus the time that is required to properly perform a manual cleaning cycle. In addition, magnet integrity is ultimately easier to maintain for a variety of reasons that we have touched upon, but the most may be a general misuse of magnets during a cleaning process. Some operators clean with hammers or chemically contaminated wipes, some drop the magnetic grate on the catwalk to break the ferrous metal loose. There are a myriad of head-scratching and unadvisable DIY hacks for cleaning. Mitigating these risks means a better environment for a facility to put out the best product it has to offer.

Perhaps the biggest consideration yet to be broached for the justification of upgrading or installing self-cleaning magnet solutions is best delivered with a velvet hammer, and that is this: Damage to the brand and its image due to preventable contamination. Every company has an obligation to mitigate health and safety risks associated with their brand; improper and/or inconsistent cleaning cycles or a general lack of procedure will eventually lead to some type of failure that could border on catastrophic. This would clearly fall under the “significant cost of failure” umbrella, and it has such a profoundly negative trickle-down effect across the entirety of the organization. So do not be caught off guard: Failure to properly plan isn’t a defensible position. There are several reputable magnet companies who offer free or reasonably priced for-fee audits. This will provide an ample opportunity to consider the options and perform your own cost/benefit analysis a how this move could have very positive effects for your processes and company alike.

Dennis O’Leary is chief business development officer at Industrial Magnetics Inc. (Boyne City, MI), which also owns Prater Industries (Bolingbrook, IL), Sterling Systems & Controls (Sterling, IL), and Walker Magnetics.

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