What Does a Thermal Spray Technician Do?
Most people we encounter have either been using thermal spray for years or they have never heard of it. The latter is even more common when hiring for thermal spray technicians. Most have never heard of thermal spray, let alone know what a thermal spray technician does. Every thermal spray company is a little different, but let’s talk about some things you can expect a thermal spray technician to do.
Small vs. Large Quantity Thermal Spray
There are essentially two types of thermal spray work: job shop and production. Job shop work typically consists of smaller quantities of one-of-a-kind parts. They usually have something a little unique about them that usually requires some ingenuity and attention to detail. Production work consists of large quantities that are processed at regular, consistent intervals. If you want to learn more about how thermal spray can be used on production parts, check out our other blog. A thermal spray shop is usually a mix of both, to varying degrees.
Production style work usually means you can come in for the day and someone else has set everything up and you can load parts and press go. Most of your day is spent watching your process parameters and checking quality requirements.
For job shop style work, there are multiple different types of parts each day that require more set up and problem solving. This offers a diverse workday for most thermal spray technicians, which includes things like reading work orders and part drawings, setting up tooling and equipment for processing, and troubleshooting coating and equipment issues.
Reading Work Orders and Interpreting Part Drawings for Thermal Spray
The first task in the thermal spray process is reading the work order. The work order outlines the steps that a part will undergo while receiving a thermal spray coating. It also outlines what the incoming part size will be, what the coating material is, and how thick it should be after spray. Information from the work will also tell you the spray parameters for the equipment so that the coating material is applied properly.
A thermal spray tech could also be required to interpret part drawings to figure out coating location and what sections of the part to protect from unnecessary coating. Once it’s clear how to process the part, you will need to begin prepping it for thermal spray.
Prepping a Part for Thermal Spray
To achieve high quality thermal spray coatings, there is quite a bit of prep work to do before you turn on the spray gun and go to town. There is tooling needed to rotate and hold parts in a specific way, robot programming to ensure consistency and efficiency, and most parts require some sort of masking and blasting step.
Masking refers to the use of liquid masking, thermal spray masking tapes, or metal plates to shield certain areas of the part from overspray. Sometimes this is as easy as putting a pre-made plug into a hole; other times there are multiple layers of tape or multiple types of masking for one part. Blasting with aluminum oxide grit is almost always used before the coating is applied to create better adhesion. This is either done robotically or it is done in small blast cabinets prior to putting the part in the spray booth.
For job shop style work, there could be multiple different jobs in a day that each require a different set up and robot program. For larger production jobs, a senior level thermal spray tech will typically set up the job and a different thermal spray technician will have the tasks of loading parts, pressing start, and unloading parts on repeat.
Both production and job shop work require monitoring for equipment issues and quality checks on the parts during and after spray. They also require techs to pay attention to detail and think critically about what is going on throughout the entire thermal spray process.
Thermal Spray Coating Application
During the spray process the thermal spray technician monitors the process to ensure the coating application goes smoothly. Thermal spray technicians are trained to identify when there is an issue with the equipment or when a coating is not going down as it should. Each coating material and thermal spray process has its unique things to look out for.
They may also use temperature monitoring equipment to ensure the part is staying at optimum temperatures. Spray techs will use precision instruments to measure coating thickness between gun passes and after final coating. Thermal spray is a noisy process, so while the spray gun is running it is typically observed from outside of a spray booth while wearing hearing protection and safety glasses.
Anyone Can Learn
A career in thermal spray can be a rewarding and lifelong career. If you enjoy being challenged to apply your critical thinking skills to solve problems or like the idea of seeing how many high-quality parts you can spray in a certain time frame, there is a place for you in a thermal spray shop. There are many opportunities for upward mobility a career in thermal spray. Often, upper-level management in a spray shop is promoted from the shop floor.
Like welding or machining, thermal spray is a trade that is need of good, hardworking people. If you are interested, you can check out our website on the Our Careers page under the About Us section or look up a shop in your area. Either way, the thermal spray community looks forward to hearing from you.