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Feature: True Grit

Based in Hythe, Southampton, the US Army Field Support Battalion is the only US government-owned and operated repair facility in England. Covering 11 harbour-side acres near the port, Hythe offers facilities and a workforce tailored to the maintenance, overhaul and storage of forward deployed combat equipment.

Military equipment is shipped straight into the centre, often complete with bullet holes and in need of refurbishment. As many of the vehicles have suffered significant war damage, it is necessary to strip back all the paint to see the condition of the metal.

Experienced teams strip the equipment, which includes mobile cranes, generators, trailers and watercraft. Power units and running gear are renewed and chassis and bodywork are blasted to bare metal in preparation for repainting in the appropriate camouflage colour, depending on the equipment’s onward destination.

Driven by increasingly stringent US Hazardous Mat-erials Enforcement (Hazmat) regulations, the battalion has a policy of continually monitoring all materials used and implementing the highest environmental standards across all products and processes.

For a number of years it had used copper slag as an expendable blasting abrasive for the cleaning and surface preparation of steel parts before repainting. But a number of issues had been encountered with the use of slag near the Southampton Waterway and the associated yacht marina, so the battalion decided to upgrade its facilities and take the opportunity to investigate an environmentally friendly alternative.

A test programme which included a specialist blasting company was undertaken to establish the effectiveness of glass grit abrasives. Colin Buchanan, paint superviser and Hazmat officer, explains: “During an ongoing programme to upgrade the blasting and painting facilities, we took the opportunity to go one step further and test the effectiveness of glass grit abrasives.

“We were impressed by both the cutting performance of Krysteline’s TruGrit as well as the ‘white metal’ finish achieved when compared to copper slag.”

TruGrit is made from 100% recycled glass but is still a cost-effective solution, so the Field Support Battalion decided to use it for all steel surface preparation requirements. The fact that the medium is clean and inert has also improved the working conditions within the blast facility, while the total absence of heavy metals has helped eliminate possible environmental issues that can be encountered with its use and disposal.

During the past three months, the unit has switched to using recycled glass grit as its only blast medium. Currently it uses three tonnes of medium grade (0.75-1.5mm) glass grit every week. Two forms of equipment are used during the blasting process – a standard shot blasting system and a portable, lightweight blasting gun, which strips off paint layer by layer.

“Another benefit we have identified is that, in addition to complying with the new US Hazmat regulations, the glass grit can be discarded in a number of ways without presenting an environmental hazard,” continues Buchanan. “In terms of costs, the glass grit has proved to be more cost-effective than many of the other alternative materials we investigated.”

Founded in 1999, Krysteline invented the Implosion process, following tests aimed at providing

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