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‘Proud’ Martin Engineering notches major milestone

Martin Engineering has celebrated a major milestone in its history, which changed the course of air cannon technology.  

It has been 50 years since the US-based company invented the world’s first low-pressure air cannon.  

It launched the Big Blaster in 1974 which was devised and developed by Carl Matson, a member of Martin’s senior team and cousin of the firm’s founder Edwin F. Peterson. 

The patented technology was designed to dislodge stubborn material stuck to the inside walls of hoppers and silos by firing precisely timed bursts of compressed air to keep bulk material flowing and preventing the growth of serious build-ups and blockages. 

The invention was originally aimed at quarrying applications in the same way the Vibrolator, the Martin-patented industrial ball vibrator, had found success in the quarrying industry since 1944. 

Martin Engineering is celebrating 50 years of air cannons. Image: Martin Engineering

Martin air cannons became a key invention for sectors such as cement. It signalled an end to workers having to access the interior of preheater vessels to manually break off hefty material build-ups using a high-pressure water jet – one of the most unpleasant and hazardous jobs on a cement plant. 

“From the very beginning, our air cannons were specifically designed to produce a quiet but powerful, high-velocity discharge of plant-compressed air to dislodge buildups and enhance material flow,” Martin Engineering’s global air cannon product manager Brad Pronschinske said.  

“They were developed to be capable of handling the high temperatures, harsh gases and abrasive, corrosive materials associated with heavy industries, and yet have low maintenance requirements and low costs.  

“Since the launch of the Big Blaster 50 years ago we have continued to innovate, introducing smarter and ever more powerful air cannon systems that improve efficiency, productivity and safety.”

The company launched the air cannon in 1974. Image: Martin Engineering


The company has continuously upgraded and innovated to ensure its air cannons are at the forefront of the industry. By the 1990s Martin Engineering had developed an extreme heat and velocity version of the Big Blaster, the XHV, with an all-metal construction capable of withstanding the harshest of conditions.  In the 2000s Martin became the first to introduce safer positive-pressure firing valve with its Tornado air cannon. 

This was accelerated by Martin Engineering when it opened the Centre for Innovation in 2008.  

The Centre helped see the invention of the SMART Series Nozzles and the Martin Thermo Safety Shield which enhanced the air cannon further.  

The centre is located at the company’s headquarters in Neponset, Illinois. The centre will open its doors to visitors in the Summer of 2024 as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations. 

“We’re especially proud that Martin air cannons have become so important in reducing the health and safety risks associated with clearing blockages manually – such as working in confined spaces, working at height, falling materials, and working in hot and dusty environments,” Pronschinske said. 

“Our team is always working on new developments and we’re looking forward to bringing the next generation of air cannon technologies to our customers all over the world.” 

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