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Tips for Improving Your Mass Finishing System

As you no doubt understand, mass finishing is the process by which a component, part or tool is prepared for its final design adjustments. The operation is commonly carried out before painting, anodizing, electroplating and sometimes even bonding various materials or items. With consumer-grade products, a finish generally refers to a protective coating or finalized surface. In industrial and enterprise settings, however, the process is much more complex.


It expressly involves the deburring, surface-conditioning or edge-breaking process by which various components are manipulated. In today’s manufacturing, this is carried out by tumbling barrels, centrifugal barrels and disc machines, as well as vibratory finishers that utilize rapid movements. Sometimes, there are other finishing processes that fall under the mass finishing category, including magnetic, tumble-blast, or drag-and-spin finishing methods — though they are loosely related.


Today, the process is highly automated through a series of batch-capable machines that handle a workload with little to no oversight. At its core, mass finishing utilizes the same procedures and methods by which it always has — albeit in much more efficient and reliable ways. Modern machinery can also be used to produce practically any type of surface or composition, from high-gloss and streamlined polish to simple deburring.


  1. Establish a System of Checks and Balances


A mass finishing system, no matter what tools or hardware used, must be consistently monitored and maintained. In addition to following several quality-control measures and regularly cleaning equipment, you’ll want to monitor the output of each system. If your tools are not producing the desired results as they once were, it’s obvious you’ll either need to service the equipment or replace it entirely.


Preventive maintenance and a reliable monitoring system are two necessary components of ensuring top quality with mass finishing systems.


  1. Media and Machine Settings


Believe it or not, it’s common to see mass finishing machines producing poor results, scratched or nicked components, and damaged or rough finishes merely due to inefficient media settings. The most common form of this is an aggressive media setting that is much too high, but it can also happen when using the wrong media type altogether. Also, consider the type of abrasive in use.


Before kickstarting a mass production project, take some time to find the optimal media settings for the components you’re manipulating. If the surfaces are much too rough or jagged, it warrants lowering the machine settings until you see the right properties.


  1. Stained or Dirty Workpieces


Sometimes, after the finishing process is complete, components or pieces may end up looking stained, dirty or even black. They may also exhibit signs of corrosion or corruption. This can be a result of compound flow being much too low.


Compound selection and metering are vital to proper finishing techniques. The selection, rate and water flow should be based on what you’re trying to remove or skim off the part. These settings should also be adjusted based on the effectiveness of the compound you’re using. Strong compounds, for example, warrant a low flow of water with cool temperatures.


  1. Garbage in, Garbage Out


The adage “garbage in, garbage out” has never rung more true than it does with mass finishing systems. Before placing components, castings and items within your mass finishing machinery, inspect it for inconsistencies or flaws. This includes checking the surfaces that will eventually be changed by your finishing processes to ensure they are sound and accurate.


Are the components free of blemishes and stains? Are the edges and seams rough, burred or fragmented? Are they durable enough to withstand being placed inside a vibrator or tumbling barrel?


  1. Choose the Appropriate Method


Depending on the items and materials you’re working with, you’ll want to select a suitable finishing method. Old-fashioned rotary tumblers are ideal in some cases, while wet blasting or vibratory finishers are better for others. Understanding the difference between these separate methods, how they achieve a finish and the results of the work — including the many pros and cons — is vital to choosing the right method.


Magnetic finishing, for instance, is best when trying to alter the inside or interior of a target surface or surfaces that would otherwise be inaccessible. Similarly, one disadvantage of barrel tumbling methods is because the components are jumbled around inside a container, there’s the possibility of surface indentations or scuffs. Knowing these things is crucial to choosing the appropriate process.


This tip is quite a bit more obvious than some of the others and should be something you follow already. The real takeaway is to ensure you understand the different processes and methods, including those that might be newer or unconventional.


Never Settle, Always Improve


While these tips are certainly beneficial — and will ultimately aid you in improving your mass finishing systems and processes — there’s one point you should always remember: never settle, and never stop improving. Tip one explains deploying a system of checks and balances that would foster an environment of perpetual improvement. Follow that tip if you adhere to nothing else.


Continue to monitor the devices and methods you employ, and work to create a seamless evolution of change that may even call for the upgrade to more modern, innovative hardware. You should see evident improvement in your mass finishing process that results in greater productivity and fewer errors.


Megan Ray Nichols 
STEM Writer & Blogger


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