Automate deburring and finishing operations

April 29, 2021 - 04:00am
Automate deburring and finishing operations

By Rob Johnson, vice president of IPT America – Xebec Deburring Technologies

Xebec brushes made from ceramic fiberDeburring and finishing are still predominantly manual processes for many manufacturers and job shops. However, the results can be inefficient and inconsistent. Doing this by hand takes a lot of time and pulls employees away from more productive activities. Then, if the final product isn’t to spec after spending all of that time and energy, it might be scrapped.

It’s an unfortunate, often daily nuisance that manufacturers have come to terms with. But today, there are new technologies, such as integrated solutions with ceramic fiber brushes, that automate deburring and finishing that result in a precise product in a matter of seconds, and its return on investment is fast enough to warrant the cost.

Manufacturers must weigh the impacts of quality issues from manual deburring and finishing on their business – and their bottom line – to determine if investing in an automated process would be worth the return.

Manual deburring is rarely standardized

Manual deburring varies widely from one manufacturer to another. Some have streamlined processes with dedicated tools and requirements while others leave it to the discretion of individual employees.  This hurts productivity and leads to inconsistent results.

Tools used for manual deburring range from miscellaneous abrasives to pneumatic grinding tools. They may also include hand held tools like wire brushes or dowel rods with abrasives or a cotton swab attached.

Additionally, when it comes to assigning the task, it’s often on an as-needed basis. Though some manufacturers have employees dedicated to manual deburring, it’s more often the case that employees are pulled off of other tasks as they as needed. This isn’t an optimal way to allocate resources considering those employees could be pulled off of higher-value tasks.

Some companies outsource deburring operations instead of performing it in-house. This adds transportation and logistics costs, increases the risk of damage while in transit, and slows the quality-control process as each part has to be qualified at every step.

Common quality issues with manual deburring

With these conditions in mind, it’s easy to assume that manual deburring comes with inherent quality issues. If you perform this type of work at your shop, you’ll likely find these issues familiar.

Imprecise edge breaks

It’s nearly impossible to achieve a consistent or precise edge break with manual deburring, especially if the part is very thin. In many industries, such as aerospace, precise edge breaks are critical. If an edge break isn’t perfect, parts and products are often scrapped, which might cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Inconsistent deburring

Manual deburring is often performed by various employees with various tools. This results in inconsistent deburring depths and speed. A company is more likely to get consistent results with employees dedicated to the task and who are familiar with the details of the product and tools used. However, even these workers will produce varying results depending on the time of day and their energy level.

Inconsistent finishing

For shops that provide finishing services, these same manual deburring issues can lead to inconsistent finishes. This affects other processes like anodizing, heat treating and coating, and can render a product scrap. It can also hurt a company’s reputation for producing well-polished products.

More scrap and rework

Manual deburring increases the rate of scrap and rework, which can waste time, money and resources. This is one of the most substantial issues related to quality in the deburring process. For some sophisticated parts, such as in the medical and aerospace industries, just the setup time for a part can take hours. If a company has to scrap or rework the part, the loss includes setup time, as well as the cost of acquiring materials and/or replacing the part and performing quality control.

More quality-control work

Deburring manually often calls for more quality-control inspections, increasing the cycle time. In automated processes with more consistent results, quality control is more streamlined and shops can often box up parts immediately after the deburring and finishing process is complete.

Manual deburring vs. automated deburring

If  a company is experiencing quality issues, weigh the impacts on cost and time. An automated process, especially for high precision work, may be worth the investment considering how dramatic the difference in consistency, quality and timing could be.

Automated deburring solutions have the potential to take the deburring rates from two parts per hour to 30 parts per hour, and scrap rates from thousands of dollars down to hundreds. It can also drive a company’s reputation for consistent quality to a new height thereby creating happy customers and attracting new jobs.

Rob Johnson can be reached at

Related Glossary Terms

  • grinding


    Machining operation in which material is removed from the workpiece by a powered abrasive wheel, stone, belt, paste, sheet, compound, slurry, etc. Takes various forms: surface grinding (creates flat and/or squared surfaces); cylindrical grinding (for external cylindrical and tapered shapes, fillets, undercuts, etc.); centerless grinding; chamfering; thread and form grinding; tool and cutter grinding; offhand grinding; lapping and polishing (grinding with extremely fine grits to create ultrasmooth surfaces); honing; and disc grinding.

  • inches per tooth ( ipt)

    inches per tooth ( ipt)

    Linear distance traveled by the cutter during the engagement of one tooth. Although the milling cutter is a multi-edge tool, it is the capacity of each individual cutting edge that sets the limit of the tool, defined as: ipt = ipm/number of effective teeth 5 rpm or ipt = ipr/number of effective teeth. Sometimes referred to as the chip load.

  • quality assurance ( quality control)

    quality assurance ( quality control)

    Terms denoting a formal program for monitoring product quality. The denotations are the same, but QC typically connotes a more traditional postmachining inspection system, while QA implies a more comprehensive approach, with emphasis on “total quality,” broad quality principles, statistical process control and other statistical methods.


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