High volume

By Gretchen Salois

The right brushes take the edges off parts in seconds

September 2015 - Hitting a snag during production is more than inconvenient once parts start to pile up on an assembly line. “A typical customer is manufacturing millions of parts per year so it’s extremely critical to have an efficient and economical way to deburr,” says Mark Fultz, president of Abtex Corp. Abtex specializes in abrasive filament brushes and the machines that drive them. Designed and made in its Dresden, New York, facility, Abtex products deburr powdered metal, fine blanked, stamped and saw-cut aluminum extrusion parts. 

As the automotive sector continues to ramp up production, demand for uniform parts is on the rise. In order to keep up, the finishing operation can’t be where the process bottlenecks. In business 35 years, Abtex modifies its brushes depending on the needs of the user. “We format a variety of power brushes with flexible nylon filaments that have abrasive grit embedded throughout,” Fultz says. “We concentrate exclusively on abrasive filament brushes and the machines that power them.”

Customers aren’t likely to choose a solution from a catalog. Rather, they call the supplier with a specific task in mind and Abtex develops a solution. A customer will often send a part to Abtex, which will subject it to testing with a variety of different brush designs to determine the best fit. “We process and return the part with a full applications report. That allows the company to see the results firsthand,” Fultz explains.

FFJ 0915 deburring image1

Powdered metal parts

With automotive sales back in swing, demand for powdered metal parts, in particular, has grown. This is a niche in which Abtex has expansive knowledge. Parts producers use a mold when making objects from powdered metal. The compressed powdered metal is then sintered. This process compacts the part into a solid mass without heating it to a molten state. Depending on the specification, the part may be processed further through a double-disc or fine grinder. The grinding process often creates sharp edges and burrs that need to be removed. Parts used for the automotive sector require deburring at an accelerated rate and at high volumes, Fultz says. 

When a powdered metal part exits the press, it is brittle and easily breakable at its most fragile point. “A lot of firms are interested in introducing a finishing process at that point during the process,” says Jason Saner, vice president of sales and marketing at Abtex. “Tool life is much better on a part that’s ‘green’ simply because the part is softer than one that’s gone through the [sintering] furnace.” 

With Abtex’s technology, users are able to delicately remove burrs in its green state without affecting the net shape of the part. “The very nature of abrasive filament brushes lends itself to burr removal,” Saner says. “By customizing the brush, optimizing the diameter, density and length of the filaments, we can ensure that only excess material is removed without damaging the part.”

High-volume parts

Of the many deburring processes that are available, each has its advantages and disadvantages, according to Fultz. Batch processes such as vibratory systems work to remove burrs by moving the workpiece against abrasives. “Challenges with using a vibratory process include the potential for parts impinging on one another, abrasive media becoming lodged in the part,” and the best way to dispose of process water. 

“If a part has critical tolerances, or is ground to a specific dimension, vibratory deburring or other batch processes are not always viable options,” Fultz continues. “Brush deburring, with a brush customized for the specific part,” handled within an efficient automated machine, “is often the best, if not the only, option.”

FFJ 0915 deburring image2

With the auto industry’s push toward greater fuel economy, engineers are challenged with propelling the same-sized vehicle more efficiently, Fultz explains. “The engines are getting smaller—no one thought a full-sized pickup would sell without an 8-cylinder engine, but now they are offering small displacement 6-cylinder engines offering the torque and horsepower of the larger 8-cylinders.” 

The key technologies responsible include variable valve timing (VVT), Stop/Start and transmissions with increasing numbers of gears. At the heart of these technologies are very tight tolerances, precisely ground components that require accurate and controlled deburring. With collective production volumes being in the tens of millions annually, brush deburring is often the only practical means of processing these parts. Maximum/minimum edge radii are typically specified and there can be no part-on-part contact, according to Abtex.

Complexity simplified

Abtex also builds custom machines to support manufacturing efficiency in brush deburring, including using complex mathematical algorithms, motion controls and robotics. While the machines are capable of deburring complicated components, the overall process is not. “I just came off a job installation in New England and the feedback we kept hearing was how straightforward the process is,” Saner says. “I always tell them that a lot of complicated thoughts and concepts led to [what seems like a] straightforward end process.”

Currently, Abtex is building a custom machine that deburrs three separate areas of a powdered metal part for a large automotive supplier. The challenge is holding the deburr operation to a very tight tolerance in all areas, flipping the part in and out of the machine to keep its orientation correctly directed for downstream operations, and completing the process in six seconds or less for every part. Once in production and running at full speed, the machine—using five custom brushes to perform the actual deburring—will process over 3 million parts per year. Abtex provided actual samples of the finished part to the customer for analysis before a machine concept was developed.

While the initial cost of the deburring machines Abtex offers may be at a premium compared with its peers, Fultz claims that convenience and customization pay for themselves. “Once a potential customer realizes they can deburr a part within very specific tolerances and specifications, they recognize the value of dealing with Abtex,” he says. “We’ve walked into a competitively held account with the customer complaining they can’t get the burrs off or they are going through an inordinate amount of brushes. By working with them and fine-tuning brush designs, we find that it’s not very hard to convince them with our ability to customize.” FFJ



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