Vibratory Finishing: A Marginal Technology? Why Should It Be?
Vibratory finishing is a permanent fixture in the metalworking industry, and indeed, serial production could not be conceived without it. Be it in the automotive, aviation, medical, jewellery or fittings industry, vibratory finishing has become increasingly significant over the last decades in the value chain of product development. This is in part due to greatly enhanced automation, and in part due to the many different process engineering applications of modern vibratory finishing technology.
Over the past decades, the global market for vibratory finishing has grown by several 100 percent, partly due to the development output and the strong expansion of the industry¡¦s market leaders.
In the public eye, this technology plays a less prominent role in spite of these superlatives. While other mechanical processing techniques that have grown in significance over the past 50 years are well known in all sectors of industry, vibratory finishing, a mature, clean and state-of-the-art manufacturing technology, is relatively unknown and little attention is paid to it.
Where does the problem lie? One important reason is the poor scientific basis of this technology. There is no formal qualification associated with it. There is no degree course. No scientific literature. There is a lack of almost everything - from staff to equipment - that developers, production planners and production managers would need to do a good job. There are not enough skilled workers, technicians, master craftsmen or adequately qualified engineers with the right expertise, and there is no suitable or sound professional foundation for planning and calculation.
An agreement could not even be reached on a definite name for this technology over the past decades. Tumbling, vibratory finishing, mass finishing, trowel finishing ¡V this is just a small selection of the names given to a technology that has revolutionised and streamlined surface technology much more than any other technology in the past 25 years.
Given that developers, technicians, production and process planners, and design engineers have almost no scientifically sound basis for working with this technology, this leads to insecurity and a feeling of dependency in practice. If a developer is not able to fully comprehend, plan, assess, calculate or evaluate a process, he is left with the feeling: "There is a residual risk, and I am strongly dependent on my supplier, whom I have to trust with matters that I myself am not entirely familiar with".
In the end, everything might turn out well. However, if the supplier is also not familiar with the necessary scientific background (such as water chemistry), embarking on the technology of vibratory finishing can become an unpredictable adventure. Important aspects such as economic efficiency, process stability and repeatability can quickly and dramatically get out of hand if no proper plans are in place.
Of course, these days, nobody can afford to do it this way. Like in many other areas of life, there is a relationship here between insecurity and distance. The more unfamiliar you are with a subject matter, the more distant you remain from something that you should really be right in the middle of.
A huge number of different plants and processes are available today that allow you to find the right solution for almost any problem, be it in the area of deburring, defined edge rounding, surface improvement or smoothing, precision grinding or high-end finishing.
It would be desirable for researchers to address the topic and to recognise its potential much more than before. This would be a first step in the right direction. If the science underpinning this technology were more developed, then we would have the right basis for affording the technology the degree of recognition it deserves.
This in turn would lead to its greater acceptance among the public and thus enhance its prospects for growth.
by Dirk Gather
Contributing Editor MFN and General Manager of GZO GmbH, Germany