Guest Editorial
By Mike Shappell, Senior Application Engineer,
Abrasive Process Solutions Group, Norton | Saint-Gobain Abrasives
view inside a busy grinding factory
Recipe for success
Teamwork and testing helps improve grinding operations

reater demands are being put on North American manufacturers to deliver high-quality products faster, all while facing skilled labor shortages. It is easy to see how proving out the most efficient abrasive process solutions, and in many cases automating them, is critical for success.

For over 130 years, Norton | Saint-Gobain Abrasives has worked collaboratively with its customers to solve tough grinding challenges. A recent extension of the Norton application engineering group is a new program called Norton Abrasive Process Solutions (APS). The APS team provides abrasive process development, optimization, automation and in-house testing. APS services could involve research and testing of new abrasives to improve quality or throughput, or it could be trying an entirely new and customized process for customers.

Headshot of Mike Shappell

Testing and proving

The APS program draws upon the vast knowledge of its team along with access to 30 different machines, and a new robotic automation cell, which is at the core of the new solutions lab located at the Norton Higgins Grinding Technology Research Center in Northborough, Massachusetts. The APS robotic lab is capable of delivering abrasive-to-part and part-to-abrasive applications, wet/dry processing and will use a full range of abrasives—coated, non-woven, thin wheel, bonded and superabrasives. Positioned to be an extension of the customer, the lab conducts tests so that customers do not have to allocate limited in-house resources and pause their own production.

The lab features a FANUC R2000iC robot with a 210-kg. load capacity that allows the testing team to perform processes using nearly any size part or tool. The force sensor-capable robot performs in a multi-capacity role, meaning it is fitted with an end-of-arm gripper to allow for part-to-media processing, as well as ATI Industrial Automation tool changers that use traditional hand tools to perform abrasive-to-part processing.

The Acme Manufacturing integrated robotic-centered process development system includes a programmable pivot table, 6-in.-deep coolant pans, Dynabrade abrasive tools, ATI toolholders and radial compliant devices. Push Corp. spindle motors and compliance slides, as well as two heavy-duty grinding heads, are also in the mix, in addition to a programmable pivot head with dual belt and wheel. Belts, cut-off wheels, and grinding wheels for example, can all be accommodated on the stacked head for part-to-media applications that require heavy pressure such as casting cut-off and gate grinding. A side-by-side spindle head can use two belts and up to four radial wheels, which can produce high surface finishes by buffing or using filament brushes.

Project examples
For a manufacturer of stainless steel bowls and other cooking utensils, the APS team was tasked with making recommendations to improve productivity and to eliminate discoloring on the bowls. The manufacturer was using a sisal buff with excessive compound, and then another cut and color buff to finish the outside. The APS team recognized the buff was generating too much heat and recommended and tested an automated flap wheel process for metal removal. For the finishing process, the team proposed using the new Norton Fixed Abrasive buff, which uses 75 percent less compound and often runs 10 percent to 20 percent shorter cycle times. Since reaching out to an automation system integrator for testing was not a realistic option due to the expense and potentially long timeframe, the APS group was able to give the manufacturer the parameters for a viable and proven solution for implementation with the system integrator, saving time and costs, and improving product quality.

In another APS project, an automotive component manufacturer making extruded aluminum truck parts needed a better finishing solution, moving away from off-hand finishing to an automated process to improve output and safety, while maintaining a fine finish. They were also seeking a way to improve productivity by reducing the number of finishing steps. The Norton APS team was able to assist the manufacturer as well as the system integrator with an automated solution. Various abrasive product types and grit sequences were tested, ultimately determining the best products for the application.

The APS team helps metal fabricators and production grinding operations identify and optimize the best abrasive process solution, and in some cases demonstrate how a robotic setup can drastically increase productivity. Robotic arms can be used in instances where manual grinding is not safe or realistic. Robots can also be more cost-effective and help alleviate the stresses of workforce shortages. Equipped with a verified turnkey solution, manufacturers can then contact an automation system integrator to implement the solution and avoid costly trial and error at the integrator level.

Norton | Saint-Gobain Abrasives,
Worcester, Massachusetts, 508/795-5000,