Robotic Grinding, De-Burring and Finishing Applications

July 3, 2012

by Bennett Brumson , Contributing Editor
Robotic Industries Association
Posted 07/02/2012

De-burring a casting, courtesy ATI Industrial AutomationManufacturing just about anything requires material removal in one form or another. Due to the dangers involved in manual grinding, de-burring and finishing, robots are increasingly called on to do these operations. Getting and retaining people to perform material removal tasks on metals and plastics as been difficult for many manufacturers. These difficulties will only increase as workers who carry out manual material removal retire while younger workers decline to fill these positions.

“Manual material removal is a tough job. The work is hard, heavy, dirty and nasty. Getting younger people to do essential grinding, de-burring and finishing is not easy,” says James Morris, President of Automated Cells and Equipment Inc. (ACE, Painted Post, New York).

With more robust and less expensive vision and force control systems, robotic grinding, de-burring and finishing applications are more attractive to manufacturers.

Force Control
Successful robotic grinding, de-burring and finishing applications means applying the proper amount of force onto the part. Insufficient force wastes time and valuable abrasive media while too much force potentially ruins parts. “As the robot twist and turns, it affects compliance of the tooling. Force feedback enables the robot to constantly put the proper pressure on the proper area on the part as the robot’s position changes,” says Robert Little, Chief Operating Officer with ATI Industrial Automation (Apex, North Carolina). “With force control, the robot ‘feels’ when it goes around a part’s corner while maintaining a constant force.”

Little uses a human analogy to illustrate his point. “Force control is like a person with closed eyes and a hand on a part. When feeling your hand going around a corner you put more pressure to keep your hand on the part. You cannot see the part but never loose contact with it.” The robot does the same with force control, says Little.

Likewise, Joseph Saad, Director of Sales with the Acme Manufacturing Co. (Auburn Hills, Michigan) says, “Force sensing has proven more reliable for de-burring and buffing cells than grinding systems. The next five years should produce a more reliable ‘active’ force sensing technology.”

Advancements in robot controllers facilitates better force control for grinding, de-burring and finishing applications says Morris. “High-speed force control is one of the biggest developments in the past five years. With increased computing power of the robot controller, end-users can take advantage of force control devices to control the material removal process better.” Robot operators are more confident and have a more robust material removal solution as a result, Morris concludes.

Robot transferring a welded box to a material removal station for finish polishing, courtesy FANUC Robotics America Corp.Foundries
Robotics play important functions in foundries, points out Saad. “Robots are now utilized in the foundry industry to first cut off castings from the main casting tree, then grind the gates flush to the surface. Robots utilize high-speed carbide tools to de-flash trim or excessive material.”

Virgil Wilson, FANUC Robotics America Corp.’s (Rochester Hills, Michigan), Material Handling Product Manager, says grinding, de-burring and finishing robots equipped with force sensors are a good fit in foundries. “Forces sensors are not only capable of controlling the cutting forces being applied but can also control the speed of the robot by sensing changing cutting conditions and dynamically adjusting the robot’s speed. A good example can be found in foundries where flashing conditions can change dramatically not only from part to part but also within the same part.”

Wilson goes on to say, “Force sensors uses a six degree load cell that provides force data to the robot planner in a closed loop system. The force data controls and adjusts the robot’s position to maintain the commanded force.”

In short, “Gate removal must happen in foundries. Gate removal is why a particular end-user company was looking at robotics,” recalls Morris.

Big Burrs
Robotic finishing of paper rolls, courtesy ABB Inc.When a robot performing grinding, de-burring or finishing chores encounters a particularly large burr on a part, successfully removing that burr can be tricky. “If the robot runs into a big burr, the robot should slowdown to prevent breaking the material removal tool. Force control can sense when the burr is so large and the tool cannot handle it,” says, Nicolas Hunt, Automotive Technology Support Group Manager at ABB Inc. (Auburn Hills, Michigan). “The robot is repositioned to take off smaller amounts of material automatically, until the burr gets down to a manageable size and maintain the surface finish.”

Similarly, Morris says, “In a known shape such as castings, burrs or gates are handled with simple compliance devices. If the part has a lot of variation, force control tells the robot to make a path adjustment.” Morris cites an example of a material removing robot encountering an especially large gate. “The robot senses the large gate and adapts its path to successfully remove the material.”

Removing on the Move
Grinding, de-burring and finishing robots can do their job at an impressive rate. Max Falcone, Product Development Supervisor at Kawasaki Robotics (USA) Inc. (Wixom, Michigan) provides a glimpse at robotic material removal throughput. “Using 36 grit grinding media at 5,000 revolutions per minute, a grinding robot can remove about 15 cubic millimeters of material per minute.”

Vision-equipped robot grinding over weld and weld spatter, courtesy Kawasaki Robotics (USA) Inc.Falcone says when grinding weld splatter for a show surface to be painted, the robot can travel at 70 to 125 millimeters per minute, and up to 450 millimeters per second for an average clean surface. As much as 4.5 kilograms of material per hour could be removed robotically.

Wilson says material removal rates are process-dependent. “De-burring an edge of stainless steel will be done at a different feed rate then sanding or polishing a stainless steel part. The average feed rate is 60 to 80 millimeters per second.”

Joe Saad of Acme adds that robotic material removal feed rates are, “Approximately 250 to 380 centimeters per minute [of material removal], which is fairly standard. Aluminum is faster.”

Tom Sipple, Material Handling Marketing Manager at Yaskawa America Inc.’s Motoman Robotics Division (Miamisburg, Ohio) agrees that material removal rates depend on the specific process. “Robotic grinding, de-burring or finishing depends on how much material needs removing and how aggressive the abrasive or cutting tool is. When doing really rough removal, end-users should use a more aggressive method but the surface quality will not be as high.” A balance must be found between aggressiveness and finish surface quality, notes Sipple.

Unusual Removal
Robots are most likely called on to perform routine material removal tasks. However, robotic flexibility lends itself to executing unusual grinding, de-burring and finishing operations.

“If the material the robot is removing is well understood, such as its stiffness or variations based on temperature, end-users do not get surprises because these applications tend to be deterministic,” says Adil Shafi, President of ADVENOVATION Inc. (Rochester Hills, Michigan). “A robot working with products with unusual physical properties, such as inconsistent alloys or composites, could run into repeatability problems. Sometimes these variations are in-feature geometry and can be accommodated with the use of machine vision that works with the robot and the force compliance tool in real-time.”

Shafi adds that robotic laser cutting of metal, and trimming of plastic with a consistent chemical mix ordinarily works well.

Nick Hunt also talks about unusual material removal applications. “Using force control, we have done robotic grinding, de-burring and finishing on huge paper rolls, boat hulls, as well as grinding and buffing operations on optics for very large telescopes.” Hunt also mentions robots used to polish gun chambers.

Hunt describes the paper grinding application. “When grinding the edges of the paper rolls, the robot cannot overheat the surface so we monitor the temperature and vary the force as necessary. An infrared temperature sensing device tells the robot to back off or increase the forces. Force and temperature sensors maintain optimal force for the material removal speed yet preventing the paper from getting too hot.” The edges of the paper will fuse together if overheated during the grinding process, says Hunt.

Little sees an increase in non-automotive finishing applications. “Robotic finishing of laptop computers is exciting because electronics is a large market. Using force control, the robot finishes computer cases and other electronics. The key is getting around edges, where robot force control is very successful by moving very smoothly.”

Morris also integrates robots to finish electronics. “We polished aluminum and copper, creating a fine finish for an end-user that makes electronics.”

Learning Material Removal the Robotic Way
End-users and integrators of robots for grinding, de-burring and finishing have several opportunities to learn more about this application. Shafi will conduct a webinar, New Trends in Material Removal Robots, to educate the industry on how robots can efficiently and effectively undertake these tasks. The webinar is scheduled for Thursday, July 19, 12:00 PM through 1:00 PM EDT.

“The webinar will cover material removal technologies. The application is trending towards the ability of material removal robots to follow part contours or shapes. Following complex contours is no longer a laborious process. Integrators do not have to teach many points by hand,” Shafi says in describing his tutorial. “Controllers increasingly support receiving computer-aided design (CAD) files to generate a path for the robot. CAD saves a tremendous amount of time and increases quality.”

Shafi’s webinar will cover not just grinding, de-burring and finishing but waterjet and laser cutting, as well as robot-based knife trimming. These topics will be examined through the use of videos and a slide show.

End-users can also attend Automate 2013 to garner more information about material removal robotics. The Automate trade show takes place in Chicago, January 21-24 at McCormick Place, and will be co-located with ProMat.

The flexibility of robotics allows a single machine to perform a multitude of tasks. “When using a robot for assembly, the material handling automation is free. The robot that picks the part from the load area is the same robot that holds the work piece and discharges the part on to an unload conveyor, box or station,” says Joe Saad.

Little says tool changers enhance the already flexible nature of robots. “Robots are capable of changing tools to do more than one function. Material handling and finishing are often combined in the same work cell with the same robot.”

Morris says, “We have integrated projects where the robot using a vision system loads parts into a trim press. The press will take off most of the excess metal but some edges need to be touched up. The robot moves the part to a station that removes flash from spots where the trim die cannot access due to the geometry of the part.”

Removing On
Robotic grinding, de-burring and finishing applications are poised for growth predicts Little. “Because grinding and polishing are extremely nasty and dirty jobs, even manufacturers in China are automating that process. Recently, aluminum dust in the air ignited, causing an explosion at a factory in China doing finishing work. Many people were killed in that explosion, increasing pressure to automate finishing work and get people out of that environment.” Little sees a surge in grinding, de-burring and finishing applications beyond automotive and moving into other industries.


A Toast to the New Year!

January 3, 2011

The glass you raise may have been engraved by a robot. KEBA shows us how in their video.

Numerous areas of application

One typical application is the automation of surface treatment procedures such as sanding, polishing, smoothing, stripping, cleaning and deburring. The sensitive handling of the workpiece is of decisive importance in this regard, as the danger of damage to the processed material as a result of uncontrolled contact pressure is especially great.

The gentle application of force by the Active Contact Flange is also the key to success during bonding, joining and the examination and testing of surfaces, and guarantees top quality results.

This also applies to complex assembly applications, e.g. within moving vehicle passenger compartments on automotive industry production lines, as well as automatic machine handling and the highly accurate pick-and-place of sensitive objects.

Business Results and Trends for 2010

January 26, 2010

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

Where is business headed in 2010? We got some of the answers during the Robotics Industry Forum. Robotic material handling is in generally good shape, but of course choosing a specific industry is critical. Food looks like a growth opportunity for robots and don’t count out automotive (especially spot welding) but what else can we deduce?

If you read the Wall Street Journal, you might see some clues about recent market trends in the January 26, 2010, Marketplace section. Halliburton is said to have a 48% decline in fourth quarter earnings but sees a silver lining in a resurgent North American oil-field-services market. There are some RIA members who do work in this area for many reasons, and material removal like deburring could well become an opportunity for a few who know what they are doing. (We know the players – let us get you connected.)

Ericsson reports it is cutting 1,500 more jobs this year after a spectacular fourth quarter loss – 92%! It seems equipment sales were hit very hard but the services side is their silver lining. Philips Electronics found itself on the profit side of the balance sheet in the fourth quarter and General Electric was happy with better than expected results.

It looks like flat panel manufacturing could firm up – which of course happens mostly in Asia, but good demand for this sector can translate into a wider boon for the economy.

It might be a good idea to keep an eye on railroads as a growth sector. Federal spending on high-speed rail could benefit the robotics industry since robots are used for many fabrication applications there. A strengthening dollar might put a bit of a brake on exports which has a direct bearing on railroad activity, but lately food, grains and beverages have helped keep the wheels turning for companies like Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

It should be no surprise that a light at the end of the tunnel analogy was part of the Forum presentation by Chris Thornberg, Beacon Economics. Maybe the railroads will be a bigger part of the recovery process than is often considered – especially in the robotics industry. An oncoming train could actually be a good sign … the more goods we move the better it is for the economy.

For most of the country it is all about small business, and that sector has much to gain as it has fallen so hard from the effects of the Great Recession. Thornberg indicated credit is more available to small business than perhaps many believe, and there is no doubt that a loosening of credit would be good in general. (Isn’t that the idea behind bank bailouts?)

It is interesting that the WSJ thought it was notable to highlight success in the small business sector for select companies that got on the reality show bandwagon (Ace of Cakes, American Chopper). You don’t have to have your own TV show, though. Some contend that use of social networking tools is good for business as noted during the Forum by Jim Spellos, Meeting U.

RIA offers an integrated marketing approach to help members see the trends and use tools that help business. I don’t know of any organization that lets members publish so much for free, let alone provide special mentions on Twitter and blog sites to keep members and the Association relevant. Thanks for stopping by – let us know what we can do for you. (Comments welcome!)

Optimism Sensed at ATI Open House

August 21, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

As usual, ATI Industrial Automation brought together a good crowd of robot makers, integrators and users at its summer open house in Orion Township, Michigan. Guests hailed from far and wide, with interests ranging from oil drilling in Alberta, Canada to press handling in the Great Lakes states and beyond.

ATI_Tool_ChangersWith expertise in tool changers, collision sensors, deburring tools and force/torque sensors, ATI is well known in a wide variety of applications and industries. Their Michigan office, near the Palace of Auburn Hills, makes it convenient for industry giants and key players in the robotics industry to gather and exchange ideas and see old friends.

An open house like this is a good way to get insight into trends. There was a general feeling that an economic rebound is on the horizon, and if pent up demand is about to break out then ATI has many ways to help customers make up for lost time.

Is wireless technology ready for primetime in the manufacturing sector? ATI experts looked at this issue and the more traditional network backbones found in Ethernet and Profibus. How refined is robotic deburring and material removal? Thanks to ATI force/torque sensors and products like Flexdeburr and Speedeburr there are many success stories in this area.

Classic products like tool changers and collision sensors were on display as were several new devices. Some will have seen the new giant tool changer used for heavy payloads during the International Robots, Vision & Motion Control Show. Their tool changers are even used by medical robots and their new force/torque sensors work under water.

Some of ATI’s visitors have a long journey back home and others were practically within walking distance, but all were treated to a good networking event and a chance to see new technology that can make them more competitive. We were honored to see a large plaque declaring RIA membership since 1995, and salute everyone that made time in their schedule to go to their open house.

Rank higher in Robotics Online search results with free POP points!

September 25, 2008

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association


For a limited time, you can get free POP points that allow you to rank higher in Robotics Online searches. Normally $495, POP points are included at no charge with any advertising bundle order in October.


What is a bundle?

Qualified members get free or deeply discounted ads in the Robotics Industry Directory. A bundle upgrades these ads from good to better and includes online ads at discount rates. Bundle advertisers save money and stand out online and in print.


What is a POP point?

Similar to how AdWords work on Google, POP points increase your visibility to Robotics Online users through a weighting system that jumps member content ahead of those with less points in a category. You choose the categories and apply the POP points yourself. Order an ad bundle and get FREE POP points!


Why October?

Robotic Industries Association goes into production for its 2009 Robotics Industry Directory soon. Members must tell us now of any plans to use their ads. For most, that is free. The bundle is for anyone anticipating 12 months of online ads beyond the print Directory and interested in an arrangement that saves money. POP points are for good customers and a way for us to give sincere thanks.


Order Bundle by                   Get this many POP points

October 10                             10 ($4,950 value!)

October 17                             8 ($3,960 value!)

October 24                             6 ($2,970 value!)

October 31                             4 ($1,980 value!)


How to order a bundle

Call me and I’ll handle the paperwork (see below for rates). At some time, the process will be run from the Member Control Panel. Soon, it will be so you can purchase and manage your ads in full from this dashboard. Until then, please contact me at 734/994-6088 or by email.


For people in the business, Robotics Online is the number-one website on industrial robotics technology and generates thousands of advertising clicks every year. According to Google Analytics, some 18,000 “Absolute Unique Visitors” come around each month and do so much they make better than five times their mass in “Pageviews” running toward 98,000 per month. Thanks to search engine optimization, it is common to see member content indexed by Google and served up from Robotics Online in their searches. POP over and see what you get – great things are waiting for you.


FYI – Bundle Rates

Bronze Supplier: $1,500 ($2,160 in pieces)

Silver Supplier: $7,900 ($11,420 in pieces)

Gold Supplier: $7,500 ($10,135 in pieces)

Platinum Supplier: $7,300 ($11,535 in pieces)


Integrators: $3,910 ($5,535 in pieces)



Brian Huse

Director, Marketing & PR

Robotic Industries Association

900 Victors Way, P.O. Box 3724, Ann Arbor, MI 48106



Robots Chip Away at Machining

October 3, 2007

by Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR (RIA) 

Robots are chipping away at CNC type jobs. So far, inroads are modest, but examples are building and interest is growing. We saw some of this at RIA’s Robotic Grinding, Deburring & Finishing Workshop, and just recently Design News published an article that also examines these issues. (Robots Loosen Up)

A lot of RIA members are mentioned in the article, and it also highlights the Association’s new study on hybrid sensors, which is another trend worth watching.

In the Design News article, it mentions how a robot workcell is used to cut stone. Funny … one of the speakers at the Robotic Grinding, Deburring & Finishing Workshop was telling me that stone and granite cutting technology has become so advanced and efficient that products such as countertops are driving a surge in sales for that industry. (Amazing what you can learn while networking at RIA events!)

Soon, RIA will carve out a new series of application workshops for 2008. Machining and related topics will be under consideration. Let us know if you have any special interests for our courses. You can reach me at 734/994-6088 (, or leave a comment below.

Robots in the Foundry Business

April 6, 2007

styx-mr-roboto-kilroy.jpgMany days my job has to do with “selling” memberships and other Association business, but recently I was selling robots. (Fade in “Mr. Roboto,” by Styx, since I’m only half serious about the selling thing.)

Anyway, Larry, a guy I know at our office building, stopped me on the way in one morning and asked if I could help him find a robot for a coating application in a foundry. Thank goodness for our printed Directory and online Buyer’s Guide! I was able show him these resources and talk a little about his needs.

He really should talk to an expert, I told him, but I was curious to learn more about what he was looking for. So, I grabbed the Directory plus a printout from the Robotics Online Buyer’s Guide with a list of companies in the Coatings category and headed to the third floor to see Larry.

Larry’s company is involved in the foundry business, and he is a big believer in robots. He said he sees them by the dozens when he visits clients. We talked about the demanding environment where castings are made, and he remarked that robots have gotten much better at handling the dirty, harsh settings of these businesses and are now quite essential in this industry.

It turns out that one of his clients is having trouble with how a core wash is applied. Right now, he said, a person at the factory uses a paint brush to dab the coating in a small area of the sand casting, and drips get into all the wrong places. Worse, he explained that the core wash hardens so much that it can break expensive machining bits, so problems with the application are quite significant.

This situation with the core wash is one that can be a real pain for a company like Larry’s, because if he gets involved, a customer is apt to blame him for the expensive breakage of bits (no matter that the real problem has to do with the manual application of the coating). This fact makes it a dicey proposition to try to help the customer, since it could lead to additional acrimony if something goes wrong. But Larry is convinced that a robot would solve his customer’s problem with the core wash, and he feels so strongly that he wants to find a robot company that will help him and his client.

With all the top-notch manufacturers and integrators that belong to RIA, I am confident that one of them will be able to help Larry’s company. He didn’t want to go on a mailing list, so I have to withhold his contact information, but please let me know if you want me to pass anything on to him.

Remember, I gave him the Directory and a printout of companies that selected the “Coatings” category for their listing in the Buyer’s Guide. If you haven’t updated your listing lately, don’t wait. RIA gets lots of these kinds of inquiries, and this is one of the main ways we respond.

Disclaimer: I don’t have extensive knowledge of the foundry business, so if I garbled any details I apologize in advance. Feel free to enlighten me. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto

— posted by Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, RIA (, 734/994-6088)