CNC machines are tried and true in metal machining and metalworking. They’re even more resourceful when manufacturers use them to automate deburring and finishing. But for some jobs, using a CNC machine for these processes is harder to manage and less efficient than alternatives, such as using a robotic arm with Xebec ceramic fiber brushes.
The market for industrial robotics is continually growing and is expected to reach $75.3 billion by 2026. Robots have already proven themselves in various manufacturing roles. Deburring and finishing are some of the latest functions to benefit. With robots, manufacturers can automate these processes for parts and products that aren’t as well-suited to deburring and finishing on a CNC machine. Additionally, robots can cost significantly less compared to CNC machines depending on their size.
With robotics now on the table, manufacturers must determine the best route to automate deburring and finishing at their facilities. It’s best to consult with an expert, such as Xebec’s deburring and finishing pros, to ensure you make the investment with the best returns and design the optimal system for your needs. Our reps enjoy working with manufacturers early in the process, to help develop the process to achieve your surface finish requirements.
In the beginning, it helps to have a primer. Here, we’ll compare the advantages and disadvantages of assigning these processes to CNC machines versus robotic arms.
What does a robotic deburring process involve?
In the robotic process, there is usually a tool change area with either cutting tools or deburring brushes. The industrial robotic arm grabs the first tool in the sequence, does the task, drops the tool off and moves on to the next tool in the sequence. When you use a Xebec ceramic fiber brush to finish off the part with a robot, the brush completes deburring and finishing at once.
Robots can be programmed to grab the parts themselves, move them out of trays and into machines, pick them up, turn them, and place them on other trays to send along – all with no human involvement. For the deburring process, such tool-and-part manipulation would typically involve two robots. This decreases the likelihood of error by reducing “touches,” as is demonstrated in this video of the robotic cutting and deburring of an output shaft tooled up with Xebec ceramic fiber brushes.
The robotics company is typically responsible for developing the process and programming for the manufacturer. Xebec’s reps often work closely with both in this phase.
Robotic vs. CNC deburring and finishing
While robots cannot mill a part out of a block of metal, both CNC machines and robotics can be paired with automated deburring methods. And both tend to perform better than manual deburring methods. When the choice is between the two, the right option isn’t always immediately apparent.
High-Touch vs Plug ‘n’ Play
With a CNC machine, you need an operator and a programmer. And in many cases, parts must be switched out, flipped or moved from one CNC machine to another. There may be two to four machines involved in the manufacturing of one part, each performing a different machining process.
With robots, once the programming is complete, the arm is put in place and you essentially “press play.” A robot could deburr and finish in a single cell, which is economical both financially and in terms of space in a shop. It also frees up operators to run other machines and perform other tasks.
Hands-on vs. Hands-off
When a CNC machining process calls for transferring parts, there’s a higher risk of accidents, ergonomic injuries and damage to equipment and parts. The more times you touch a part, the more likely you are to damage it or injure yourself. Transferring usually involves fixturing a part over and over, increasing the potential for scratches, snags, misplacement and missed burrs – all of which affect the success of the operation. These incidents lead to scrap, rework and more frequent quality control inspections. Transferring is especially problematic for parts that are heavy or have tight tolerances.
Unlike with a CNC machine, transferring parts between machines for the deburring and finishing steps isn’t an issue with a robotic arm because the part remains in the same cell. This prevents part damage and operator injuries, as is demonstrated in this video of automated burr removal and surface finishing of an aluminum alloy part using a Yaskawa GP8 industrial robotic arm tooled up with Xebec ceramic fiber brushes.
Fixed vs. Flexible
In CNC machines, tools work on a fixed, secured part. For instance, Xebec ceramic fiber brushes are programmed to work the part in the machine. And an operator needs to manipulate the part and secure it in place.
In the robotic process, industrial robotic arms can grab and move the part as well as the tools if programmed to do so. The tools the robot needs are available in a programmed sequence and an operator doesn’t have to intervene to move and fixture the part or tools, as demonstrated in this video of the robotic process of cutting and deburring of a cylinder head.
Additionally, robots are suited for hard-to-reach areas and complex paths. They have superb maneuverability, with ranges up to seven axes, and can easily approach from many angles, orienting to the part as needed.
Accuracy vs. Repeatability
CNC machines excel in accuracy, which is critical in metalworking. They have greater rigidity compared to most robots. However, robots are gaining in this area and can be reliably accurate when programmed and applied correctly.
Robots excel in repeatability, another critical capability in the industry. The robot will do as it is programmed to do – without human touch. There is less opportunity for human error in the equation. For instance, a human operating a crane cannot achieve exact placement. Robots achieve precision in placement down to .002”.
In addition, robots don’t have bad days, miss their mark or accidentally overwork parts. If you’re using a manual deburring and finishing process today, consider the consistency and repeatability you can achieve by automating the process. Whether you rely on a robot or CNC for deburring, using Xebec tools ensures high quality output.
Is robotics gaining on CNC for deburring and finishing?
Manufacturers are turning to robotics to get a plug-and-play solution that automates deburring and finishing while achieving consistency, accuracy and precision. Many even favor robots over their CNC machines for certain parts. They’re realizing incredible benefits, including:
- Meeting requirements for high precision and accuracy.
- Achieving consistency in quality, which translates to greater reliability and less QC time.
- Improving safety in their facilities and avoiding costly damage and injuries.
- Reducing waste of tools and abrasives with shorter tool life.
- Freeing up skilled labor to perform other tasks, potentially offsetting the labor shortage.
- Increasing capacity and production due to consistency, reliability and speed – even while running lean.
- Saving space in the shop.
- Reducing scrap and rework.
- Potentially saving on cost of more expensive CNC machine versus robots.
- Ultimately saving money and increasing revenue due to all these improvements.
Which automated deburring method is right for you?
Automated deburring and finishing, whether with a CNC machine or robotic arm, can greatly improve on results and output from manual methods. Both also improve safety and help manufacturers optimize their workforces, especially when paired with Xebec ceramic fiber brushes. But the decision you make between the two can have significant implications for your operations. At Xebec Deburring Technologies, our reps have a wealth of experience in a range of industries and manufacturing environments. We can help you identify the perfect solution for your application. Contact us to learn more and we can discuss your options.