Industry News

Vibratory vs High-Energy Tumbling: Which Should You Use?

Both vibratory and high-energy tumble-finishing processes provide easy and inexpensive ways to improve parts en masse after fabrication. Tumbling stainless steel and aluminum parts – as well as components made from other alloys, metals and even plastics – is both an economical and easy means for finishing them. Each tumbling process for metals, alloys or other materials helps polish, descale, de-flash, debur, clean, brighten and otherwise refine parts to both improve appearance and performance. When looking at the difference between these two tumble-finishing processes, it’s important to choose one that best fits the specific application. To make an informed decision on which of these tumble-finishing processes to use, however, it’s important to learn the advantages and disadvantages of each.

A Tale of Two Tumble Finishing Processes

Vibratory FinishingThe vibratory tumbling process for metals is older, developed in the 1940s for finishing components with an abrasive media combined with gravity and water. . The high-energy tumble-finishing process takes mere minutes and is used for tumbling stainless steel parts, as well as those made from aluminum, titanium and other types of steel. Using cutting-edge finishing machines, it’s the quicker and more efficient of these two tumbling processes for metals. Each of these tumbling processes have their advantages and disadvantages. Only a truly seasoned company experienced in the two processes can help decide which process is best for a particular part.

Vibratory Tumbling for Metals & Alloys
As a tumbling process for metal, this technique involves putting parts, water and soap with abrasive media into a vibrating tub or bowl. In this process of tumbling, deburring, edge break and finishing occurs when components and media slide against each other due to the vibratory forces. These finishing techniques can also clean, descale and prepare surfaces for additional surface treatments. Commonly, the equipment used involves a system of batch tubs, roundish bowls or machines that feed through to deburr or burnish via this tumbling process. For metals or alloys, the vibratory tumble-finishing process results in a surface finish that cannot be achieved by hand.

A versatile tumble finishing process, vibratory techniques can either use a dry or wet method to achieve the desired finish. The choice of method depends on the type of material being finished, though the wet vibratory tumbling process for metals or alloys is used far more often, as it produces a cleaner finish. Water used in the wet vibratory tumble-finishing process can also be recycled, so it’s a more eco-friendly alternative. Additionally, a wider variety of media can be used effectively, including ceramics, plastics, synthetics and other materials.

While the dry vibratory tumbling process for metals and alloys can also utilize a wide range of media, for better results a synthetic or nonabrasive media is preferred as it means less dust is produced. A dry vibratory tumble finishing process is more expensive than wet tumbling, another reason it’s used less often.

High-Energy Tumbling for Metals & Alloys
Sometimes referred to as “barrel” finishing, the high-energy tumble finishing process uses centrifugal force to finish batches of components. In high-energy tumbling, deburring, edge break and matte finish take place within a tumble finishing machine, which consists of sealed barrels that spin rapidly on a carousel. Prior to starting this tumble finishing process, barrels are filled with water and media, along with a surfactant to make the process more efficient.

This suspension of water and abrasive media then helps smooth and finish the components that are added to the barrels, which spin to create centrifugal force to finish the parts. This high-energy tumbling process for metals also uses variously sized machinery, from barrels of 12 liters (3.17 gallons) for smaller batches and up to 330 liters (88 gallons) for larger batches of parts.

The versatility and speed at which high-energy tumble-finishing processing machinery operates makes it ideal for finishing parts consistently and quickly.

As a tumbling process for metals and alloys – especially for tumbling stainless steel parts – high-energy systems offer perhaps the most affordable option for mass finishing of components. This tumble-finishing process delivers the force needed to finish components more efficiently than conventional manual tumbling barrels, which are considerably slower. With high-energy tumbling, deburring even the most pronounced burrs is possible, though the process may result in surface damage for more delicate parts.

Vibratory Vs. High-Energy Tumbling Finishes

Generally, vibratory tumble-finishing processes tend to be more popular than high-energy tumbling. Stainless steel parts, along with those made from alloys and other metal components, can be finished more quickly overall while saving on labor costs. Larger parts, especially those that require tight tolerances, typically turn out better with vibratory tumbling. Deburring larger metal components also works better with a tumble-finishing process that utilizes vibrations. Vibratory tumbling achieves smoother finishes, all without causing too much wear to the exterior, which in turn extends lifespans and increases the durability of parts.

To ascertain which is the better choice, it’s important to look at the application and discuss the requirements with experts.

Considerations when comparing vibratory against high-energy finishing processes include:

  • Finish: The type of finish needed also determines which process to use for tumbling. Deburring, rust removal, polishing, uniformity, smoothness and other factors should be addressed before deciding on the type of media to use in either tumble finishing process.
  • Material: The material out of which components are made will affect the choice of the abrasive material used for tumbling. Deburring through the tumbling of stainless steel parts, for example, should use ceramic media, while aluminum components receive a better finish with plastic media. Generally, the harder the surface of the part being finished, the more aggressive the media should be.
  • Size: The size of the parts being finished particularly matters when it comes to tumbling. Deburring – though achieved by both techniques – for smaller parts works better with the centrifugal force applied by a high-energy tumble finishing process. For larger parts, vibratory tumble-finishing processes tend to work better.
  • Speed: The exact type of tumbling process for metals or alloys will depend on how quickly a manufacturer needs the parts, with more complex automated systems being faster.
  • Volume: In conjunction with the speed of a system, if a manufacturer requires significant throughput, and automated system with greater capacity is needed to mass produce more parts in less time.

Choosing the best tumbling process for metals or alloys depends on these and other similar matters. Both vibratory and high-energy tumble-finishing processes offer advantages and disadvantages. For this reason, it’s important to speak with someone knowledgeable about both finishing processes.

RP Abrasives for Tumbling Stainless Steel Parts & Other Finishing Processes

RP Abrasives provides finishing services for metals and alloys. Our tumbling processes for metals include both vibratory and high-energy tumble finishing. Processes for anything from single prototypes to mass-produced batches of up to a million parts are all within our capabilities. To learn more about what RP Abrasives can do for your metal-finishing project, contact our team or request a quote today.