Surface finishing is a broad range of industrial processes that alter the surface of a manufactured item to achieve a certain property. Finishing processes may be employed to: improve appearance, adhesion or wettability, solderability, corrosion resistance, tarnish resistance, chemical resistance, wear resistance, hardness, modify electrical conductivity, remove burrs and other surface flaws, and control the surface friction. In limited cases some of these techniques can be used to restore original dimensions to salvage or repair an item. An unfinished surface is often called mill finish.
Surface finishing processes can be categorized by how they affect the workpiece:
- Removing or reshaping finishing
- Adding or altering finishing
Mechanical processes may also be categorized together because of similarities the final surface finish.
Superfinishing, also known as micromachining, microfinishing, and short-stroke honing, is a metalworking process that improves surface finish and workpiece geometry. This is achieved by removing just the thin amorphous surface layer left by the last process with an abrasive stone or tape; this layer is usually about 1 μm in magnitude. Superfinishing, unlike polishing which produces a mirror finish, creates a cross-hatch pattern on the workpiece.
After a metal piece is ground to an initial finish, it is superfinished with a finer grit solid abrasive. The abrasive is oscillated or rotated while the workpiece is rotated in the opposite direction; these motions are what causes the cross-hatching. The geometry of the abrasive depends on the geometry of the workpiece surface; a stone (rectangular shape) is for cylindrical surfaces and cups and wheels are used for flat and spherical surfaces. A lubricant is used to minimize heat production, which can alter the metallurgical properties, and to carry away the swarf; kerosene is a common lubricant.
The abrasive cuts the surface of the workpiece in three phases. The first phase is when the abrasive first contacts the workpiece surface: dull grains of the abrasive fracture and fall away leaving a new sharp cutting surface. In the second phase the abrasive “self dresses” while most of the stock is being removed. Finally, the abrasive grains become dull as they work which improves the surface geometry.
There are three types superfinishing: Through-feed, plunge, and wheels.
- Through-feed : This type of superfinishing is used for cylindrical workpieces. The workpiece is rotated between two drive rollers, which also move the machine as well. Four to eight progressively finer abrasive stones are used to superfinish the workpiece. The stones contact the workpiece at a 90° angle and are oscillated axially. Examples of parts that would be produced by process include tapered rolls, piston pins, shock absorber rods, shafts, and needles.
- Plunge : This type is used to finish irregularly shaped surfaces. The workpiece is rotated while the abrasive plunges onto the desired surface.
- Wheels : Abrasive cups or wheels are used to superfinish flat and spherical surfaces. The wheel and workpiece are rotated in opposite directions, which creates the cross-hatching. If the two are parallel then the result if a flat finish, but if the wheel is tilted slightly a convex or concave surface will form.
Common abrasives used for superfinishing include aluminum oxide, silicon carbide, cubic boron nitride (CBN) and diamond.
Aluminum oxide is used for “roughing” operations. Silicon carbide, which is harder than aluminum oxide, is used for “finishing” operations. CBN and diamond are not as commonly used, but find use with specialized materials such as ceramics and M50 tool steel. Note that graphite may be mixed with other abrasives to add lubricity and to enhance the appearance of the finish.
Abrasive grains must be very fine to be used with superfinishing; usually 5–8 μm.
Advantages of superfinishing include: increasing part life, decreasing wear, closer tolerances, higher load bearing surfaces, better sealing capabilities, and elimination of a break in period.
The main disadvantage is that superfinishing requires grinding or a hard turning operation beforehand, which increases cost. Superfinishing has a lower cutting efficiency because of smaller chips and lower material removal rate. Superfinishing stones are softer and wear more quickly, however they do not need to be dressed.
Common applications include: steering rack components, transmission components, fuel injector components, camshaft lobes, hydraulic cylinder rods, bearing races, needle rollers, and sharpening stones and wheels.
It has been proven that superfinishing certain parts makes them more durable. For example if the teeth in a gear are superfinished they will last up to four times as long.
Many factors contribute to the surface finish in manufacturing. In forming processes, such as molding or metal forming, surface finish of the die determines the surface finish of the workpiece. In machining the interaction of the cutting edges and the microstructure of the material being cut both contribute to the final surface finish. In general, the cost of manufacturing a surface increases as the surface finish improves.
Just as different manufacturing processes produce parts at various tolerances, they are also capable of different roughnesses. Generally these two characteristics are linked: manufacturing processes that are dimensionally precise create surfaces with low roughness. In other words, if a process can manufacture parts to a narrow dimensional tolerance, the parts will not be very rough.
Due to the abstractness of surface finish parameters, engineers usually use a tool that has a variety of surface roughnesses created using different manufacturing methods.