Harness Product Innovations to Improve the Grinding Department

Modern Casting Staff Report

Many are the challenges facing the foundry’s grinding department––Modern Casting asked a handful of suppliers about current grinding problems and what their companies are doing to help foundries overcome a range of vexing issues.

 At Flexovit, Foundry & Applications Manager Jeff Franke identifies three key concerns and how his company solves them:

1) Safety. Standard cupstones, a common grinding wheel used in foundry applications, are non-reinforced. Flexovit recently launched their patented CAPSTONE grinding wheel, an alternative to non-reinforced cupstones. CAPSTONE is reinforced with four full layers of high tensile fiberglass, enhancing the safety and durability of the grinding wheel. 

2) Costs. Cleaning room costs can be reduced by selecting the abrasive product best suited for the application, and the product that yields the highest value. Together with my team of abrasive applications specialists, I can consult on your cleaning room operations. Flexovit offers a wide range of foundry grinding and cut off wheel specifications.

3) Waste. Standard cupstones are often discarded long before they are exhausted due to glazing, which results in compromised grinding action. Flexovit’s CAPSTONE is resistant to glazing, giving consistent, high metal removal rates for the entire life of the wheel.

At Norton | Saint-Gobain Abrasives, Anays Genemaras, application engineer II, says one of the biggest challenges they see in the foundry grinding department is re-fitting older manual grinding processes into automated cells. In order to undertake this kind of upgrade, there can be a high barrier to entry in both capital expenditure and production time, she said. 

Additionally, there often is a steep learning curve associated with designing automated cells, especially for those who are new to robotics. Norton | Saint-Gobain Abrasives has addressed these issues in an innovative approach with its Norton Abrasives Process Solutions Team (APS). The team works with companies to outsource the design and optimization of new grinding processes, rather than sacrificing their own engineering resources and production time. 

At the Norton Higgins Grinding Center, the company can test a variety of applications, including part to abrasive, abrasive to part, and wet/dry grinding––modeling almost any grinding process using the breadth of its product catalog. 

At Sinto America, Vice President North American Foundry Division Andrew Schelke says foundries are increasingly adopting automated solutions like the Sinto America BARINDER grinder to address key challenges in the manual grinding department. The BARINDER grinder plays a pivotal role in enhancing efficiency by reducing cycle times and improving overall throughput. Its automated capabilities ensure a high level of precision, contributing to consistent and superior product quality. 

This technology becomes particularly crucial in mitigating the impact of skilled labor shortages, as it minimizes the need for highly specialized manual labor. Safety concerns associated with manual grinding processes are also addressed through the BARINDER grinder’s automated system, creating a safer working environment. 

Furthermore, the integration of data analytics utilizing the SINTO SMART FOUNDRY aligns with Industry 4.0 principles, allowing for comprehensive monitoring and optimization of the grinding process. While the initial investment in automated solutions may be significant, he says the BARINDER grinder proves to be a cost-effective solution, offering reduced labor costs and improved operational efficiency. 

At Walter, Senior Product Manager of Abrasives & Power Tools Marc Brunet Gagné notes that as technology quickly progresses, grinding departments in U.S. foundries are continually in search of different ways to improve productivity and efficiency, whether it comes from the actual work or in the quality of the products needed to get the grinding done. While some have turned to automation to help improve productivity, turning to robots to get the work done is only half the battle, he said.

To maximize time spent grinding, it’s essential that the tools needed to get through a day’s work don’t rapidly wear out, which leads to increased downtime due to wheel changeovers and subsequently lower daily output. Not all tools are created equal; some recommend specific applications to fully take advantage of the materials from which they’re composed. For example, grinding wheels could be made from aluminum oxide, zirconia alumina, ceramic, and silicon carbine, but if you’re searching for something that’s high-performance, it would be better to choose the ceramic abrasive due to its extreme removal rate and wear resistance.

What to Look For

Sources also provided their insights on what foundries should consider when evaluating grinding products.

Franke at Flexovit said:

Value verses Price Analysis. Cleaning room grinding and cutting applications can be demanding and rugged. 

Rarely will the lowest priced abrasive wheel deliver the best value, that is, the lowest overall cost when the amount of material removal, speed of removal, and wheel change downtime are factored in. These can be analyzed and quantified as the wheel ‘G-Ratio’ (amount of material removed factored with amount of wheel used), grinding/cutting efficiency (amount of material removed factored with speed of removal), and the number of wheel changes to complete the job at hand. Flexovit performs a P.A.C.E. analysis (Productivity And Cost Evaluation) to compare the total value of grinding and cutting wheels in your application.

Always consider and evaluate ‘Made in USA’ abrasive products for your cleaning room applications, he added. Recent supply chain disruptions were very costly for U.S.-based businesses. Proximity to the point of manufacture of these products will reduce the time and cost of procurement should unexpected events delay delivery. Technical support is also usually closer at hand should there be any product or performance issues. 

Genemaras at Norton | Saint-Gobain Abrasives said:

The three greatest considerations when evaluating grinding products in the foundry are cycle time, life, and sustainability. Manufacturers on average use three percent of their total budget on abrasives, with labor and overhead typically being the largest expense. To pursue significant cost savings via abrasives, it requires a full process analysis and an understanding that the most significant savings will be abrasives that allow a company to save in labor and overhead costs.

A focus on a faster-cutting abrasive that decreases the cycle time of a process is one of the most powerful ways to evaluate the effectiveness of a product. Cycle time reduction is typically the most significant way an abrasive can create savings for a customer by targeting costs in labor and overhead.

An increase in abrasive life can lead to both abrasive cost savings and labor savings. Abrasive savings comes from the use of less product in the manufacturing process, which begets fewer changeovers, leading to significant savings in labor and overhead.

Schelke at Sinto America said:

When evaluating automating the grind process … foundries should define the specific grinding applications and tasks the equipment will be used for, ensuring its suitability for the type of casting materials and sizes processed in the foundry. 

Assess the production volume versus capabilities and capacity of the automated system to match the production requirements, taking into account the handling of various casting sizes and quantities. Flexibility needs to match the foundry process, whether volumes and casting complexity are low or high. Evaluate the consistency of the grinding process, looking for features that contribute to accurate and repeatable results.

Consider the level of automation and assess ease of maintenance, including accessibility to key components and the availability of replacement parts, while also considering overall reliability and durability to minimize downtime. Examine safety features such as guards, emergency stop mechanisms, and other safety measures to protect operators.
Consider, too, the availability of training programs for operators and the level of technical support and after-sales service provided. Evaluate customization options to meet specific foundry requirements and the flexibility of the equipment in adapting to changing production needs. Consider the total cost of ownership, including initial purchase costs, maintenance expenses, and operational costs over the equipment’s lifespan. Seek feedback from other foundries and check for customer references and reviews to gain insights into real-world performance and experiences. 

Brunet Gagné at WALTER said:

It might seem trivial at first glance, but in choosing the right abrasive grains for grinding wheels, you’ll see immediate differences in the lifespan of the wheel, leading to more completed projects in a single day and week. Still, the grain choice stands as just one piece of the grinding puzzle.

The bonding agents used in a wheel’s construction can affect its durability, behavior, and overall stability. 

Choosing the right abrasive grain can directly affect a foundry’s productivity––the benefits become even clearer when realizing that extended lifecycles will reduce operation costs. 

If your grinding department is constantly changing wheels throughout the day after short periods of use, the costs of purchasing more of them start to balloon. At WALTER, the focus is on developing high-quality products that last longer and cut faster, ultimately leading to decreased operation time and, subsequently, fewer costs.