How to Choose the Right Finishing System

How to Choose the Right Finishing System

How to Choose the Right Finishing System

Manufactured parts come in all shapes and sizes, and the right finishing system is essential for creating the results you want. There are a few styles to choose from but many factors to consider, especially if you’re looking for equipment for highly specific parts, like finishing systems for the aerospace industry. You’ll need to consider the type of finishing being done, the speed of the process and much more. Let’s take a look at finishing systems and how they can improve the finish on metal parts.

What Is a Finishing System?

A finishing system improves the finish of a metal part by refining and smoothing its surface. These methods might include deburring, cleaning, polishing or descaling. Finishing systems can help products meet aesthetic demands, industry standards or safety requirements.

Finishing equipment typically uses abrasive action to modify the parts’ surfaces. Force can be applied in several ways, but the pieces rub up against the abrasive media and other parts of the system to achieve the desired finish. The machines can vary widely in capacity and speed, so some fit better in manufacturing operations than others.

Although these processes can sometimes be performed by hand, a finishing system offers more precision and speed — two critical parts of most manufacturing lines. The benefits of a finishing system can affect productivity, quality, costs and many other aspects of an operation.

Types of Finishing Systems

Several types of finishing systems can be used to achieve different results. In all cases, the parts are usually placed in the machine with water and some kind of abrasive media, such as ceramic, steel or plastic. Here’s how they stack up:

  • Tumble finishing: A tumble system, also called a barrel tumbler, uses a large rotating barrel to move the parts. It works like an old-fashioned rock tumbler. As the barrel rotates, the parts move up the side until gravitational forces cause them to slide back down. As they slide, they collide with each other and the abrasive media. You can also find tumble blasting systems, which use a sandblasting gun to add a different kind of abrasive media.
  • Centrifugal finishing: As the name implies, a centrifugal system uses centrifugal force to push the parts and the media out to the edges of the machine, where they rub up against each other. This equipment usually takes the form of a disc or a barrel.
  • Vibratory finishing: Vibratory finishing equipment creates a unique type of force to achieve abrasive action. A vibratory bowl or tub first gets shaken in a circular path. The entire load lifts up at an angle and gets dropped. While falling, the tub returns to its upward position, which puts upward angular force and shearing action on the parts and media. This force creates a smooth finish.
  • Spindle and slurry finishing: Also called flowing abrasive machines, spindle and slurry systems involve mounting the parts to a spindle. It quickly rotates through an abrasive slurry to achieve the desired finish.

Which Finishing System Is the Best?

The results of these finishing systems can vary, so no one machine is universally better than another. Some pros and cons of each type of equipment include:

  • Tumble systems: If you’re looking for affordability and brute stock removal, tumble systems are a solid choice. They can struggle to deliver finer finishes and may round off corners before much deburring occurs. They also work slowly and create the risk of surface damage due to the way the parts bump into each other.
  • Vibratory systems: Vibratory systems are good at achieving smoother surfaces and reaching into recessed areas, such as tubes. Since the force applied to the parts is equal, fragile parts are often safer from surface damage or bending. Vibratory equipment tends to be much faster than tumble systems, especially if you opt for a high-energy machine.
  • Centrifugal systems: These systems are similar to tumble systems, but the force involved eliminates the risk of surface damage from parts colliding with each other. They’re also faster and tend to work well for small components.
  • Spindle and slurry systems: A spindle and slurry system works well for applications where dimensions must stay within extremely tight tolerances. It offers a uniform, smooth and precise finish through fast cycles. Parts stay affixed to the spindles, so they can’t collide with and damage each other.

How to Choose the Right Finishing System

How to Choose the Right Finishing System

Selecting your finishing system depends on several different factors.

Part Size and Shape

Some parts are better suited to specific finishing mechanisms and abrasive media:

  • Very small parts: Tiny parts often benefit from ceramic media for a finer finish.
  • Medium parts: Moderately sized parts typically need larger media to avoid excessively long processing times.
  • Fragile parts: If your products are delicate or intercalated, plastic and porcelain media can help create a brighter finish without damaging the part.
  • Parts with external threads: These components need a gentle plastic media that offers a lighter deburring process to keep the threads intact.
  • Highly machined parts: For pieces that are heavily machined, consider plastic or ceramic media.

Your requirements and parts will also determine which media works best. For example, stainless steel and cast iron need harder media like ceramics. Aluminum and brass do well with plastic. Plastic parts do well with plastic media.

Type of Finishing Required

You’ll also need to match the type of finish you need with the right media:

  • Deburring: Deburring uses rounded media and a gentle mechanism to smooth out surfaces. Ceramics and plastic media often work well for deburring applications.
  • Polishing: Organic media, such as walnut shells, can be combined with polishing wax to offer a shiny finish.
  • Texturizing a surface: You can choose almost any media depending on the texture you’re going for. Ceramic media tends to offer dull finishes, while plastic is used for brighter finishes.
  • Cleaning cuts and etches: If your parts use laser or waterjet cutting, ceramic media offers an aggressive finish for smoother parts.
  • Removing rust: Ceramic media is again a good choice due to its aggressiveness, which can help remove rust more effectively.

Cycle Speeds and Capacities

Your operational needs will also impact which method is best. If you need speed or to process large part quantities, you might need a vibratory system. Tumbling systems tend to be slower and have smaller barrels, while vibratory systems are large and fast.


Lastly, the cost of a system will also determine if it’s right for your application. Although tumbling systems are slower and smaller, they’re much more affordable. They also wear out tumbling media slower than vibratory systems do.

Choose New England Sales for Mass Finishing Equipment

Choosing the right finishing equipment for your application can be tricky, especially when you weigh the diverse pros and cons of each system and type of media. Thankfully, New England Sales has experienced professionals ready to help. We can conduct an on-site visit for personalized insights for finding the right system from our vast selection of mass finishing equipment. We stick with you for the life of your equipment, too, with competitively priced consumables and expert maintenance repair services.

We offer finishing systems for the automotive industry, medical manufacturers, metalworkers and many others. If you’re still trying to find the right mass finishing equipment, please reach out to us today for expert assistance!

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