Vibratory tumbling aluminum with ceramic media? Recommendations, please.
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  1. #1
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    Default Vibratory tumbling aluminum with ceramic media? Recommendations, please.

    I'm currently tumbling my aluminum parts for a pre anodizing finish with plastic media. It's time to buy more media and I'd like to change to ceramic, so I can bring the tumbler inside and just dump the waste in my driveway. Last I checked into it, the finish wasn't the equal of the plastic.

    Is there anyone out there using ceramic media on aluminum? What manufacturer, shape and size, compounds, methods, etc?

    Thanks!
    Neil

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    Not a direct answer...... We have had parts tumbled with ceramic by vendors, I don't know the type/size/etc. But it gave a matte finish with softened edges, not ideal for anodizing, depending on the appearance you want. The matte was a little more "dented" than I would like, and I don't care for it. We were using "alodine", and it looked OK.... Alodine isn't a great appearance finish anyway, more "functional".

    Frankly, I did just as well and probably better, doing prototype lots in my own tumbler, with plain washed sand as the medium, using something around about 1.5:1 sand/water. Basically same finish, a little less "dented" looking.

    I'm not clear on why you want to change if you are getting the finish you want with what you are using.

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    neil I'm going to be in the same position as you shortly. Please write back here if you find a good media or if you stick with the plastic. I'd probably find a seller and have him suggest a media for what you want. I'd be interested in seeing how your current process looks before and after anodized. [email protected]

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    I did see this the other day. Not professional, but something for comparison.
    Polishing 6061 machined aluminum with Vibratory Tumbler Media - YouTube

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    I have never found a ceramic media that works well on aluminum. The ceramic that we use to give a burnished finish on stainless just beats the aluminum up, just sort of hammering down the burrs and not really removing the tool path marks. I have had best luck with a small plastic green cone media that I get from C&M Topline. Parts stay in the tumbler for 30 minutes to an hour and come out looking great and ready to anodize (we tumble a lot and spent over 25K on anodize this past year).

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    I have never found anything better than plastic media for aluminum. I settled on polyester resin cones as the best compromise between cutting performance and longevity. I never found a ceramic that I even considered it working. When tumbling harder metals I would just use rocks, works the same as ceramic, perhaps a bit more aggressive, but WAY cheaper. Use the rounded river rocks, pea gravel to the 2" decorative in front of the shop. The anodizer can brighten up dull parts with a little longer etch, just be careful with the threaded holes.

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    We do a lot of anodized parts and have discovered that if you want your anozing to be screwed up and pock marked, ceramic media is a fine way to achieve this. Ceramic media leaves a smooth mat finish, but unless you bright dip the parts to remove the outer +/- .001" of material and shine it up, you often have teeny tiny bits of ceramic grit imbedded in the material. This doesn't get anodized, and will clearly show up in the finish of the aprts.

    Plastic media doesn't seem to cause this problem.

    FWI

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    JST,

    The plastic media stinks of "fiberglass fumes" (I think it's styrene gas) during tumbling and so the tumbler is in another, unheated building. Can't stand to have it in the (heated) shop. This time of year in Vermont the media will freeze to the tumbler between uses, so has to come out and get lugged to a heated space. The compound has to be heated, rinse water also, and I have to trek back and forth to keep track of the process. The effluent can't be dumped wet, all the water has to be evaporated before landfilling the solids.

    Using ceramic means no noxious gases so the tumbler could come into the shop. No more lugging water, compound and media, and the effluent can be dumped in the driveway. That's the upside to using ceramic, the downside, as verified by Mickey, David and Stuart seems to be a lousy finish. I need to buy more media, so thought this would be a good time to switch.

    3/4" red polyester tetrahedrons is the media being used now, with proprietary compound from BST Co. mixed 1 qt to 5gals of water. Parts are 6061T6 and stay in the tumbler for 1 1/2-2 hrs, till the tooling marks are all gone. Yields a very fine matte finish that results in a smooth satin black after anodizing, that is if the anodize shop doesn't leave the parts in the etching bath too long. Then the finish turns brighter and stripier. Getting the anodizers to get the parts right is the most difficult part of the process.

    Mickey mentioned Topline as a supplier for plastic media. Anybody have a good supplier in New England? (UPS costs on 50lb bags of media are significant.)

    Neil

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    I run my tumbler of plastic cones with a healthy dose of laundry detergent. Tide or whatever is on hand. my bowl has a lid or perhaps this would not work out it would foam all over the shop.

    the foamy suds totally suppress the fiberglass fumes. plus the parts rinse clean better. no smell, and no dust. the effluent could be let settle in a barrel where solids will drop out.

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    We started with plastic media on our aluminum parts for annodize. We had a fellow accidently use the ceramic stones. The parts came out cleaner with none of the feared damage. We have never used the plastic stones since. We are using U M abrasives ultra light stones. We think the light weight prevents damage to the parts, plus it works well in out cheap tumblers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by neilho View Post
    JST,

    The plastic media stinks of "fiberglass fumes" (I think it's styrene gas) during tumbling and so the tumbler is in another, unheated building. Can't stand to have it in the (heated) shop. .........................
    Using ceramic means no noxious gases so the tumbler could come into the shop. No more lugging water, compound and media,
    Well, that's a good point.......... But I didn't like teh finish any better than anyone else here..... (ok ONE exception) it looked dented.

    We have a supplier who uses fine sand, and his stuff looks nice. That's basically why I used sand for protos recently, and they came out better than ceramic. I didn't use fine graded sand, I used "run of shovel" sand, with small pebbles maybe up to 0.150" dia. Still looked better than the ceramic media.

    If you can get good media, and like it better than sand, OK.

    I found that nothing really de-burrs, And if it really will de-burr, it will abrade too much of the burr-less edges also. Not so good. All we wanted was to get most of the tool marks off.

    Actually this last time, the boss had a laser company cut our parts from tube or angle, instead of milling and sawing. Worst decision ever, some parts have melted "boogers" on them, as well as burrs of melted stuff. Good thing it was just a couple dozen protos this time, because we had to file the burrs and THEN tumble to clean up the edges and cut surfaces. Sand did that nicely. Doubt ceramic would ahve done better, and we would have the dings and dents.

    Your lightweight cones might be OK. Give it a shot, can't be worse than what you have hassle-wise.

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    I've used marble chips from the Homeofdepot.
    Had good results on some larger pieces
    I also mix a few dozen in with the green plastic media when doing small parts.

    I use a can of dollar store cleanser with each run (generic Comet)
    It dosn't produce suds, after 1/2 the run time I rinse and reload with clean water

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    Hi Neil,

    I have a project recently that we have surface finishing of aluminium extrude parts
    The aluminium parts before and after finishing.
    The second photo is finished with ceramic deburring media.
    It is not good for electroplating, but that is good enough for plating and coating
    before-aluminum-deburring.jpg

    after-ceramic-deburring-aluminum-parts.jpg

    Earnest

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    Don, ban this spammer. 26 posts in what, 2 days......??

    Must be EG again....



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