Published on Apr 17, 2020
An abrasive is a material, often a mineral, that is used to shape or finish a workpiece through rubbing which leads to part of the workpiece being worn away. While finishing a material often means polishing it to gain a smooth, reflective surface it can also involve roughening as in satin, matte or beaded finishes.
Abrasives are extremely commonplace and are used very extensively in a wide variety of industrial, domestic, and technological applications. This gives rise to a large variation in the physical and chemical composition of abrasives as well as the shape of the abrasive. Common uses for abrasives include grinding, polishing, buffing, honing, cutting, drilling, sharpening, and sanding (see abrasive machining). (For simplicity, "mineral" in this article will be used loosely to refer to both minerals and mineral-like substances whether man-made or not.)
Files act by abrasion but are not classed as abrasives as they are a shaped bar of metal. However, diamond files are a form of coated abrasive (as they are metal rods coated with diamond powder).
Abrasives give rise to a form of wound called an abrasion or even an excoriation. Abrasions may arise following strong contract with surfaces made things such as concrete, stone, wood, carpet, and roads, though these surfaces are not intended for use as abrasives.
Mechanics Of Abrasion
Abrasives generally rely upon a difference in hardness between the abrasive and the material being worked upon, the abrasive being the harder of the two substances. However, this is not necessary as any two solid materials that repeatedly rub against each other will tend to wear each other away (such as softer shoe soles wearing away wooden or stone steps over decades or centuries or glaciers abrading stone valleys).
Typically, materials used as abrasives are either hard minerals (rated at 7 or above on Mohs scale of mineral hardness) or are synthetic stones, some of which may be chemically and physically identical to naturally occurring minerals but which cannot be called minerals as they did not arise naturally. (While useful for comparative purposes, the Mohs scale is of limited value to materials engineers as it is an arbitrary, ordinal, irregular scale.) Diamond, a common abrasive, for instance occurs both naturally and is industrially produced , as is corundum which occurs naturally but which is nowadays more commonly manufactured from bauxite.However, even softer minerals like calcium carbonate are used as abrasives, such as "polishing agents" in toothpaste.
Abrasives may be classified as either natural or synthetic. When discussing sharpening stones, natural stones have long been considered superior but advances in material technology are seeing this distinction become less distinct. Many synthetic abrasives are effectively identical to a natural mineral, differing only in that the synthetic mineral has been manufactured rather than been mined. Impurities in the natural mineral may make it less effective.
Some naturally occurring abrasives are:
• Calcite (calcium carbonate)
• Emery (impure corundum)
• Diamond dust (synthetic diamonds are used extensively)
• Pumice dust
A blast cabinet is essentially a closed loop system that allows the operator to blast the part and recycle the abrasive. A typical blast cabinet consists of four components; the containment (cabinet), the abrasive blasting system, the abrasive recycling system and the dust collection. The operator blasts the parts from the outside of the cabinet by placing his arms in gloves attached to glove holes on the cabinet, viewing the part through a view window and, typically, turning the blast on and off using a foot pedal or treadle. Automated blast cabinets are also used to process large quantities of the same component and may incorporate multiple blast nozzles and a part conveyance system.
Wheel blasting or shot blasting is typically categorized as an airless blasting operation because there is not a propellant (gas or liquid) used to propel the abrasive. Rather, a centrifugal wheel is used to propel the abrasive against the substrate. Wheel machines are a high-power, high-efficiency blasting operation with recyclable abrasive (typically steel or stainless steel shot, cut wire, grit or similar sized pellets). Specialized wheel blast machines propel plastic abrasive in a cryogenic chamber; this type of wheel blasting is usually used for deflashing plastic and rubber components. The size of the wheel blast machine, and the number and power of the wheels vary considerably depending on the parts to be blasted as well as on the expected result and efficiency.
Assorted grinding wheels as examples of bonded abrasives.A grinding wheel with a reservoir to hold water as a lubricant and coolant.
A bonded abrasive is composed of an abrasive material contained within a matrix, although very fine aluminium oxide abrasive may comprise sintered material. This matrix is called a binder and is often a clay, a resin, a glass or a rubber. This mixture of binder and abrasive is typically shaped into blocks, sticks, or wheels. The most usual abrasive used is aluminium oxide. Also common are silicon carbide, tungsten carbide and garnet. Artificial sharpening stones are often a bonded abrasive and are readily available as a two sided block, each side being a different grade of grit.
Grinding wheels are cylinders that are rotated at high speed. While once worked with a foot pedal or hand crank, the introduction of electric motors has made it necessary to construct the wheel to withstand greater radial stress to prevent the wheel flying apart as it spins. Similar issues arise with cutting wheels which are often structurally reinforced with impregnated fibres. High relative speed between abrasive and workpiece often makes necessary the use of a lubricant of some kind. Traditionally they were called coolants as they were used to prevent frictional heat build up which could damage the workpiece (such as ruining the temper of a blade). Some research suggests that the heat transport property of a lubricant is less important when dealing with metals as the metal will quickly conduct heat from the work surface. More important are their effects upon lessening tensile stresses while increasing some compressive stresses and reducing "thermal and mechanical stresses during chip formation".
Various shapes are also used as heads on rotary tools used in precision work, such as scale modelling.
Bonded abrasives need to be trued and dressed after they are used. Dressing is cleaning the waste material (swarf and loose abrasive) from the surface and exposing fresh grit. Depending upon the abrasive and how it was used, dressing may involve the abrasive being simply placed under running water and brushed with a stiff brush for a soft stone or the abrasive being ground against another abrasive, such as aluminium oxide used to dress a grinding wheel.
Truing is restoring the abrasive to its original surface shape. Wheels and stones tend to wear unevenly, leaving the cutting surface no longer flat (said to be "dished out" if it is meant to be a flat stone) or no longer the same diameter across the cutting face. This will lead to uneven abrasion and other difficulties.
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