Towards an automated polishing system: capturing manual polishing operations

Advancements in robotic and automation industries have influenced many manual manufacturing operations. With a great level of success, robots have taken over from man in many processes such as part manufacturing, transfer and assembly. However, in other traditionally manual operations such as polishing, automation has only partially been successful, typically limited to parts with simple geometry and low accuracy. Automated polishing systems using robots have been attempted already by a number of industrial and research groups; however, there are few examples of deploying such a system as a part of a routine production process in high-technology industries, such as aerospace. This is due to limitations in flexibility, speed of operation, and inspection processes, when compared with manual polishing processes. The need for automated polishing processes is discussed in this article and the problem with the existing system was explained to be a lack of understanding and the disconnect from manual operations. In collaboration with industrial partners, a mechatronic based data capturing device was developed to accurately capture and analyze operational variables such as force, torque, vibration, polishing pattern, and feed rates. Also reported in this article is a set of experiments carried out to identify the polishing parameters that a manual operator controls through tactile and visual sensing. The captured data is interpreted to the operators’ preferences and polishing methods and should then be included in the design of an automated polishing system. The research results reported in this article are fed back to an ongoing research project on developing an integrated robotic polishing system.