Deburring, edge rounding machine improves copper parts quality, throughput


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Dec 04, 2023

Deburring, edge rounding machine improves copper parts quality, throughput

(From left) Inspecting a part after deburring are Joe Brackin, SPF plant

(From left) Inspecting a part after deburring are Joe Brackin, SPF plant manager; Scotty Moore, SPF deburr production operator; Denis Weinfurtner, ARKU marketing/sales; and Anthony Toth, SPF vice president of engineering.

Whether it's a financial portfolio or a staffing situation, having diverse assets can truly boost competitiveness. For management at SPF America, diversity through serving a variety of markets has been the go-to strategy for decades. What started as a sheet metal business has continually reinvented itself, and today the company produces vital copper components for the power distribution and telecom industries.

It all started in the 1950s, when Basil C. Brock, a foresighted entrepreneur, started a sheet metal shop in Los Angeles. He moved to Clarksville, Ark., in the 1970s to retire, but found so much opportunity there to serve the copier, telex, and computer industries, as well as government projects, that he founded Mid-West Enamelers in 1977—the core company that would become SPF America 35 years later.

As a businessman who had his finger on the pulse of the times, Brock often sensed when customer demands changed. It was, therefore, hardly surprising that in 1997 he embarked on yet another journey with CopperFab, specializing in precision copper fabrication and plating for an expanding telecommunications and battery industry.

Copper is still the bread-and-butter business of SPF America, a product of the merger between Mid-West Enamelers and CopperFab in 2012. The Fort Smith, Ark., facility mainly produces copper busbars for battery backup systems and generators, using processes including cutting, punching, stamping, deburring, electroplating, coating, and assembly. The largest workpieces measure up to 85 in. and weigh up to 50 lbs., requiring a good deal of caution from the staff.

Besides a passion for copper, the company has kept its founder's tireless drive to question the status quo, especially in times when the copper market is up and lead times can vary from 10 weeks to six months: "Currently it's hard to get the material to the door," said Anthony Toth, SPF America's partial owner and vice president of engineering and Brock's grandson. "In this scenario, consistent results are important to reduce reject rates. We can't afford to lose any material to inefficient processes."

Deburring and edge rounding, however, used to be a problem. For a long time, staff deburred laser-cut and punched parts manually, which was tedious and time-consuming work. Though as many as four colleagues were working in the deburring area at a time, longer parts still required a great deal of patience. "We used to have consistent bottlenecks, and at least two colleagues were needed to handle the largest items." This meant carrying heavy and potentially dangerous parts, since their sharp edges could cause serious injuries.

And the manual deburring was leading to some imperfect parts. "Apart from posing a high scrap risk, these are difficult to process further, impacting busbar quality," Toth said. For insulation purposes, many copper parts are coated in epoxy. If the edges aren't rounded off properly or still have burrs on them, it can affect the insulation, resulting in electrical failures. In short, manual deburring could cost the company not only parts but also customers.

"We needed a more robust approach to deburring, with the flexibility to polish and break off the burrs and sharp edges," Toth explained. "We were on the lookout for a deburring machine to enhance copper busbar quality and coating operations. Given the market and operator situation, we couldn't afford to manually redo faulty parts."

In 2019, Toth's search led him and his team to the FABTECH tradeshow in Chicago, where they dropped by ARKU's booth. "I was intrigued to hear that ARKU, as a leveling expert, also offered deburring machines. When I found out that they covered double-sided deburring and edge rounding, I was hooked."

One machine stood out for its effectiveness: the EdgeBreaker 3000, which can process parts up to 3 in. thick. "We knew from the start that this would help us boost throughput and better process large parts." On-site, he and his team had a look at the "guts" of the machine, as he puts it. "The EdgeBreaker looked much sturdier than anything we’d seen before. We had a feeling it was going be worth it."

The part after processing (right) shows precise edge rounding all the way around. When no burrs are present, only the edge rounding units can be used.

Toth traveled to ARKU's Cincinnati headquarters to oversee the trials in person. The results showed that the deburring machine was up to the task: The large and thick parts came out clean and without any dross or burrs. "We were finally in a position to do away with manual deburring and achieve high-quality downstream processes and shorter lead times," Toth said.

Soon after the tests, in spring 2020, a new EdgeBreaker 3000 arrived at the Fort Smith plant. After installation, staff training went quickly; since the system features a user-friendly touchscreen interface, learning the basic operating commands was a quick and intuitive process.

Since then, the machine has transformed SPF's deburring and edge rounding processes. Instead of four people working in the manual deburring area, one to three people work with the machine full time, leaving staff to take care of other critical tasks. Seventy percent of the company's products run through the machine, which processes up to 290,000 lbs. of punched, laser-cut, and stamped copper parts every year.

"The machine makes life a lot easier," Toth said. "We not only save time and manual labor for deburring and belt sanding; coating has also become much more precise."