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Abrasive flow machining (AFM): An Overview

M. Ravi Sankar, V. K. Jain*, J. Ramkumar

Department of Mechanical Engineering,

Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, 208016, India
Corresponding author: vkjain@iitk.ac.in, +91-512-259-7916


Abrasive Flow Machining (AFM) was developed in 1960s as a method to deburr, polish, and radius difficult to
reach surfaces like intricate geometries and edges by flowing a abrasive laden viscoelastic polymer over them.
Based on the application, three different types of machines have been reported i.e, one way AFM, two way AFM
and orbital AFM. Because of simplicity in analyzing the physics, analysis of AFM process always refers to two
way AFM. It uses two vertically opposed hydraulic cylinders, which extrude medium back and forth through
passage formed by the workpiece and tooling. Abrasion occurs wherever the medium passes through the highly
restrictive passage. The key components of AFM process are the machine, tooling and abrasive medium.
Process input parameters such as extrusion pressure, number of cycles, grit composition and type, tooling and
fixture designs have impact on AFM output responses (such as surface finish and material removal). AFM is
capable to produce surface finish (Ra) as good as 0.05 µm, deburr holes as small as 0.2 mm and radius edges
from 0.025 mm to 1.5mm. AFM has wide range of applications in industries such as aerospace, medical,
electronics, automotive, precision dies and moulds as a part of their manufacturing activities. For better surface
integrity, texture and its performance, continuous developments are taking place for modifying the existing AFM
process technology and AFM machine configuration. To overcome some of the draw backs such as low finishing
rate and inability to correct the form geometry, researchers have proposed various versions of AFM machines
abbreviated as M-AFM, DBGAFF, CFAAFM, spiral polishing and R-AFF.

1. Introduction
AFM is used to deburr, radius and polish difficult
Abrasive flow machining (AFM) was developed by to reach surfaces by extruding an abrasive laden
Extrude Hone Corporation, USA in 1960. There are polymer medium with very special rheological
three types of AFM machines that have been reported properties. It is widely used finishing process to finish
in the literature: one way AFM [1], two way AFM [2] complicated shapes and profiles. The polymer
and orbital AFM [3]. Commonly used AFM is Two-way abrasive medium which is used in this process,
AFM in which two vertically opposed cylinders extrude possesses easy flowability, better self deformability
medium back and forth through passages formed by and fine abrading capability. Layer thickness of the
the workpiece and tooling as shown in Fig.1. material removed is of the order of about 1 to 10 µm.
Best surface finish that has been achieved is 50 nm
and tolerances are +/- 0.5 µm. In this process tooling
plays very important role in finishing of material,
however hardly any literature is available on this () of
Upper medium the process. In AFM, deburring, radiusing and
cylinder polishing are performed simultaneously in a single
Abrasive grain operation in various areas including normally
inaccessible areas. It can produce true round radii
Micro even on complex edges. AFM reduces surface
Tooling roughness by 75 to 90 percent on cast and machined
Workpiece surfaces. It can process dozens of holes or multiple
passage parts simultaneously with uniform results.
Also air cooling holes on a turbine disk and hundreds
of holes in a combustion liner can be deburred and
radiused in a single operation. AFM maintains
Surface Lower medium flexibility and jobs which require hours of highly skilled
roughness peak cylinder hand polishing can be processed in a few minutes;
AFM produces uniform, repeatable and predictable
results on an impressive range of finishing operations.
Important feature which differentiates AFM from other
Piston finishing processes is that it is possible to control and
select the intensity and location of abrasion through
fixture design, medium selection and process
Fig.1. Principle of material removal mechanism in two parameters. It has applications in many areas such as
way AFM process

aerospace, dies and moulds, and automotive Orbital AFM process
In orbital AFM, the workpiece is precisely oscillated in
2. Classification of AFM machine two or three dimensions within a slow flowing ‘pad’ of
compliant elastic/plastic AFM medium.
As mentioned earlier, AFM machines are classified
into three categories: one way AFM, two way AFM In Orbital AFM, surface and edge finishing are
and orbital AFM. A brief discussion of the same is achieved by rapid, low-amplitude, oscillations of the
given below. workpiece relative to a self-forming elastic plastic
abrasive polishing tool. The tool is a pad or layer of
One way AFM process abrasive-laden elastic plastic medium (similar to that
used in two way abrasive flow finishing), but typically
One way AFM process [1] apparatus is provided with higher in viscosity and more in elastic.
a hydraulically actuated reciprocating piston and an
extrusion medium chamber adapted to receive and
extrude medium unidirectionally across the internal Orbital
surfaces of a workpiece having internal passages Vibrations
formed therein, as shown in Fig.2. Fixture directs the Workpiece
flow of the medium from the extrusion medium
chamber into the internal passages of the workpiece,
while a medium collector collects the medium as it
extrudes out from the internal passages. The
extrusion medium chamber is provided with an access Medium
port to periodically receive medium from the collector
into extrusion medium chamber.

Hydraulic cylinder (a)

Workpiece vibration Flowing “pad”
of medium


Fig.2. Unidirectional AFM process

Fig.3. Orbital AFM (a) before start of finishing, (b)
The hydraulically actuated piston intermittently
while finishing
withdraws from its extruding position to open the
extrusion medium chamber access port to collect the
Orbital AFM concept is to provide translational
medium in the extrusion medium chamber. When the
motion to the workpiece. When workpiece with
extrusion medium chamber is charged with the
complex geometry translates, it compressively
working medium, the operation is resumed.
displaces and tangentially slides across the com-
pressed elastic plastic self-formed pad (layer of visco-
Two-way AFM process elastic abrasive medium) which is positioned on the
surface of a displacer which is roughly a mirror image
Two way AFM machine [2] has two hydraulic cylinders of the workpiece, plus or minus a gap accommodating
and two medium cylinders. The medium is extruded, the layer of medium and a clearance.
hydraulically or mechanically, from the filled chamber
to the empty chamber via the restricted passageway
A small orbital oscillation (0.5 to 5 mm) circular
through or past the workpiece surface to be abraded eccentric planar oscillation is applied to the workpiece
(Fig.1). Typically, the medium is extruded back and so that, at any point in its oscillation, a portion of its
forth between the chambers for the desired fixed surface bumps into the medium pad, elastically com-
number of cycles. Counter bores, recessed areas and
presses (5 to 20%) and slides across the medium as
even blind cavities can be finished by using restrictors the workpiece moves along its orbital oscillation path.
or mandrels to direct the medium flow along the As the circular eccentric oscillation continues, different
surfaces to be finished. portions of the work piece slide across the medium.

Ultimately, the full circular oscillation engages each passage then its viscosity temporarily rises.
portion of the surface. Significant material removal is observed only when
medium is thickened. The amount of abrasion during
To assure uniformity, the highly elastic abrasive AFM depends on design of tooling, extrusion
medium must be somewhat plastic in order to be self pressure, medium viscosity and medium flow volume.
forming and to be continually presenting fresh All these parameters ultimately change the number of
medium to the polishing gap. particles interacting with the workpiece and the force
acting on individual abrasive grain. A higher volume of
For finishing applications, AFM medium allows medium flow increases number of interacting abrasive
the use of a simple arrangement for feeding and grains with the workpiece, hence more abrasion takes
evacuating the abrasive medium pad to achieve place. Number of cycles depend on the velocity of
uniform results. Regions of the medium pad that medium, during a given time period. Flow pattern of
overly fill the gap generally get pushed aside and are medium depends on its slug (medium exiting the
shaped by the oscillation of the workpiece itself. workpiece) flow speed, medium rheology and
Regions of medium in the gap that are worked passage size (cross-sectional area). AFM can be
excessively become warmer, due to deformation used in industrial applications such as precision
heating, and consequently become less elastic and deburring, edge contouring, surface finish, removal of
more plastic and are squeezed out of the work gap. thermal recast layers, etc. [7].

Orbital AFM’s small (0.5 to 5 mm) oscillation Williams and Rajurkar [8] used the full factorial
amplitude allows finishing highly complex geometries, experimental design to study the effect of medium
since all areas except internal features that are even viscosity and extrusion pressure on metal removal
smaller than the oscillation amplitude are equally and surface roughness. Medium’s viscosity effect is
worked in the process. The controlled and cushioned, more significant on material removal as compared to
but still repeated, bumping of the workpiece against extrusion pressure. It is also reported that major
the self-shaped tool imparts beneficial residual change in the surface finish is observed after finishing
compressive stresses to the workpiece surfaces. The for a few cycle only.
tangential translation of the workpiece across the
elastically compressed and cushioned abrasive Jain and Adsul [9] reported that initial surface
particles provides remarkable improvements in roughness and hardness of the workpiece affects
surface roughness. material removal during AFM process. Material
removal and reduction in surface roughness value are
Orbital AFM can be applied to many different reported higher for the case of softer workpiece
workpieces from many different industries from material as compared to harder material. Material
precision ground aerospace components to cast removal and reduction in surface roughness increases
aluminum wheels. Coining dies used to make proof when percentage concentration of abrasive in the
coins can be polished from a 0.5 µm before surface to medium increases. They also concluded that among
an amazing 0.01 µm after finish after only seven all the process parameters studied, the dominating
minutes of Orbital AFM processing. Orbital AFM is one is the abrasive concentration followed by abrasive
used to produce extremely fine finishes on the mesh size, and number of cycles.
complex geometry of prosthetic devices while
maintaining critical dimensional tolerances. Beverage Loveless [10] reported that the type of machining
container blow molds are finished using the Orbital operation used to prepare the specimen prior to AFM
AFM process dramatically reducing polishing costs is important and affects the improvement achieved
while, at the same time, improving consistency, during finishing. As compared to the turned and milled
increasing production rates, and reducing the need for surfaces, WEDM’d surfaces are found to be more
skilled labor. suitable for AFM. The amounts of material removal
from the WEDM’d and milled surfaces are significantly
3. Major areas of experimental different from that of turning and grinding, because
these machining processes produce different micro
research in abrasive flow finishing surface contours.

3.1 Process parameters and their influence Davies and Fletcher [11] reported a relationship
on output responses (Ra and MR) between the number of cycles, temperature and
pressure drop across the die for the given type of
Experimental investigations have been carried out by polymer and abrasive concentration. Increase in
various researchers to investigate the effects of temperature results in decrease in medium viscosity
process parameters like extrusion pressure, number and increase in volumetric flow rate. With increase in
of cycles, viscosity, abrasive concentration and grain processing time, medium temperature increases that
size on the output responses namely, surface finish causes a change in medium viscosity. They
and material removal during AFM. The controllable concluded that rise in temperature is due to a
input parameters are shown in Fig.4. combination of internal shearing of the medium and
finishing action of the abrasive grit.
Rhoades [4-6] experimentally investigated the
basic principle of AFM process and identified its
control parameters. He observed that when the
medium is suddenly forced through restrictive

Research areas

Types of AFM AFM Process AFM AFM Performance AFM

AFM Machine Theoretical models Parameters Monitoring measures Applications

One way Two way Orbital Workpiece Machine Medium Surface Material Finishing
AFM AFM AFM Parameters parameters Parameters Roughness removal Forces

Initial Material Material Passage Abrasive Abrasive Abrasive Polymer Type and Additives Acti
Surface Hardness Type Geometry Size Type Concentration concentration

Extrusion Number
Pressure of cycles

Fig. 4 Classification of major AFM research areas

3.2 Process modeling and optimization obtained during AFM process was done.

Williams and Rajurkar [12] developed a stochastic Fletcher et al. [16] studied the relationship
model of AFM generated surfaces by using Data between medium rheological properties and the AFM
Dependent Systems (DDS) methodology. They have process. Shear rate of the polymer increases when it
estimated the ratio of surface roughness peak to passes through the restriction (or reduced cross-
valley height (Rz) to centerline average surface sectional area). Capillary rheometer is used to find the
roughness value (Ra) by DDS methodology and found relationship between wall shear stress and shear rate
to be between 1.4 and 2.2 for the AFM process. It was for medium viscosity of polyborosiloxane medium.
established in their research that AFM finished They concluded that coefficient of viscosity decreases
surface profiles possess two distinct wavelengths, a but shear stress increases as shear rate increases.
large wavelength that corresponds to the main path of Variation of wall shear stress with time is also studied.
abrasive while the small wavelength is associated They also concluded that greater finishing action
with the cutting edges. Good agreement is found could be achieved as a result of longer piston stroke
between the primary frequency ranges obtained in durations, due to higher wall shear stress generated.
DDS modeling and those derived from spectral
analysis function. It is stated that these frequency Petri et.al., [17] adopted neural network modeling
bands are related to different material removal modes technique for developing a comprehensive model for
in AFM; consequently, the mechanism of material AFM. They presented three neural network models
removal in AFM is considered to consist of ploughing (Polishing applications, surface removal applications
responsible for creation of characteristic flow lines and with a circular flow path and surface removal
micro-cutting. They also proposed an expression for application with a non circular flow path). Kimbly et al.
estimating the abrasive grain wear and the number of [18] reported a set of neural network models that
active grains (Cd). The estimated value of Cd is used predict the surface finish and dimensional change.
as a cutting life criterion for abrasives. For small These neural network models are then paired with a
number of cycles its value should remain fairly stable heuristic search algorithm to select sets of machine
but with more and more processing the abrasive setup parameters for the AFM process. Lam and
particles may fracture thereby increasing the Cd value. Smith [19-20] applied Cascade-Correlation neural
The downturn of Cd value indicates that the medium network modeling to finishing of automotive engine air
has absorbed too much work piece material and need intake manifold. They used it to predict the instant at
replacement. Jain et al. [13] also carried out which the finishing process should terminate to meet
simulation of finished surface profile and material the airflow specifications.
removed considering the interaction of abrasive grains
with workpiece. Jain and Jain [21] proposed a generalized back-
propagation neural network model and a second
Rajeshwar et al. [14] proposed a mathematical network which parallelizes the augmented Lagrange
simulation model to determine the characteristics of multiplier (ALM) algorithm. The model determines
the medium flow during finishing and its experimental optimal finishing parameters by minimizing a
verification was carried out. This model was performance index subject to appropriate operating
developed using constitutive equations of Maxwell constraints. Sarah et al. [22] presented a neural
model considering the medium characteristics as non- network model as an off-line controller for AFM of
newtonian flow. They reported that a linear automotive engine manifold to predict when the AFM
relationship exists between shear stress acting on the process should be stopped to achieve the required
surface and the layer thickness of material removed. airflow rate through manifold body.

A finite element approach was developed by Jain 3.3 Monitoring of AFM process
et. al. [13] for prediction of the stresses developed
during finishing of a cylindrical passage by AFM For online monitoring of material removal and surface
process (axi-symmetric flow). In their study it is roughness in AFM process, Williams and Rajurkar
assumed that medium exhibits linear viscous flow [23] applied acoustic emission technique (elastic
property and medium properties are independent of stress waves generated by the rapid release of strain
temperature and are constant with regards to time energy within a material due to a rearrangement of its
and space. They also presented a theoretical model internal structure is called "acoustic emission"). In a
which is based upon the consideration that abrasion full factorial experiment, the effect of extrusion
process in AFM i.e., combination of micro-ploughing pressure, medium viscosity, abrasive grit size,
and micro-cutting by assuming that all the abrasive number of cycles, and work piece material was
particles are spherical in shape having a single cutting investigated on material removal, root mean square of
edge with same size. It is also assumed in this model acoustic emission signal (AERMS), and surface
that the load acting on each particle is constant and roughness improvement. From the above parameters
every grain achieves the same penetration depth only grit size showed insignificant affect on material
depending upon applied load. removal. They studied acoustic emission signals for
grinding to analyze the mechanism involved in AFM
Gorana et. al. [15] developed a theoretical model and found that the acoustic emission signal is highly
of forces acting on a single abrasive grain for studying dependent on the characteristics of the initial surface
the finishing mechanism of AFM process. Comparison roughness of the workpiece. The AERMS of the signal
of theoretical model results with that of experimental is sensitive to extrusion pressure and other AFM
data of force and active abrasive grains density process parameters, which affect material removal.

They used Data Dependent Systems technique to Abrasive Flow Finishing (DBG-AFF) (Fig.5). The inner
analyze the acoustic emission signal acquired during part of medium slug flows along the helical flute which
AFM processing. In DDS analysis, they found that creates random motion among the abrasives in inner
main root of frequency of signal was around 160 kHz region of the medium. This causes reshuffling of
and secondary root with less power had a frequency abrasive particles at outer region. Hence,
around 80-90 kHz. They reported the fact that the comparatively more number of new and fresh
higher frequency component is associated with the abrasive grains interact with the workpiece surface.
ploughing mechanism which would agree with the From the experimental results, it is concluded that the
results obtained during grinding. They also found that abrasive traverse path is longer than the AFM
aluminum workpiece give stronger signals than steel abrasive traverse path in each cycle. It results in
workpiece because of higher material removal from higher finishing rate in DBG-AFF as compared to
aluminum workpiece as compared to steel under AFM. Material removal is found to decrease with
identical finishing conditions. This suggests a strong decrease in drill bit diameter.
correlation between material removal rate and
acoustic signal in AFM. Biing-Hwa Yan et. al., [26] placed spiral fluted
screw in the medium flowing path to improve surface
3.4 Recent developments in AFM processes quality. Walia et. al., [27] rotated different shaped tiny
rods at the centre of the medium flow path and used a
Though there are many advantages of AFM process, low viscosity medium to finish. He concluded that the
it has a few disadvantages also, such as low finishing better surface finish is achieved due to centrifugal
rate, and incapability to correct the form geometry. action caused by the rod on the abrasives and this
Many researchers have been working to improve the process is called centrifugal force assisted abrasive
finishing rate, surface integrity and compressive flow machining (CFAAFM). But all these three rotating
residual stresses produced on the workpiece surface. medium methods may rotate the medium at and near
the axis of the medium but the probability of rotating
Singh and Shan [24] applied magnetic field the medium at the abrasive-workpiece interaction
around the workpiece in AFM and observed that region is very low. Ravi Sankar et. al [28] developed a
magnetic field significantly affect the material removal new set-up to rotate the workpiece so that the
and change in surface roughness. With the probability of active abrasive particle rotation in the
application of magnetic field, less number of cycles workpiece finishing region is high which improves
are required for the higher material removal. Higher both surface finishing rate and material removal rate.
material removal and higher change in surface The process physics and various forces acting on the
roughness are observed (in case of brass as work surface due to medium reciprocation, rotation of
workpiece material) with the low flow rates of medium workpiece and viscoelastic nature of medium are
and high magnetic flux density. shown in Fig.6. The force and velocity components of
R-AFF process in the finishing region are illustrated in
Fig.6. During R-AFF process, the rotational workpiece
A A Workpiece motion leads to a tangential velocity component Vt
Drill bit and medium reciprocation motion leads to an axial
Fixture plate velocity component (Va). The resultant finishing
velocity (Vc) in R-AFF (Fig.6(a), Fig.6(c)) is the vector
sum of Vt and Va. Theoretically, the direction of Vc is
at the semi-cross hatch angle (α) to the tangential
α = tan −1 (V V )

Fixture plate
Medium Since, the abrasive laden medium is semisolid,
the finishing lay won’t be exactly in α direction.
Slot in the
fixture plate Depth of indentation depends on Fr , while Fa and

Ft ( Fc = Fa 2 + Ft 2
) are responsible to remove the
material in the form of µ-chips. Where, Fa represents
axial force, Ft represents tangential force, Fr
Fig.5. Sectional front view of tooling in the finishing represents radial force and Fc and Ff gives the
region in DBG-AFF process and top view of medium resultant forces in 2-D and 3-D planes respectively.
splitting through twin slotted fixture plate [25].

Ravi Sankar et.al., [25] tried to improve finishing rate,

material removal and surface texture by placing drill
bit in the medium flow path called Drill Bit Guided

Ft, Vt

Ft, Vt
Fa, Va Fc, Vc
Fa, Va Fc, Vc

(a) (b) (c)

Fig.6. Forces and velocity components in R-AFF process in the finishing region (a) Overview of various forces
and velocities in workpiece, (b) Enlarged view of shearing of roughness peaks on the workpiece surface by
abrasive grains, (c) Free body diagram of forces and velocities in RAFF process [28].

After AFM


After AFM

Fig. 7: Surface finish improvement before and after on (a) internal passages within turbine engine diffuser (b)
Medical implants (c) complex automotive engine parts

Before AFM After AFM

Fig. 8: Photomicrograph showing complete removal of EDM recast layer

4. Application of AFM polished to increase air flow to the combustion

chamber of the engine. The rough, power robbing
4.1 Automotives cast surfaces are improved from 80-90% regardless
of surface complexities.

The demand for this process is increasing among car

and two wheeler manufacturers as it is capable to 4.2 Dies and Moulds
make the surfaces smoother for improved air flow and
better performance. AFM process is used to enhance Since in the AFM process, abrading medium
the performance of high-speed automotive engines. conforms to the passage geometry, complex shapes
AFM process is capable to finish automotive and can be finished with ease. Dies are ideal workpieces
medical parts, and turbine engine components [Fig.7]. for the AFM process as they provide the restriction for
Internal passages within a turbine engine diffuser are medium flow, typically eliminating fixturing

requirements. The uniformity of stock removal by 2. Rhoades L.J., Kohut T.A., Reversible
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