At RP Abrasives in Rochester, company President Joe Shean and his team are responsible for finishing metal products of all sizes, shapes and purposes — in many cases their uses are closely guarded secrets — for clients from across the country.
The RP Abrasives team is in many cases tasked with polishing metal pieces with specifications down to millionths of an inch, hundreds or thousands of times over, with the exact same smoothness or roughness across the entirety of the object’s surface. To put it simply, there aren’t many places that do what Shean’s team does.
“There are lots of shops in the country that will do one of the steps that we do,” he said, “but there are very few that do everything that we do.”
Metal parts come to RP Abrasives essentially made, but then it’s up to them to make them functional, as the metal machining lines or sharp “burrs” on the parts render them useless until they’re run through any number of several processes right here in Rochester to create finished products.
When it comes to those tiny burrs, Shean says they generally fall into two categories: ones that are easy to remove, and those that are not.
“We’ve yet to see an easy one,” he joked.
The parts RP Abrasives handles include everything from medical devices to aviation parts, and everything in between, and customers often come to him with complex demands that they themselves don’t always understand. For example, a part may need to be smooth, but not shiny, or shiny but not necessarily smooth, or it may need to be smooth on one side and rough on another.
“These are minute differences,” Shean said, “but they’re critical differences.”
To make the work happen, the RP Abrasives team works in blast cabinets, or large vibrating bins filled with diverse kinds of media — aluminum oxide, glass beads, fine sand-like powders, porcelain and even soap and water — and other specialized equipment.
The company also forgoes certain jobs and processes in the name of safety, or to best align with its mission, like using citric acid instead of nitric acid because the former is much safer.
In all, RP Abrasives often finds itself working on 30,000 pieces of metal a day just in the tumblers. In its decades of operation, it has likely processed millions upon millions of metal parts of all shapes and sizes that now find themselves in people’s mouths — in the form of dental implants — hospital operating rooms and on airplanes around the world, just to name a few.