When painting large quantities of parts – especially on a production line – it is common to use plugs and masking materials to prevent paint from being coating on unwanted areas. These materials are often made of flexible materials such as silicone, urethane and rubber in order to make it easier to plug the holes or slots or whatever area needs to be protected. Often, these plugs are discarded after a few uses as the coating builds up on the surface.
Removing the paint off the plugs allows for a longer lifetime of the plugs and significant cost reductions. Many companies will simply roll the plugs on a hard surface to remove the paint or knock them with hammer or similar. Since the plugs are typically flexible, it is difficult (but not impossible) to use a mass finishing process such as vibratory tumbling to get the uneven forces (i.e., rolling on a surface) necessary to knock the coating off. In addition, vibratory tumbling is often done wet so the plugs would need to be dried prior to re-use. Of course, this type of process eliminates the hand cleaning one part at a time.
Abrasive blasting is another process that can be used to strip the paint. On hard rubber plugs and similar, this process works very well especially in a tumble blast system. On more flexible parts, the results vary widely as the media can simply ‘bounce’ off the surface. The success pictured above was a simple blast cleaning with Walnut Shell Grit to completely strip the paint.
The type and thickness of the coating and the flexibility of the part are important factors when trying to determine whether blasting or tumbling will properly remove the coating. Testing of the parts is typically needed to determine the viability of cleaning re-using the plugs.