What Are ‘Chips’ In Manufacturing?

Metal shavings from a machine known as "chips"

Also known as swarf, chips are a common byproduct of many manufacturing processes. Whether a manufacturing company is cutting, turning, knurling or sanding a workpiece, it will probably produce chips. But what are these chips exactly, and what purpose (if any) do they serve?

Overview of Chips

The term “chips,” when used in the context of manufacturing, refers to excess material that’s created as a byproduct from a manufacturing machine or process. When performing a manufacturing process on a workpiece, chips are often created as a byproduct. Using a lathe to cut a metal workpiece, for instance, will create chips in the form of metal shavings. Even sanding a wooden workpiece will create chips in the form of sawdust. While metal shavings are obviously very different than sawdust, they are both considered chips because they are a byproduct of manufacturing processes.

The 3 Classifications of Chips

There are three primary classifications of chips, as described by American engineer Dr. Norman Franz, who conducted several studies on chips in the manufacturing industry during the mid-1900s. According to Franz, most chips fall under one of the three following classifications:

  1. Type I: The most common type, type 1 chips are created when the excess material is removed in front of the cutting tool. They usually
  2. Type II: These chips are created when the cutting tool is positioned at a higher angle to the workpiece than that of type 1 chips, resulting in excess material curling upwards.
  3. Type II: Finally, type II chips are created when a rotating tool is used to remove material from a workpiece. They are usually thinner and finer that type I and type II chips.

What’s the Purpose of Chips?

Unfortunately, chips don’t serve any real function or purpose — they are simply a byproduct of manufacturing processes. With that said, manufacturing companies can oftentimes recycle their chips rather than discarding them as waste. Metal chips, whether made of steel, aluminum, copper or any other metal, can be melted down for use in other manufacturing processes. Depending on how the chips were created, though, they may require decontamination beforehand. If metal chips are covered in lubricant or oil, they may be placed in a centrifuge where the contaminant liquid or liquids is separated from the metal.

There are even companies that purchase chips from manufacturing factories and machine shops. Known as scrap collectors, they typically sell their purchased chips to recycling companies. Using the services of a scrap collector allows manufacturing companies to recoup some of the money spent on their raw materials.

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