Like in all other spheres of technology, machining methods evolve over time. What used to be considered fast and efficient in the past is no longer the case. For instance, lasers and electron beams play a considerable role in non-standard methods, achieving results that used to take ages. It took some years for manufacturers to recognize the potential of these novel techniques and exploit them, but they finally caught on. This is why non-conventional machining could soon lose that prefix and become the new norm.
When we talk about traditional machining, we think of cutting, boring, drilling, and other age-old approaches to metal shaping. Of course, they all serve their purpose and are still very much used in shops worldwide.
Having said that, modern technology allows companies to utilize much faster and more precise tools for the same purposes. The pricing could initially throw off some manufacturers, but once you realize that maintenance costs are lower than standard plants, it all balances out. Click here for more.
EBM and EDM
As you can already guess, these improved and evolved machining processes use quite different technology than older techniques. We’ll take a brief look at the most important types so you can realize what makes them unique and sought after.
We already mentioned electron beams, so let’s see what all the fuss is about. This machining process, known as EBM, removes metal from a given workpiece just like any other, only it uses a beam of electrons instead of stamping, cutting, or boring. You can already imagine how a beam would work great with metals even without seeing the actual process. It applies no physical pressure on the surface, eliminating the danger of damage and fracture, plus they’re distortion-free and highly exact.
On the downside, metal removal is slower compared to other techniques, though not much. Also, the equipment is not exactly cheap, and it requires very skilled operators to perform the machining tasks. Once these issues are out, electron beam machining proves a precious asset to any company.
Next, we have EDM, which in this case doesn’t refer to electronic dance music, but electro-discharge machining. In short, energy variation commands the material discharge, and electric sparks act as cutting tools to start shaping the workpiece (hence the terms spark machining or spark erosion.) This method is perfect for hard and challenging materials that would be a total nightmare with less effective techniques.
Some disadvantages need to be considered, such as excessive tool wear, long machining, slow removal rate (as in the case of EBM), and the process is limited to conductive materials only, which excludes plastic, ceramic, rubber, etc. You could say that this ultra-precision comes at a cost, but not enough to stop manufacturers from including it in their arsenal.
The Ultrasonic Approach
You probably know how opera singers can shatter glass by using their powerful voices. Well, glass is not the only thing that breaks from vibrations – metals can do it, too. All you need is vibration above 20kHz, an oscillator, a transducer, a tool, and you’re set. Once assembled, the ultrasonic machining setup removes waste from the workpiece as chips using abrasive slurry.
All things considered, it’s an economical process that takes less time to complete than the previous two. You can use it for circular and non-circular holes, there’s no heat involved, and the operation itself is pretty straightforward and can be learned fast.
Are Lasers Any Good?
Yes, they are. In fact, laser beam machining is one of the most exploited non-traditional machining methods, and for a good reason. Once it reaches the workpiece at the contact point, the laser eliminates the surface by achieving a temperature higher than the melting point. This simple principle of physics allows the laser rod to evaporate metals quickly and efficiently.
And why is laser machining so popular with manufacturers? This cost-effective method offers speed, flexibility, precision, repeatability and has excellent potential for automation. You can use the same setup to cut many different shapes, eliminating the need for multiple devices for separate cuts. High accuracy is always a plus: +/-0.1 mm is just about enough to disregard any after-treatment, saving you valuable time.
Qualities aside, laser machining can be pretty inconsistent in terms of energy consumption. Different tasks will require different amounts of energy, and if you have a large workpiece, costs can get pretty wild. Also, hazardous fumes could endanger the operator’s health if they don’t approach them carefully.
Some General Applications
As we said at the beginning of this article, non-standard machining processes are taking over in the metallurgy field. You can exploit their potential in a wide range of industries, getting more impressive results with less physical effort and cumbersome tools.
The automotive industry is an excellent example of a field involving an applied non-conventional process. Namely, fuel injection systems require the drilling of tiny holes in the nozzle, and non-standard techniques offered by companies like UHI group are just about the perfect solution. Also, modern machining works great on gears. And if you need some elaborate design on thin sheets, laser beam machining is your best friend.
Moving away from metals for a bit: every once in a while, you have to deal with very fragile materials such as ceramics, quartz, or glass. Traditional methods are simply too rough to handle these materials, so it’s best to use something like abrasive jet machining for that purpose. You can visit the UHI Group website to get a better understanding. The lack of contact between tool and surface will cancel any damage, generating very little to no heat.
One industry that has tremendous benefits from non-standard techniques is aerospace. Aircrafts have multiple complex parts that require utmost precision and accuracy in manufacturing; even the tiniest error could prove fatal.
A Thought on the Future
The ways things are developing, the unconventional is quickly becoming conventional. Equipment is getting smaller, more precise, and more effective each day. It’s only logical to expect that the above techniques, and some others, will dominate machining in the future.
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