Micro-machining Cutting tools tailored for micro-machining requirements
Whether or not it's a small world remains open to debate. However, the fact is that the products around us continue to shrink, as does the equipment required to make them.
Small-parts machining, or micro-machining as it is sometimes known, has grown in stature in recent years as the trend toward miniaturisation has picked up pace. In fact, the need for ‘small’ has been nothing short of astonishing over recent decades, according to cutting tool supplier Sandvik Coromant. It points out, for example, that in the 1950s radios had five transistors and computers were vacuum-tube-filled rooms: Nowadays, most people have inexpensive, 100-million-transistor computer chips at home.
Consumers continue to demand small products, particularly when it comes to electronic gadgets. Regardless of the devices – mobile phones, laptop computers, MP3 players, gaming consoles – the focus is on ‘compact’. This on-going reduction in the size of electronic devices has a knock-on effect for associated mechanical components, Sandvik noted. In such gadgets, one can find a wide range of tiny metal parts, or components with micro-features. These devices also contain high numbers of plastic parts, each of which requires a metal mould for its production. Manufacturing such parts and moulds was once best accomplished by the slower electric discharge machining (EDM) process, according to Sandvik. It pointed out that the market is seeing a notable shift to milling as cutting tool technology meets demands.
Along with consumer electronics, other sectors have been driving the trend for micro-machined parts, Sandvik said. Other parts might include medical equipment (micro-surgery tools, implants, pacemaker features, fluidic mixing chambers, bone screws, capillary units), automotive components (fuel injectors, gears, pumps), aerospace parts (cooling holes in engine components, pressure transducer parts, gyroscope parts), as well as a host of parts for dental implants and wristwatch components. Ultimately, this all means there are genuine opportunities in the current micro-machining arena for machine shops armed with the appropriate manufacturing technology.