Machining Equipment ‘Micro’ scale reached, and ‘nano’ looks achievable with EDM

Editor: Eric Culp

A mould tool and microcomponent manufacturer whose byword is “ultraprecision” takes advantage of advanced palletisation technology.

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This graphite microelectrode has 14 needles just 130 µm in diameter.
This graphite microelectrode has 14 needles just 130 µm in diameter.
(Source: System 3R)

Machining operations at EDM Department Inc. resemble research more than engineering in terms of precision and scale, and a study of the company’s capabilities would require a strong magnifying glass. Founder and general manager Mark Raleigh says the enterprise makes microcomponents with nano-properties. For streamlined interfaces for electrode manufacture and electrical discharge machining, he counts on System 3R and specifically, that supplier’s VDP—vibration-damped palletisation—technology.

The company mainly produces mould tools for product development in medical technology, defence and communications. For the same industries, it makes prototype components and precision products in short series.

“Our drawings are usually in microinches,” says, Raleigh, who has extensive experience in precision manufacturing. He discovered System 3R’s capabilities almost 25 years ago, while working as head of mould tool production for the Molex Group. And now, after 10 years with his own company, one oriented totally toward ultraprecision, he still values them.

Small is good

One example of ultraprecision would be EDM Department’s manufacture of graphite electrodes and the associated EDMing, in tool steel, of 120-µin.-diameter holes as deep as 1,700 µin. Another is a tool for machining needles that have a tip radius of 500 nanoinches. According to Raleigh, delivery is possible only by combining the latest milling and EDM technologies, such as nanopulsing and VDP.

A well-known “truth” in manufacturing is that measures that reduce machine dead time are almost always much more profitable than those that take seconds off the machining process itself. Thus, interfaces that enable rapid tooling are vital. And in many machining processes, vibration determines production potential. Because vibration impairs both precision and surface quality, minimising vibrations is highly desirable. A machining system’s damping capacity is crucially important for this.

System 3R developed the patented VDP palletisation technology, with its distinctive damping properties and capabilities, to appeal to competitive customers like Mark Raleigh.

All EDM Department machines are equipped with the Macro VDP system from System 3R. These include four EDM machines running 20 hours a day, every day. Recent expansion has brought new workstations for three designers and a higher degree of automation. The company goal is 75% unattended production.

See: Jewellery takes centre stage at EuroMold 2012

A Makino EDAC micromachining centre has a System 3R MacroNano chuck on the worktable. “We have high expectations of what we should be able to achieve with this machine combination,” notes Raleigh, alluding to precision at the ten-thousandths-of-an-inch level.

Raleigh says Macro VDP has markedly sharpened the company’s electrode manufacturing capacity. “Before, we could make microelectrodes with a length-to-diameter ratio of 12:1. We have now made electrodes where the ratio is 35:1.” System 3R technology, he concludes, has opened up brand-new possibilities for producing nanoprecision mould tools and components.

System 3R Nordic

Vällingby, Sweden

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