Remember Innerspace, the 1987 movie about a man who, miniaturized in a secret experiment, was accidentally injected into a hapless store clerk? In the movie, a full-size vessel was shrunk so small, it fit in the store clerk’s blood stream.
Twenty-five years later, the tiny technology is here. Industry can now manufacture products using machines accurate to a few microns, or about 1/20th the width of a human hair.
With applications in automotive, aerospace, and medical industries, this new micro manufacturing is already changing the world. For example, fuel injection nozzles in diesel cars can now be manufactured to operate at a significantly higher pressure, resulting in a finer mist of diesel in the combustion chamber, which allows for a more controlled burn, which leads to considerably reduced emissions.
Much of this technology is produced using electrochemical machining (ECM). ECM removes material from a work piece using an electrolysis process in an electrolyte fluid.
Precise to 5 microns, ECM can cut small or odd-shaped angles, intricate contours, or cavities in hard and exotic metals, such as titanium aluminides, Inconel, Waspaloy, and high nickel, cobalt, and rhenium alloys.
It’s impressive. And it’s expensive.
That’s why Brunel University in Britain partnered with a group of small- to medium-sized manufacturers to develop affordable ECM equipment. The partnership includes IT Sligo, CDAMC, Vox Power, Vrije University in Brussels, Sonplas, and Elsyca.
Caption: Next generation ECM prototype designed in PTC Creo
The project had ambitious goals to improve the repeatability, accuracy (to 1 micron!), and stability of micromachining. The Advanced Engineering Design team at Brunel designed and verified the complete mechanical, filtration, and electrolyte handling system of the ECM machine.
And they did it with PTC Creo.
In just 3 months, a team of four students and Dr. Atanas Ivanov, Course Director and Principal Investigator, completed a full working model (with movable parts), animations, and full technical drawings. In fact, the first machine has already been produced and delivered to a customer in Germany.
Caption: Complete mechanical, filtration, and electrolyte handling system of the ECM prototype
As a bonus, while students were engineering new technologies, they were also enhancing their design skills.
“Throughout this project, I found Creo to be a very powerful problem solving tool and found myself constantly learning new techniques and skills,” says Brunel student, Christian Townsend.
Fellow student Jonathon Oxley agreed. “Having previously used PTC design software, I really enjoyed modules (animations) I had never used before. I also enjoyed honing my previous Pro/ENGINEER skills.”
Join us as we extend no small congratulations to the Brunel University team members on their big success!
Learn more about how the Brunel University team used PTC Creo to Design the ECM or the project here.
© Dr. Atanas Ivanov, Course Director and Principal Investigator. All image rights reserved.