University reports breakthrough in composites machining technology

Ultrasonically assisted machining (UAM) uses a piezoelectric transducer working in tandem with a traditional turning, drilling or milling machine.

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Loughborough University (Leicestershire, U.K.) reported on July 2 that its researchers have developed a device that could change the way cutting, drilling and milling is done in composites manufacturing.

The technology involves a technique called ultrasonically ­assisted machining (UAM), which uses a specially designed piezoelectric transducer working in tandem with a traditional turning, drilling or milling machine.

The device creates ultrasonic vibrations at 20 kHz to 39 kHz, and the machining technique makes the composite material so ‘soft’ in the area being worked on that much less force is needed from the cutting tool, resulting in less damage, less waste, and a better finish.

UAM is the brainchild of professor Vladimir Babitsky, from the Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, and has been developed extensively in the last few years with the support of Dr. Anish Roy and professor Vadim Silberschmidt.

Roy says, “U.K. manufacturing production and new orders both continue to rise. This is truly encouraging which implies we ought to be looking for better, economically efficient and sustainable manufacturing methods in the immediate to near future. Ultrasonically assisted machining could well be the answer to this. The technique has been successful in the laboratory where multi­fold improvements in cutting intractable aerospace alloys have been demonstrated. It makes machining so easy it is like cutting through butter."

“Ultrasonically assisted drilling has shown significant improvements in drilling carbon/epoxy composites with significantly reduced damage in the machined composite," he continues. "This is particularly interesting, as any kind of machining of brittle composites can damage the composite material."