Loughborough University researcher Dr Anish Roy with a machine using a new ultrasonic drilling technique

Machining composites easy as cutting butter with new device

An ultrasonic device developed by Loughborough University researchers could revolutionise the way cutting, drilling and milling is done in manufacturing.

The tool makes working on difficult-to-cut materials like aerospace-grade composites so easy it is like ‘cutting through butter’, the researchers said.

It 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 in the range between 20kHz and 39kHz making the composite material so ‘soft’ in the area being worked on that much less force is needed from the cutting tool.

The researchers say the technique reduces damage and cuts down the amount of waste material.

“Ultrasonically assisted drilling has shown significant improvements in drilling carbon/epoxy composites with significantly reduced damage in the machined composite,” said Dr Anish Roy, a researcher at the Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering.

“This is particularly interesting, as any kind of machining of brittle composites can damage the composite material. The challenge is to minimise this and, if possible, completely eliminate damage due to drilling.”

The team believes the technique is suitable for the aerospace industry, as it frequently works with expensive composites, but could as well serve well in biomedical engineering and medicine. One of the applications currently being tested is drilling holes in bones for orthopaedic surgery.

Preliminary studies in drilling tiny holes in printed circuit boards have shown excellent potential for component assembly that require high precision.

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