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Micro machining with abrasive waterjets

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MICROAB (Micro machining with abrasive waterjets)

Reporting period: 2014-10-01 to 2015-03-31

The overall objective of the MICROAB project is for Finepart Sweden AB to become a global provider of machining centres that use an abrasive waterjet to process miniature parts. The objective for the Phase 1 project was to determine the work programme to develop and demonstrate that micro abrasive waterjets (MAWs) are a viable machining method and to develop the Company’s business plan to enable it to become the recognised global leader in the application of abrasive waterjets to processing miniature parts.

The MICROAB project will result in MAWs that cut miniature components with up to five times finer features than can be reproduced with existing abrasive waterjet technologies. It will also demonstrate that MAWs can economically process very hard materials that cannot at present be economically processed by conventional abrasive waterjets.

Work under the Phase 1 project has confirmed that all the components for generating MAWs can be manufactured cost-effectively. The work involved in mounting a pre-production (MAW) module onto Finepart's machining platform has been assessed. A major task within the work programme is the revision of the CAM software which is the key to maintaining the reputation that abrasive waterjet machining systems are easy to use. Extensive trials with a pre-production machining centre in a jobshop environment will provide cutting data that feeds into the CAM software.

The Phase 1 study has resulted in Finepart's business plan being revised and actions taken that will increase the potential for successful exploitation of MAW machining centres. The Company's objectives now place more emphasis on the need to provide miniature part processing in a single machine setup. Machining platforms may have other processing capabilities than an abrasive waterjet, such as high speed milling spindle. Live fixturing and on board measurement and monitoring being incorporated to produce finished parts.

A particularly important element of the business plan is to have in place ten European distributors for Finepart's current fine abrasive waterjet machining center when the manufacture of MAW machining centers commences. Distributors and potential end users will be involved in cutting trials to start the typically 1 to 2 year process between demonstration of meeting users needs and the purchase of a machining centre.
Technical studies in the Phase 1 project have:
• Confirmed that critical diamond and other components for cutting heads of micro abrasive waterjet (MAW) modules and for the cutting head slurry feed system can be manufactured economically
• Resulted in the decision to bring forward the integration of a servo driven pump module into the Finecut machining platform to exploit the dynamic machining capabilities of micro abrasive waterjets and to reduce power use and floor space requirements
• Confirmed that developments to the machining platforms control system software and CAM/post-processor software will provide for automation of micro abrasive waterjet (MAW) modules. Also that a servo driven pump can be operated as if it is an additional machining axis with the pump operation synchronised with cutting head motion to vary cutting intensity over a cutting cycle
• Emphasised the need for the work programme in Phase 2 to retain the ease of use of Finepart's fine abrasive waterjet machining center notwithstanding having a more complex abrasive waterjet system dictated by the need to use a slurry abrasive rather dry abrasive.

Development of Finepart’s business plan has:

• Resulted in planning to involve potential end users in cutting trials from the beginning of the second year of a 2 year Phase 2 project to start the 1 to 2 year capital equipment purchase cycle between demonstrating meeting an end users machining needs and the purchase of a machining centre
• Caused Finepart to revise its overall business objective to encompass the adding of additional machining technologies, live fixturing and online measurement to meet industries developing needs for machining of parts in one machine setup
• Has strengthen the belief that achieving funding under Phase 2 will advance the timing of European industry exploiting MAW machining centres for miniature part machining by 3 years and greatly increase the potential for Finecut to become the world leader in the manufacture of abrasive waterjets for machining miniature parts.
• Contributed to Finepart’s investors contributing additional funds to speed up the build a European distributor network ahead of MAW machining centers being manufactured
The expected result of the MICROAB project is Finepart becoming the world leader in the manufacture of machining centers that use an abrasive waterjet for the machining of miniature parts.

The manufacture and use of the machining centres will result in:
• Companies in the aerospace, medical device, electronics, optics, fine mechanics, and other industries using micro abrasive waterjet (MAW) to machine miniature components for new products and devices
• A micromachining capability upon which entrepreneurs and small jobshops can build a business because of the wide range of materials that can be processed and short set up and machining times
• Economic machining of miniature parts in virtually any material with smaller features (cutting jets down to 50 µm diameter), tighter tolerances and with high quality cut surfaces
• The processing of high tech materials that are difficult or uneconomic to process by other methods
• The use of diamond for cutting head wear components will extend abrasive waterjets capabilities to the machining of hard engineering ceramics
• Dynamic control over cutting jet intensity to avoid problems of damage to brittle and composite materials experienced with conventional abrasive waterjets.

Particular benefits for European industry will be:
• The development of a high tech European company (Finepart) that competes in the global machine tool market
• A Company that has European supply and machine tool distributor networks that employee 5 to 7 persons for every Finepart employee.
• A key enabling technology that will be exploited by European companies to manufacture high added value products and remain competitive in world markets – Finepart will indirectly contribute to maintaining and increasing employment in European manufacturing companies.
MAW cutting sample from prototype system