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Electrochemical Machining Introduction

12 June 2009

Machining by electrochemical processes is not new to the industrial world. Electrochemical machining (ECM) is based on the principle of electrolysis discovered by Michael Faraday (17911867). The discovery was also the foundation for the other known techniques such as, Electroplating and Electropolishing. Although Faraday propounded the laws of electrolysis in 1833, it was only in 1929 when the Russian scientist W. Gussef developed a process for anodic dissolution of metal. Almost a decade after, in 1941, the first article on electrochemical machining appeared in the Electrochemical Society. The first application of the process as a commercially adopted machining technique was in 1959 by Anocut Engineering Company. Through the next couple of decades, the process found many takers with its main applications in the aerospace and other heavy industries for shaping and finishing operations. The technique found tough competition from another electrical machining process, Electrical discharge machining (EDM), which was emerging during those days. The latter was preferred to the former then primarily because of higher accuracy and less environmental pollution, in spite of higher machining speed and material removal rate achievable in case of ECM. However, Electrochemical machining has been of renewed industrial interest in the past few decades for its exclusive advantages, such as no tool wear, stress free and smooth surfaces of machined product and capability of machining complex shapes in electrically conductive materials, regardless of their physical and chemical properties [1]. Electrochemical Machining (ECM) ECM, an electrolytic process governed by Faraday’s laws of electrolysis, uses electrical energy to remove material. It resembles electroplating in reverse. Material removal is achieved by electrochemical dissolution of an anodically polarized workpiece which is one part of an electrolytic cell. An electrolytic cell is created in an electrolyte medium, with the tool as the cathode and the workpiece as the anode. The tool is positioned very close to the workpiece for maximum amount of dissolution and minimum ohmic voltage drop between the two electrodes. A high-amperage (30~200A/cm2), low-voltage (10~20V) current is generally used to dissolve and remove material from the electrically conductive workpiece. The metal ions removed from the workpiece are taken away by the vigorously flowing electrolyte through the inter electrode gap and are separated from the electrolyte solution in form of metal hydroxides by suitable methods. Both the electrolyte and the metal sludge can then be recycled. Unlike conventional cutting techniques, workpiece hardness is not a factor, making ECM suitable for difficult-to-machine materials. ECM has a wide range of industrial applications such as, electrochemical grinding, electrochemical honing, electrochemical milling, electrochemical drilling, electrochemical deburring, and electrochemical turning. ECM, the process Electrolysis, being the basis of electrochemical machining technology, needs to be understood in detail for analyzing the characteristics and other aspects of the ECM process. Electolysis The word electrolysis is a combination of two terms electro, roughly meaning electric or electric current, electricity and lysis, a Greek word, means to break down, or break a bond, to "tear apart" So electrolysis literally means to break a bond or take apart using electricity. Electrolysis can be defined as the electrolytic dissociation and decomposition of an electrolyte, by the passage of a direct current or electricity through its aqueous or molten form. According to the theory of electrolytic dissociation, electrolytes can be electrolyzed only in the dissolved or molten state. These charged ions are directed towards the respective electrodes by the electricity supplied. It

The net reactions are shown below. 2H+ + 2e. and increase their concentration at the electrodes. • The reactions at catode are redox as the positively charged ions (cations) receive electrons. With an electrical potential applied across the pair of electrodes. in a neutral salt solution of sodium chloride (NaCl). and oxygen gas (O2) at the anode. • Electrolytic reactions involve the gain of electrons at the cathode and loss of electrons at anode. when water is electrolyzed. Second law: The amount of material deposited or dissolved by the same quantity of electricity is proportional to the chemical equivalent weight of the material which is a ratio of its atomic weight and valency. The positive hydrogen ions will take away electrons from the cathode (tool) forming hydrogen gas. the material removal in ECM by anodic dissolution. Fe + 2H2O ==> Fe(OH)2(solid) + H2 4Fe(OH)2 + 2H2O + O2 ==> 4Fe(OH)3 . For example. The energy required to separate the ions. forming concentrations of the desired element or compound. non-metals are released respectively. and at the anode.is also a process of using electrical energy to cause a non-spontaneous redox reaction. electrons are absorbed or released by the ions. Faraday’s laws of electrolysis First law: The amount dissolution or deposition of material in electrolysis is directly proportional to the amount of electricity flowing through the circuit/cell. • At the cathode. and at anode. Metals and hydrogen.= H2↑ at cathode And the iron atoms will come out of the anode (work piece) loosing two electrons as: Fe = Fe+ + + 2eThe positive Iron ions combine with the other negatives in the electrolyte to form iron chloride and with the negative hydroxyl ions to precipitate as ferrous hydroxide. an apparatus consisting of positive (anode) and negative electrodes (cathode) held apart and immersed in an electrolyte solution. electrochemical reactions occur at both the electrodes and also within the electrolyte. a ferrous alloy containing mainly iron (Fe). say electrolysis process. positively charged ions (cations) move towards the cathode while negatively charged ions (anions) move to the anode. At the electrodes. hydrogen gas (H2) will form at the cathode. The process is carried out in an electrolytic cell. the ionic dissociation reactions of electrolyte and water can be given by NaCl ↔ Na+ + ClH2O ↔ H + + (OH)The positive ions (cations) move towards the tool (cathode) and negative ions (anions) move towards the workpiece (anode). The electrolysis process is characterized by the following. is provided by an electrical power supply that maintains the potential difference across the electrodes. there is an oxidation reaction as the negative ions (anions) lose electrons. The ferrous hydroxide may react further with water and oxygen to form ferric hydroxide. With the passage of current in the electrolytic cell. Electrochemical reactions in ECM As has been discussed before. Let us consider a case of machining low carbon steel.

a tool motion control arrangement. . Mostly neutral salt solutions such as NaCl or NaNO3 are used as electrolytes [3]. The rate of anodic metal dissolution depends only on the atomic weight and the ionic charge of the metallic element. 1 Electrolytic dissolution of iron [2] As work piece gets machined and the removed material is swept away by the high pressure electrolyte flow and gets precipitated as sludge. The dissolution rate is not affected by the hardness or other physical properties of the metal. This feature is perhaps the most relevant in the use of ECM as a metal shaping process. an electrolyte treatment and supply system. Only hydrogen gas is evolved at the cathode. Since extremely high current densities. and the duration of the current flow. The schematic of a simple ECM system and different stages in ECM are shown in fig. usually a voltage controlled rectifier. the machined surface is of excellent surface finish and stress free.2 and 3 respectively. ECM system In ECM. the current density. typically in the order of one or several tenth of a millimeter. As the material removal is by atomic level dissociation. and thus maintaining an optimum working gap. are applied to achieve high machining rates. the shape of the cathode is almost reproduced on the anode by high rate anodic dissolution.Fig. it is required to have an electrolyte flow rate of several meters per second in the inter-electrode gap in order to sweep away the electrochemical reaction products and prevent boiling by Joule heating. up to 100 A/ cm2 or more. the cathode is progressively advanced towards the workpiece at a rate sufficient to balance the rate of dissolution. and an extraction system for the hydrogen gas liberated during the cathodic reaction. so the tool electrode shape remains unaltered during the ECM process. An ECM system basically consists of a power source. During the dissolution process.

the dimensional accuracy of the produced surface is linked with the shape and geometry of the tool along with other parameters like tool feed rate.Fig. For minimizing the stray current effect the tool should be properly insulated or coated. 5) entrance and exit of electrolyte. DC (full wave rectified) and pulse DC. gap voltage. and (C) after electrochemical machining. ECM components Power supply Mainly two types of power supplies are used in ECM. (1) tool. Schematic diagram of ECM system [4] A B C Fig. and cathodic tool insulation etc. A proper insulation of the tool is a must for achieving high machining accuracy especially in micro and nano level. The power source adjusts the required voltage in either pulsed or continuous mode and provides current depending upon the selected current density (0. Tools Since the machined surface in ECM is almost a mirror image of the tool used. (2) workpiece. and (4.2. where as in pulse voltage (duration of 1ms and interval of 10 ms) the decrease is much more rapid. 3. The efficiency decreases gradually when the current density is reduced. (3) tool velocity. Desired tool properties in ECM . Electrochemical machining with shaped tool [5]: (A) before. A full wave rectified DC supplies continuous voltage where the current efficiency depends much more on the current density. It is essential to have proper electrolytic flow through the inter electrode gap for efficient machining that necessitates rigid fixture of the tool.1 A/mm2 to 5 A/mm2). The accuracy of the form of the workpiece improves with decreasing current density. (B) during.

and. Brass.• • • • • • Chemically inert Good electrical and thermal conductivity Easy machinability Good Corrosion resistance Enough stiffness to withstand the electrolyte pressure without vibration Easily obtainable Generally used tool materials in ECM • • Electrolytes The electrolyte not only completes the electric circuit between the tool and workpiece. Platinum. passivating electrolytes containing oxidizing anions.g. The pH value of the electrolyte solution is chosen to ensure dissolution of the workpiece material during the machining without affecting the tool.06M. e. a higher concentration of ions reduces the localization effect of material removal by anodic dissolution. At a very low ionic concentration. it is typical to machine with sodium nitrate electrolyte solution (pH 7). it was reported that less toxic and dilute electrolyte. Stainless steel. sodium chlorate and non-passivating electrolytes containing relatively aggressive anions such as sodium chloride.1M H2S04 can be well applied for the machining of stainless steel 304 with ultrashort pulse voltage [12]. the ion-content in the small gap between the electrodes is insufficient to supply the charge carriers necessary to complete the charging of the double layer capacitance. It was also found that hydrochloric acid solution is useful in fine-hole drilling because it dissolves the metal hydroxides produced from the electrochemical reactions. This is due to formation of oxide films and oxygen evolution in the stray current region. sodium nitrate. Recently. some chemicals can be added such as NaHSO4 with specific concentrations that do not affect the process adversely. ions associated with the machining operation in the machining zone also increase. 0. Copper. the selection of proper parameters for electrolyte is critical for obtaining desired dimensional accuracy and machining efficiency. material removal rate increases with the increase of electrolyte concentration. Therefore. fluidic kinetic property. Bronze. therefore. In ECM. Tungsten. Temperature and flushing condition of electrolyte have a great impact on the machining accuracy and surface finish. Anodic dissolution rate can be significantly increased by using hot electrolytes. The depletion of ions prevented uniform dissolution and caused unstable machining [6]. pH value. Copper-Tungsten. Generally. Due to the increase in electrolyte concentration. and concentration should be chosen depending on applications. Proper electrolyte with regard to its type. and Titanium Graphite can also be used but it must be coated to prevent rapid erosion. There are mainly two types of electrolytes used in ECM. Although accuracy can be improved at lower electrolyte concentrations. Merits and Demerits of ECM . It carries away heat and reaction products from the machining zone. there is a lower limit of concentration that can be used. However. It has been reported that the machining accuracy can be improved by decreasing the electrolyte concentration. create an environment with enough solution conductivity to meet the demand of electrochemistry [13]. and requirement of applied voltage is also reduced [1]. but also facilitates the desired electrochemical reactions to occur in an electrochemical cell. It was suggested to add small amounts of other ionic species such as NaCl or KCl to the 0. Passivating electrolytes generally give better machining precision [11]. For regulating pH value.01 M HCl solution to bring the total electrolyte concentration up to 0.

5 mm/min to 15 mm/min Copper.25 microns (Ra)can be achieved No heat generation in the process.1 mm to 2 mm 0.1-1. handling.1 to 1.5 to 20 bar 100 g/l to 500 g/l 0. so no induced thermal stresses in the workpiece or no thermal damaged machining surfaces produced Often faster than manual deburring processes No mechanical forces on the workpiece because of the noncontact nature of the process The process can be completely automated and hence low labor costs involved Suitable for mass production • Demerits • • • • • • • Limited to machining of electrically conductive materials Tool design process is difficult High amount of sludge generation per material removal High idle machining time and not economical for small lots Preparing. direct current 2 to 35 V 50 to 40. bronze Ra 0.Merits • • • • • • • • • • Can machine very hard electrically conductive materials No tool wear unlike in other electrical machining processes and hence soft materials can be used as tools Non-rigid and open work pieces can be machined easily as there is no contact between the tool and workpiece Fragile and brittle materials which tend to develop cracks during machining can be machined easily by this process Complex geometrical shapes can be machined repeatedly and accurately Very high surface finish in the range of 0.000 A 0.2 mm to 3 mm 0. and disposal of the electrolyte is cumbersome High energy consuming process compared to other traditional manufacturing techniques for same material removal Slow rate of material removal ECM process parameters range Power Supply Type Voltage Current Current density Electrolyte Material Temperature Flow rate Pressure Dilution Working gap Overcut Feed rate Electrode material Surface roughness.25 μm Process characteristics .1 A/mm2 to 5 A/mm2 NaCl and NaNO3 20oC – 50oC 25-50 m/sec 0. brass.

. Fig. They seriously affect the machining performance and their range of values should be properly selected to achieve the desired output. ‘t’ is the total machining time in minutes As per the second law. current distribution. Significant factors influencing the ECM machining performance are shown in Fig.In order to achieve an effective and efficient machining. Factors for ECM Material removal rate In any non-traditional machining process.4. The influence of current density. and the rate of flow through the electrode gap affect the current density and in turn have great impact on the material removal rate. its concentration. surface finish and dimensional accuracy. mαε α A/ z where ‘ε’ is chemical equivalent weight of the material. and ‘z’ is the valency of the material. By Faraday’s first law. material removal rate (MRR) is an important characteristic to evaluate the process efficiency and performance. The type of electrolyte. 4. In ECM. material removal takes place due to atomic dissolution of work material. ‘I’ is the electrolyzing current in amperes. anodic reactions and mass transport effects on material removal and accuracy are important consideration in ECM. temperature. mαQ α It where ‘m’ is mass of material dissolved or deposited in grams and ‘Q’ is the amount of charge passed through the electrochemical cell in coulombs. ‘A’ is the atomic weight in grams. some process factors are usually recognized as important in the ECM process. Combining both the laws. They not only control the process behavior but also influence the machining performance.

Dimensional accuracy Current efficiency-current density characteristics of an electrolyte have a significant impact on the dimensional control of the produced surface in ECM. Surface finish Surface roughness is greatly influenced by the grain size of the material on the surface. Oxide film formation on the metal surface sometimes reduces the efficiency of the ECM process and leads to poor surface finish. Using a masked tool electrode or insulating the desired portion of the tool can minimize the stray current in ECM and substantially improve the accuracy of the component especially in hole drilling operations.g. Higher current density can improve finish of the machined surface and so can an increase in the electrolyte velocity.1 μm when machining nickel-chromium steels in sodium chlorate solution [2]. the type of electrolyte used and its flow rate. For high dimensional accuracy. Different modes of ECM . This depends on the metal-electrolyte combination used. MRR = m / (t.mα ItA z m= ItA F. and precipitation of inter-metallic compounds at grain boundaries. Current efficiency decreases with a rise in current density for some metals. In ECM. overall composition of the workpiece material. The inadequate electrolyte flow does not allow the products of machining to be promptly flushed away from the electrode gap and in turn reduces the machining efficiency and the material removal rate. However. for example nickel. ρ)    Fρz)  where ‘ρ’ is density of the material The machining rate is affected by many parameters like current.2 μm has been reported for Nimonic (a nickel alloy) machined in saturated sodium chloride solution and of 0. The production of an electrochemically-polished surface is usually associated with the random removal of atoms from the anode workpiece. narrow inter electrode gap with high feed rate using passivating electrolytes like sodium nitrate are recommended. Current density controls the machining gap width and affects the accuracy of the workpiece. the gas bubbles rupture the oxide film. z where ‘F’ is Faraday’s constant and equals to 96. Pitting is one phenomenon that arises from gas evolution at the anode. insoluble inclusions in the material e. the detailed mechanism for controlling high current density electropolishing in ECM is still completely to be understood. The current efficiency of even the most easily electrochemically machined metal is reduced when the rates of electrolytic flow are too low [2]. the ECM of titanium is very difficult in chloride and nitrate electrolytes because of the formed passive oxide film. and some of the workpiece properties. graphite in cast iron. Process parameters also influence surface finish. For sodium nitrate electrolyte. whose surface has become covered with an oxide film. type of electrolyte used played a significant role in determining the output surface finish. Current efficiency remains steady at almost 100% for a wide range of current densities in case of sodium chloride [2]. For instance.500 C Material removal rate. Surface finish in the order 0. the current efficiency is greatest at the highest current densities and hence has the ability to help produce more accurate components than sodium chloride.

Pulsed electrochemical machining (PECM) is a significant method for fabricating both parts and tooling in the use of pulsed current replacing DC current. shape of voltage pulse. micro ECM provides opportunity for improving controllability and using environmental benign electrolyte. About 90 percent of he material removed in this process is by electrochemical actions with mechanical action accounting up to as little as 10 percent. such as dry etching techniques (ion beam milling) and wet chemical etching.5. therefore. the anodic dissolution (material removal) usually occurs over a much larger portion of the workpiece surface area than desired. PECM can be used for applications where high precision and three-dimensional contouring is required by a proper tool’s position control with sensitive feedback schemes. TiC-Co used in making the tool and drill tips. This mode of electrochemical machining uses a conductive. and easy disposal of waste products. burrs and mechanical distortions. stress. and pulse duty-factor. 5. Compared to other non-contact micromachining processes. produces precise cuts that are free of heat. because of its advantages like higher machining rate. Electrochemical micromachining ECM.Pulsed ECM (PECM) In traditional ECM using DC voltage. ECM can be further downsized to nano scale due to its essence of atomic-level material removal. and. These parameters provide a way to optimize the material removal rate and surface quality. which is verified by various research groups [6-10]. Based on the application of pulse voltage with nano-second duration to the tool electrode. Pulsed voltage and resulted pulsed current enables the recovery of inter-electrode gap condition during pulse-off time. Fig. better precision and controlled material removal. ability to machine a wide range of materials. The wheels are made up of abrasive particles set in a conductive matrix. rotating abrasive wheel. Resolution of PECM can be further significantly improved by using ultrashort pulse voltage. PECM has more variable parameters and much better controllability than DC ECM by varying the pulse duration. often cobalt. this method can lead to strong spatial confinement of anodic dissolution with resolution down to nanometer. Electrochemical Honing (ECH) . The chemical solution is forced between the wheel and the workpiece. The particle size determines the inter electrode gap. A deep micro hole produced by micro ECM is shown in fig. appears to be very promising as a future micromachining technique [9a]. The large and variable gap makes the DC ECM difficult to produce features with high resolution and well-defined edge. ECG is most suited for cutting and shaping very hard materials like WC-Co. The shape of the wheel determines the final shape. Deep micro-hole produced by micro-ECM [17] Electrochemical Grinding (ECG) Electrochemical grinding is a non-abrasive process and therefore. Micro ECM is an electrolytic process applied to machine feature in the 1~100 μm range. usually provides an improved machining status.

Turbine blade with cooling holes [16] Table. Electrochemical drilling Elctrochemical drilling has general applications but is considered crucial in certain applications like drilling of fine long deep holes as required in gas turbine blades (fig. usage of bit type of tools can make more accurate holes.ECH. In ECD.128 mm have been reported in nickel-based super alloy [15]. Compared with bare type of tools. slow relative rotary motion between the electrodes produces a hole. similar to electrochemical grinding process. A comparison of drilling capabilities of ECM. EDM. Electrochemical Turning and milling In this variation of Electrochemical Machining. 1 Fig. Through holes of 26 mm depth and diameters ranging from 2. The process normally uses a specially shaped electrode to carefully control the process to a specific area.1 . 6.054 to 4. and Laser drilling processes are given in Table. workpiece and tool are moved laterally relative to one another to achieve both internal and external surface cutting.6). Electrochemical deburring Electrochemical deburring is a type of electrochemical machining designed to remove burrs and impart small radii to corners. Stressfree metallurgically undamaged holes of aspect ratio upto 300:1 can be produced [14]. involves the use of honing stones rather than a grinding wheel.

electrochemical processes operate at lower temperatures than their nonelectrochemical counterparts. On the other hand. neutral salt electrolytes (10%) with small percentage of acid electrolytes (1%) have been used by researchers to minimize the sludge formation in the inter electrode gap. if properly designed can be inexpensive. Stressfree. The system-inherent variables of electrochemical processes. nitric and hydrochloric acid with 10–25% concentration are preferred in STEM. It is carefully straightened and insulated over the entire length except at the tip.Comparison of hole drilling techniques for aero-engine components [18] Shaped tube electrolytic machining (STEM) STEM. Acid electrolytes such as sulfuric. However. The energy losses caused by non-homogeneous current distribution. disadvantages arise from the fact that electrochemical reactions are heterogeneous and take place at the electrode-electrolyte interface in electrochemical reactors [20]. pioneered by workers at the General Electric Company. The electrochemical cell construction and the peripheral equipment are generally simple and. good holes with aspect ratios of 11 has been reported in inconel at voltage and tool feedrate of 17 V and 1. holes are produced by controlled deplating action in an electrolytic cell where the cathode is simply a metal tube of acid resistant material such as titanium shaped to match the desired hole geometry. Therefore. such as electrode potential and cell current. The electrode is given constant feed at a rate matching the dissolution rate of material [18]. voltage drop or side reactions can be minimized by optimization of electrode structure and cell design. the cell performance often suffers from mass-transport limitations and the size of the specific electrode area. It has been observed that harmful environmental impacts of the ECM process come in the form of health hazard like eye and skin irritation due to electrolyte splashing. The acid electrolyte under pressure is fed through the tube to the tip and it returns via a narrow gap along the outside of the coated tube to the top of the workpiece. respectively [19]. is a modified ECD process that uses an acid electrolyte so that the removed metal goes into solution instead of forming a precipitate.0 mm min−1. In this process. release of toxic vapors . A crucial point is the durability and long-term stability of cell components and electrode materials in contact with aggressive media. STEM is suitable for multiple hole drilling and uniform wall thickness in repetitive production is achieved because of the noncontact nature of the process. high integrity holes can be produced by the molecule-by-molecule dissolution of the material. Environmental issues Generally speaking. are particularly suitable for facilitating process control and automation calling for less human involvement. Creation of uniform.

1230–1265. G. Translated from Elektrokhimiya.voltage. and V. O. Landolt. curved surfaces. large through cavities... electrolyte conductivity Materials application . not applicable with electrically non-conducting materials and jobs with very small dimensions.. Lyubimov. expensive machines. Proceedings of the 3rd IEEE Int. Kirchner. 30 September 2003.conducting electrolyte Tool material . 12. V.. These harmful chemicals get absorbed in the ECM slurry in the form of metal hydroxides. Volume 48. but because of nitrate reduction at cathode. under appropriate conditions. current. V. J. 2000. Davydov. monitoring.-F. Experimental investigation on the influence of electrochemical machining parameters on machining rate and accuracy in micromachining domain.all conducting metals and alloys Shape application .infinite Gap .Electrochemical machining. Munda. ELECTROCHEMICAL MACHINING (ECM). Surface finishes down to 25 μin. Use of passivating electrolytes like sodium nitrate in electrochemical deburring produces low surface roughness and high machining rate. Pages 3185-3201. Volgin. No. Bhattacharyya. 40. 40. through cutting. Electrochemical micromachining. electrolyte. Experimental Investigation of Micro -holes in Electrochemical Machining Using Pulse Current. Vol. Electrochimica Acta. Zhiyong Li Guangming Yuan. polishing and surface structuring of metals: fundamental aspects and new developments. feed rate. 2004. D. 2008. 1438–1480. Russian Journal of Electrochemistry.blind complex cavities. Vol. toxic chromate and ammonia are formed while machining metals containing chrome [21]. pp. on Nano/Micro Engineered and Molecular Systems January 6-9. Zinger. Reference [1] B. Issues 20-22.during machining and from the waste like the ECM slurry produced in the process.50 to 300 μm Maximum MRR 15*103 mm3/min Specific power consumption 7W/mm3/min critical parameters . . Electrochemical Machining of Metals: Fundamentals of Electrochemical Shaping. However. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] Schuster. pp. and Ertl. ECM at glance • • • • • • • • • • • • Mechanism of material removal . extreme care is to be taken for its handling and disposal. Allongue. V.Cu. Electrochemistry Encyclopedia --. steel Material/tool wear . Sanya. 2004. July 2005 D. Chauvy. the environmental impacts of Electrochemical Machining can be minimized. International Journal of Machine Tools & Manufacture 43 (2003) 1301–1310 Joseph McGeough. So. Limitations . P. China A. 12. and control. brass. Electrochemical micromachining. P. M.electrolysis Medium . Conf. No.high specific energy consumption (about 150 times that required for conventional processes). R.

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