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Journal of Materials Processing Technology 149 (2004) 579–584

Using ultra thin electrodes to produce micro-parts with wire-EDM
F. Klocke

, D. Lung, D. Thomaidis, G. Antonoglou
Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering (WZL), University of Technology at Aachen, Steinbachstrasse 53,
RWTH Aachen 52074, Germany
Accepted 31 October 2003
Abstract
Small-sized tools and parts are gaining importance and share of the total product range Micromachining of Engineering Materials,
2002; Ann. CIRP 49 (2) (2000) 473]. An appropriate manufacturing process to cover the growing need for accurate small tools is
electro-discharge-machining with thin wires (W-EDM). Until now only a few scientific works have been dealing with cutting by W-EDM
using wires with a diameter below 50 ␮m. The results of the experiments with ultra thin wires are presented in this paper.
The materials of the wires are tungsten with high tensile strength and melting temperature and brass-coated steel wire. Typical ultra thin
wire diameters are 20, 25, 30 and 50 ␮m. The process forces—until now often neglected—are becoming significant because of the small
tension forces on the wire and the low wire weight Single discharging force and single machining volume of wire EDM, ISEM XI, 1995].
A special set-up to use 20 and 25 ␮m wires with an existing machine which can run wires up to 30 ␮m was designed and constructed.
Different wire types and diameters as well as electrical parameters were tested in several series of experiments.
The process forces on the thin wires were measured with a special measuring device. The measuring sensor was positioned at the place
where the discharges take place and was electrically isolated in order to prevent measuring interference. The single discharge craters were
investigated on the workpiece surface. An electrical circuit was adapted onto the machine in order to allow just one single discharge to
occur. The craters were located on the pre-ground workpiece surface and their dimensions were measured with an optical microscope.
© 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Workpiece; Tools; Electrode; Micro-EDM; EDM
1. Introduction
This paper deals with several aspects of micro-wire-EDM,
when the machined parts include small radii or very narrow
slots. Geometrical elements with dimensions of some mi-
crons are often found in micro-parts and parts with micro
structures. Setting the right machining parameters is essen-
tial in order to fulfil the accuracy requirements. One of the
main machining parameters of the wire-EDM process is the
wire itself. The wire dimensions, material and performance
can vary, so choosing the right wire is very important for
ensuring a stable process.
Usually, the wire diameter is 0.25–0.33 mm for most ap-
plications, but it can be even as low as 0.02 mm in the case
of cutting very small concave geometrical elements. The
diameter of the wires depend on the smallest inner radius
of the part (R
geometry,min
), the width of the narrowest slot
(s) and the distance between the wire and the machined part

Corresponding author. Tel.: +49-241-807-401;
fax: +49-241-8888-293.
E-mail address: f.klocke@wzl.rwth-aachen.de (F. Klocke).
during the last cut (gap width) The formula for calculating
the maximum wire diameter (d
wire,max
) is
d
wire,max
= 2R
geometry,min
+ gap (a)
or
d
wire,max
= s + 2 gap (b)
For machining micro-parts containing both concave arcs
and narrow slots the wire should have the smallest diameter
of (a) and (b) calculated above.
The boundary conditions are changed when cutting with
thin wires. The allowed tension force of the thin wires is very
low and depends on the discharge energy and the part accu-
racy. The thin wires cannot tolerate large discharge energies
and would consequently break. The tension forces are lower
when the cutting power is large. When using thin wires the
process parameters are chosen either for fast cutting—high
energy and low tension force—or for precision cutting—low
energy and high tension force.
In this paper the mechanical properties of thin wires will
be discussed after describing short the general experiment
set-up. Then, the results of the investigations on the single
0924-0136/$ – see front matter © 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.jmatprotec.2003.10.061
580 F. Klocke et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 149 (2004) 579–584
discharges will be shown. This includes the optical measure-
ment of the crater dimension and SEM images. Finally, the
single discharge forces will be analysed for various param-
eter settings.
The experimental work described here took place
on a WEDM machines with linear drives in which a
hydrocarbon-based dielectric fluid is used as the working
medium. WEDM cutting in hydrocarbon-based dielectric
fluid allows smaller interior contours to be achieved, be-
cause the gap width is smaller than in a water-based dielec-
tric fluid. This machine is capable of running wires with
a diameter of 30 ␮m or more. The friction force would be
very high if the thin wires would run through the whole
wire transport system of the machine. What is more, the
machine does not have wire guides to run ultra thin wires.
An additional device with own guides was built which by-
passes some machine pulleys for the wire transport in order
to carry out experiments with wires thinner than 30 ␮m.
2. Preliminary tests
2.1. Mechanical properties of thin wires
Thin wires are manufactured by drawing at many stages
until the desired diameter is reached. Different materials are
used for producing thin EDM wires. Brass, tungsten, copper
and molybdenum are the most common ones. Tungsten is
known for its high fatigue strength, which allows higher cur-
rents to be supplied from the pulse generator during EDM
machining without wire breakage. On the other hand, brass
has a lower fatigue strength but proved to be suitable for
wire-EDM applications, as it can lead to high material re-
moval rates. In order to provide thin brass wires with a higher
durability, wire manufacturers usually add a steel core of
high fatigue strength, leaving just a thin film of brass in the
process significant outer wire layers. For the needs of this
test series, two kinds of wires were used: pure tungsten and
brass-coated steel wires. The wire diameter was 50, 30, 25
and 20 ␮m.
Fig. 1. Maximum wire tensile force before breakage without EDM.
During the preliminary tests the wires were pulled apart
until they broke with the pulse generator kept off. The force
needed for wire breakage was measured with a force mea-
surement device. The given fatigue strength of the wires
was 3340 N/mm
2
for tungsten and 2000 N/mm
2
for the
brass-coated steel type. The theoretical maximum tensile
load was calculated for each wire diameter.
The results comparison between the theoretical maximum
wire load is shown in Fig. 1. No great differences could
be observed between the given and the measured maximum
wire tensile force.
2.2. Cutting performance of thin wires
The generator was turned on and the discharge current
was increased continuously, until the wires broke. This se-
ries was done only with tungsten wires, as it was intended
to determine the maximum material removal rate for thin
wires. The tungsten melting point is higher than the one from
brass and steel. The tungsten wires break at higher discharge
energies and have a higher fatigue strength than brass. For
this reason the maximal cutting speed is higher as well.
In this experiment series hard tool materials were investi-
gated. Polycrystalline diamond (PCD) and cemented carbide
were used as the workpiece material:
(a) PCD is mainly used for cutting wood and light materi-
als (Al, Ti, etc.) [4,5]. The material consists of diamond
grains which are located in a cobalt binding phase on
a cemented carbide substrate. The PCD layer is 0.5 mm
and the cemented carbide layer 1.1 mm thick. There
were three grain size types. The grains had an average
diameter of 2, 10 and 25 ␮m.
(b) Cemented carbide consists of about 90% tungsten car-
bide grains (grain size 2 ␮m for H40S and 1.5 ␮m for
CF-H40S) and 10% cobalt binding phase. It is used for
cutting purposes as it features very high hardness and
long tool life [6,7]. The type CF-H40S has an addi-
tional chrome layer that makes this material oxidation
resistant.
F. Klocke et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 149 (2004) 579–584 581
Fig. 2. Material removal rate for different wire sizes.
The material removal rate decreases for thinner wires as
a result of the lower allowed discharge current. Cutting with
the 50 ␮m wire was the fastest among the investigated thin
wires. The discharge current could be increased up to 37.2 A,
whereas cutting with more than 4.8, 2.4 and 1.2 A for the
30, 25 and 20 ␮m wires resulted to wire breakage (Fig. 2).
For the same wire thickness the small grain-sized PCD can
be cut faster than the big grain-sized types. Apparently, the
big diamond grains (10 and 25 ␮m) push the wire away and
prevent the plasma channel from being built, as the grains
are positioned between the wire and the workpiece. The ce-
mented carbide can be cut much faster, as it contains no
diamond grains. The material removal rate can reach up to
1.6 mm
2
/min when cutting cemented carbide with a 50 ␮m
wire. The diamond grains could be transformed to graphite
due to the high temperature and become electrically con-
ductive. A part of the discharges occur then on the graphite
surface, which does not lead to bonding material removal.
3. Single discharges
3.1. Single discharge experiment set-up description
A special electronic circuit was developed to allow just
one discharge to occur. The two poles of the machine (wire
and workpiece) were connected to the circuit. Five microsec-
onds after detecting a falling edge of the voltage, the circuit
would short the two poles by a power transistor. The ma-
chine recognised the short circuit and moved the table back.
The workpiece surface was ground in advance so that the
craters could be located easily. Only a single crater would
appear on the workpiece surface. At high feeding rates there
was a danger of mechanical contact between the wire and
the workpiece. The machine would not move the table back,
before it came to a mechanical contact. It would continue
moving the wire towards the workpiece, which could lead to
mechanical wear of the craters. The maximal allowed feed
rate of the machine was therefore set to 0.1 mm/min to assure
that the machine had time enough to react to the short circuit.
The workpiece used was steel. Both tungsten and
brass-coated wires were used. Different machining param-
eters were chosen to investigate their effect on the crater
morphology. The wire cut about 0.5 mm into the workpiece
to separate the craters of each wire used. To locate the
craters easily, the single craters were programmed to ap-
pear having a distance of 0.1 mm in between. When more
than one parameter was changed, the distance between two
groups of craters with the same parameters was 0.3 mm.
First, the diameter of the craters was measured and then
SEM images were taken to examine the crater topography.
3.2. Crater diameter
The crater diameter was measured for different machining
conditions. The idle voltage was 150 and 80 V, the pulse on
time varied from 0.5 to 5 ␮s and three maximum current
values were chosen: 1.5, 9 and 15 A. The influence of the
machining parameters on the crater diameter is shown in
Table 1.
There is no noticeable tendency within these tables. The
only parameter that influences the crater diameter is the idle
voltage. The average crater diameter is 36.6 ␮mat 150 Vidle
voltage and 25.5 ␮m at 80 V idle voltage. This effect can be
explained by means of the gap width. The gap width depends
on the idle voltage. If the wire comes close to the workpiece
at the time the discharge occurs (this is the case of low idle
voltage), the plasma channel cannot spread much. On the
other hand, when the distance between wire and workpiece
is great (case of high idle voltage) the plasma channel can
spread more, thus causing a bigger crater.
582 F. Klocke et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 149 (2004) 579–584
Table 1
Crater diameter for different electrical parameters
Crater diameter (␮m), U = 150 V Crater diameter (␮m), U = 80 V
ON (␮s) I (A) Tu 50 Br 50 Tu 30 Br 30 Tu 25 Br 25 Tu 20 ON (␮s) I (A) Tu 50 Br 50 Tu 30 Br 30 Tu 25 Br 25 Tu 20
0.5 1.5 32 30 44 26 31 22 27 0.5 1.5 44 23 23 27 19 18 19
9 35 37 32 38 34 32 27 9 26 15 22 37 22 24 21
15 33 33 35 27 29 32 34 15 29 32 26 25 20 24 18
1 1.5 29 33 37 27 31 33 26 1 1.5 23 24 27 18 22 20 20
9 34 39 30 29 28 41 30 9 28 29 20 36 22 22 17
15 53 34 42 30 32 50 31 15 28 20 27 21 26 27 20
2 1.5 34 39 46 26 31 38 26 2 1.5 21 22 27 32 22 19 23
9 38 28 39 30 40 36 29 9 26 33 23 30 16 20 24
15 36 60 36 36 38 43 31 15 26 25 31 26 20 25 21
3 1.5 32 38 39 32 35 33 26 3 1.5 31 25 23 23 25 20 23
9 36 60 35 44 29 35 26 9 26 36 36 26 26 21 20
15 50 55 33 36 33 42 36 15 27 43 23 23 15 24 14
4 1.5 27 33 34 31 33 36 31 4 1.5 18 23 20 23 16 23 22
9 47 42 28 33 30 47 28 9 26 37 22 32 17 20 23
15 42 68 37 30 34 53 46 15 34 39 26 29 23 23 22
5 1.5 36 42 36 36 55 34 32 5 1.5 26 28 22 23 20 23 19
9 41 64 44 36 40 49 30 9 29 24 34 14 21 26 25
15 44 59 58 42 42 40 27 15 26 30 32 28 20 24 24
3.3. SEM images of craters
Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) images were taken
to examine the topography of the craters. The machining
parameters which were constant for the whole test series
Fig. 3. Single discharge craters for different wire types and idle voltage.
was the pulse on time (3 ␮s) and the maximum discharge
current (15 A). The two wire types, tungsten and brass, were
used. The 20 ␮m brass wire has not been used, because
the wire was breaking after the discharges, even with very
low discharge energy. On the left hand side of Fig. 3 the
F. Klocke et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 149 (2004) 579–584 583
craters are shown which were produced with lowidle voltage
(80 V). The height of the craters is bigger than the width.
The wire was running vertically and because of the small
gap width the plasma could spread parallel to the workpiece.
This phenomenon cannot be found at the craters with a high
idle voltage (150 V). In this case, the gap width was great
and the plasma channel could spread more homogeneously
to all directions.
4. Discharge forces
4.1. Discharge force measurement experiment set-up
description
The maximum discharge forces were measured with a
very sensitive force sensor, which was hold horizontally. A
tungsten pin with a tip diameter of 50 ␮m attached to the
machine’s wire guides was moved closer to the force sensor.
In order to avoid current flow through the sensor when dis-
charges occur, an isolating plastic plate was clamped onto
the sensor. The sensor was connected to a signal filter and
amplifier device. Many measuring parameters can be set:
the sensor sensitivity (given by the sensor manufacturer),
the mechanical-force-to-voltage-unit ratio (calibrated/set by
the operator after applying known forces on the sensor and
measuring the output voltage), the low pass filter frequency
and the response time. The output of the amplification stage
was connected to a digital storage oscilloscope capable of
recording high frequency signals. For further analysis the
data of the oscilloscope were transferred to a PC.
The discharge current was measured to examine the phase
shift between current and force signal. The device used
for detecting the single discharge was a high frequency
(100 MHz) current probe. The current probe was connected
to an amplifier/filter device and the signal was transferred
Fig. 5. Discharge forces for different idle voltages and materials.
Fig. 4. Force measurement set-up.
to the oscilloscope. The positive slope of the current signal
was used as the trigger. A schematic drawing of the force
measurement set-up is shown in Fig. 4.
4.2. Results
The force began to develop about 5 ␮s and after the rising
current pulse and reached its maximum after 3 ␮s. It can
be assumed that the mass inertia of the force sensor plate
introduces this small phase shift. This delay did not depend
on the pulse time and the maximum discharge current.
The maximum single discharge forces for different ma-
chining parameters were measured as shown in Fig. 5.
The maximum force depends on the maximum discharge
current and the idle voltage. The higher are the maximum
discharge current and the idle voltage the higher are the
forces. For each idle voltage setting the maximum force is
lineary proportional to the maximum current. For the same
discharge current the discharge force depends on the idle
voltage, which in turn influences the discharge voltage and
energy.
584 F. Klocke et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 149 (2004) 579–584
Higher force values could be measured for polycrystalline
diamond than for steel. The material area available for
EDM-machining is lower when machining PCD because of
the diamond grains. The diamond grains act like a hard layer
on the material surface resulting to higher forces. Unlike
diamond, the steel material melts and absorbs a part of the
plasma channel forces at the place where the craters form.
5. Conclusions
The results from the investigations described above can
be summarised as follows:
• The more electrically non-conductive particles are con-
tained in a material the lower is the cutting speed.
• There is no great influence of the idle voltage, pulse
on-time and the discharge current on the crater dimen-
sions. The craters do not have the same shape even with
the same parameters.
• At lower idle voltages the craters become more elliptical.
• The discharge forces depend strongly on the electrical
parameters and the machined materials. The forces are
lineary proportional to the discharge current and the idle
voltage.
There are still some issues that should be investigated and
discussed in future research works concerning thin wires:
• material volume removed after a discharge;
• 3D topography investigations of the craters;
• metallographic analysis of the white layer;
• force measurement over a longer period of time (many
discharges);
• cutting performance (machining speed and surface rough-
ness) with trim cuts.
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