Working with metals can present a lot of unique challenges even for those with a fairly well-equipped shop. Metals like aluminum and some types of steel can be cut readily with grinders and saws, but for thick materials or some hardened steels, or when more complex cuts need to be made, mechanical cutting needs to be reconsidered in favor of something electric like electrical discharge machining (EDM) or a plasma cutter. [Norbert] has been on the path of building his own EDM machine and walks us through the process of generating a spark and its effects on some test materials.
Armed with a microscope, a homemade high-voltage generator, drill bit, and a razor blade to act as the workpiece, [Norbert] begins by experimenting with electrical discharges by bringing the energized drill bit close to the razor to determine the distance needed for effective electrical machining. Eventually the voltage is turned up a bit to dive into the effects of higher voltage discharges on the workpiece. He also develops a flushing system using de-ionized water, and then finally a system to automate the discharges and the movement of the tool.
To say that desktop 3D printing had a transformative effect on our community would be something of an understatement. In just a decade or so, we went from creaky printers that could barely extrude a proper cube to reliable workhorses that don’t cost much more than a decent cordless drill. It’s gotten to the point that it’s almost surprising to see a project grace these pages that doesn’t include 3D printed components in some capacity.
There’s just one problem — everything that comes out of them is plastic. Oh sure, some plastics are stronger than others…but they’re still plastic. Fine for plenty of tasks, but certainly not all. The true revolution for makers and hackers would be a machine that’s as small, convenient, and as easy to use as a desktop 3D printer, but capable of producing metal parts.
If Cooper Zurad has his way such a dream machine might be landing on workbenches in as little as a month, thanks in part to the fact that its built upon the bones of a desktop 3D printer. His open source Powercore device allows nearly any 3D printer to smoothly cut through solid metal using a technique known as electrical discharge machining (EDM). So who better to helm this week’s Desktop EDM Hack Chat?
[Tanner]’s video explains the benefits of EDM well. Spark-based machining doesn’t care about the hardness of the given material, making it ideal for working with very tough steels, for example. It’s also non-contact, so the motion platform doesn’t have to be built to resist huge forces.
The build was done with a low budget of just $300, and uses some smart shortcuts. Instead of an expensive mains-powered DC power supply to generate the discharge, [Tanner] just uses a powerful lithium-polymer battery with his own MOSFET board to deliver the high current needed. A nifty combination of a stepper motor and O-drive motor setup feed the discharge wire at a constant rate during the machining.
The desktop manufacturing revolution has been incredible, unleashing powerful technologies that once were strictly confined to industrial and institutional users. If you doubt that, just look at 3D printing; with a sub-$200 investment, you can start making parts that have never existed before.
Sadly, though, most of this revolution has been geared toward making stuff from one or another type of plastic. Wouldn’t it be great if you could quickly whip up an aluminum part as easily and as cheaply as you can print something in PLA? That day might be at hand thanks to Powercore, a Kickstarter project that aims to bring the power of electric discharge machining (EDM) to the home gamer. The principle of EDM is simple — electric arcs can easily erode metal from a workpiece. EDM machines put that fact to work by putting a tool under CNC control and moving a precisely controlled electric arc around a workpiece to machine complex shapes quickly and cleanly.
Compared to traditional subtractive manufacturing, EDM is a very gentle affair. That’s what makes EDM attractive to the home lab; where the typical metal-capable CNC mill requires huge castings to provide the stiffness needed to contain cutting forces, EDM can use light-duty structures and still turn out precision parts. In fact, Powercore is designed to replace the extruder of a bog-standard 3D printer, and consists almost entirely of parts printed on the very same machine. The video below shows a lot of detail on Powercore, including the very interesting approach to keeping costs down by creating power resistors from PCBs.
While we tend to shy away from flogging crowdfunded projects, this one really seems like it might make a difference to desktop manufacturing and be a real boon to the home lab. It’s also worth noting that this project has roots in the Hackaday community, being based as it is on [Dominik Meffert]’s sinker EDM machine.
As a Hackaday reader, it’s safe to assume you’ve got a better than average understanding of electricity. There’s also an excellent chance you’re familiar with machining, and may even have a lathe or old mill in the workshop. But combining the two, and actually machining a piece of metal with electricity, isn’t something that many home gamers can boast first-hand experience with.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t an interest. To help answer the burning (or at least, sparking) questions from the community, CEO and founder of Voxel Innovations Daniel Herrington stopped by this week’s Hack Chat to talk about the cutting edge of both electric discharge machining (EDM) and the closely related field of electrochemical machining (ECM). While his company uses the technology to produce components at incredible scales, Daniel got his start tinkering in the garage like so many of us, enabling him to provide both a professional and hobbyist prospective on the technologies.
Naturally, the first big question to be addressed was the difference between EDM and ECM. Put simply, electric discharge machining uses high-voltage to literally blast away material from the workpiece. The resulting finish is generally rough, and progress through the material tends to be slow, but it’s relatively simple to implement.
In contrast electrochemical machining could be thought of as a sort of reverse electroplating process, as the material being removed from the workpiece is dissolved and transferred to the cathode — though in practice the flow of pressurized electrolyte keeps it from actually plating the negatively charged tool. ECM is a faster process than EDM and allows for an exceptionally smooth surface finish, but is considerably more challenging from a technical perspective. Continue reading “Machining With Electricity Explored In The Hack Chat”→
They say that if you have a lathe, you have every other machine tool too. To some degree, that’s true — you can make almost anything on a lathe, including another lathe, and even parts best made on other machine tools can usually be made on a lathe in a pinch. But after seeing this lathe attachment for a DIY electric discharge machining tool, we might be inclined to see the EDM as the one machine tool to rule them all.
Now, we’ll admit that the job [BAXEDM] built this tool for might be a little contrived. He wanted to make some custom hex inserts for his Swiss Army knife, which seem like they’d have been pretty easy to make from hex bar stock in a conventional lathe. Then again, hardened steel is the kind of material that wire EDM was made for, and there seem to be many use cases for an attachment that can spin a workpiece against an EDM cutting wire.
That was really the trick of this build — spinning a part underwater. To accomplish this, [BAXEDM] built a platform to carry a bearing block that supports a standard ER-25 collet, with a bracket that holds a stepper clear of the water in the EDM cutting tank. There are plenty of 3D printed insulators too, to keep most of the attachment electrically isolated from the EDM current, plus exotic parts like ceramic bearings that won’t corrode under water. There were a ton of other considerations, too; [BAXEDM] goes through the long iterative design process in the video below, as well as taking his new tool for a literal spin starting at about the 27:00 mark.
If you’re intrigued by what EDM can accomplish — and who wouldn’t be? — but you need more background on the process, we’ve got you covered.
When you see something made from metal that seems like it would be impossible to manufacture, chances are good it was made with some variety of electrical discharge machining. EDM is the method of choice for hard-to-machine metals, high aspect ratio hole drilling, and precise surface finishes that let mating parts slip together with almost zero clearance. The trouble is, EDM is a bit fussy, and as a result hasn’t made many inroads to the home shop.
[Action BOX] aims to change that with a DIY wire EDM machine. In wire EDM, a fine brass wire is used as an electrode to slowly erode metal in a dielectric bath. The wire is consumable, and has to constantly move from a supply spool through the workpiece and onto a takeup spool. Most of the build shown in the video below is concerned with the wire-handling mechanism, which is prototyped from 3D-printed parts and a heck of a lot of rollers and bearings. Maintaining the proper tension on the wire is critical, so a servo-controlled brake is fitted to the drivetrain, which itself is powered by a closed-loop stepper. Tension is measured by a pair of strain gauges and Arduinos, which control the position of the shaft brake servo and the speed of the motor on the takeup spool.
Unfortunately, in testing this setup proved to live up to EDM’s fussy reputation. The brass wire kept breaking as soon as cutting started, and [Action BOX] never made any actual cuts. There’s certainly promise, though, and we’re looking forward to developments. For more on EDM theory, check out [Ben Krasnow]’s look at EDM hole-drilling.