Inexpensive micro-milling

Engineers at the Northern Illinois University College of Engineering and Engineering Technology have created an inexpensive micro-milling machine.

Engineers at the Northern Illinois University (NIU) college of engineering and engineering technology have created a new micro-milling machine that could open doors for small machine shops looking to manufacture the tiny parts demanded in the medical, military and aerospace fields.

Working with almost all ‘off-the-shelf’ parts (including a motor from a radio controlled helicopter to power the spindle), faculty, staff and students in the college’s department of technology have created a machine that can make cuts to an accuracy of +/- 2 microns.

The $25,000 machine is capable of handling most jobs performed by commercially manufactured micro-milling machines which typically retail at four times the price.

‘Our tolerances aren’t quite as tight as the high-end machines, but for most jobs it is more than adequate, and our machine can perform all the functions of those more expensive devices,’ said Cliff Mirman, chair of the college’s department of technology.

The project was launched under the auspices of NIU’s ROCK program, which focuses much of its efforts on revitalising manufacturing in northwestern Illinois.

‘One of our goals at CEET is not just to train our students in the latest technology, but to also introduce that technology to our region so that northern Illinois remains a competitive player in the global marketplace. I truly believe this machine will do just that,’ said Promod Vohra, dean of the engineering school at NIU.

The machine, which is small enough to fit on a desk top, is deceptively simple in appearance and easy to operate, say its inventors.

While Mirman says the machine is ‘not quite ready for prime time’ one company has already ordered one of them and several others have given the machine enthusiastic reviews after seeing demonstrations.