Icy grip

Thin, brittle or irregularly shaped components pose a problem for machinists. They are awkward to hold and easily damaged by the usual clamping methods, that exert an irregular force on the part. So how do you hold a part made from crushable honeycomb alu

Nature provides the answer. Touch a domestic freezer box with a wet finger to see how fast and firmly it gets stuck. Water rapidly turns to ice, expanding and locking into irregularities on the skin’s surface.

The Ice-Plate system developed by Swiss watch-maker AP Technologies and sold in the UK by Tenga Engineering, works on the same principle. Delicate or difficult parts are placed on a plate covered with a film of water and frozen to -6 degrees C. Precise temperature control ensures highly repeatable machining accuracy.

The ice provides a clamping force of 15kg/cm2 which is enough to hold parts evenly in place for drilling, milling, grinding or polishing operations. The process lends itself to heat-sensitive aerospace materials without inducing stress into the part. Other suitable materials include plastics, ceramics and composites.