Project aims to optimise lubrication in industrial machining

A Brighton University researcher has received nearly £200,000 for a project that will improve machine lubrication and cut the environmental impact of many industrial machining processes. 

lubrication
Image by Michael Schwarzenberger from Pixabay

Professor Crua, a fluid dynamics specialist at the Sir Harry Ricardo Laboratories within Brighton University’s Advanced Engineering Centre, is part of a £1.35m consortium project investigating Minimum Quantity Lubrication (MQL) in precision manufacturing, which is being funded by Innovate UK.

Many UK businesses continue to rely on ageing machinery that uses an excess of costly, environmentally damaging and machine degrading coolant.

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Instead of flooding a cutting area with coolant, MQL delivers a small quantity of oil to the cutting zone. This reduces the amount of coolant required by up to 99 per cent, while recent research by project partners at the University of Sheffield’s Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre has shown that MQL can reduce running costs by up to half and energy use by a fifth. It can also avoid the need to clean the component after machining and reduce health risks to machine operators.

Brighton’s Advanced Engineering Centre will help develop an Ultrasonic Minimum Quantity Lubrication (UltraMQL) system to retrofit to existing machining equipment. According to the University, this will enable SMEs to take advantage of previously unaffordable technologies, and upgrade for incoming regulations under Net Zero targets.

In a statement, Professor Crua said: “[Brighton University] will develop a new high-precision lubricator, and apply laser and imaging measurement techniques to verify the spray performance against flow rate and droplet size requirements.

“A finer oil mist with precisely controlled droplet sizes and flow rate will deliver a much more reliable machining lubrication system. This will be achieved using ultrasonic technology, normally found in research grade atomisers, which can be precisely tuned to produce highly repeatable droplets.”

The UltraMQL project will be led by precision machining specialists Kugel Rotary and will see Brighton University collaborate with Quaker Houghton (lubricants) and Bloc Digital (IoT).

“Lubrication is a critical factor during metal cutting processes,” said Stuart Vere, managing director of Kugel Rotary Services. “Insufficient lubricant as well as excessive lubricant can have a detrimental effect on quality, cost and time and have an adverse impact on the environment. Just like other flexible variables such as speeds and feeds, the application of lubrication should also be optimised to ensure the best results whilst keeping overall oil contamination to a minimum.”