The Northern Illinois University College of Engineering and Engineering Technology has 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. For comparison, a human hair is about 50 microns wide.
The $25,000 machine is capable of handling most jobs performed by commercially manufactured micro-milling machines which typically retail at four times (or more) 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,” says Cliff Mirman, chair of the college’s Department of Technology where the machine was built.
The machine, which is essentially a factory small enough to fit on a desk top, is deceptively simple in appearance and easy to operate, say its inventors.
“You plug it into the wall and hook your computer into it, connect the control box and away you go,” says Donald Shields, 23, a senior electrical technology major who was an instrumental part of the team that created the device. Shield’s many contributions included writing code to translate directions from software into actions that the motor could interpret and perform.
While Mirman says the machine is “not quite ready for prime time” a Savanna, Ill., company has already ordered one of the devices, and several area companies have given the machine enthusiastic reviews after seeing demonstrations.