Discover the Future of EDM Machining with 3D Printed Copper Electrode

Published on : 30 July, 2023

The Customer

At the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the Integrated and Advanced Manufacturing Research Group delves into the research of diverse manufacturing processes. Their studies encompass polymer processing, additive manufacturing, natural fibers, and biomanufacturing.

The university research group's core activities contain university courses and public/private research initiatives. The principal goal of their research projects is to generate knowledge and foster R&D and innovative technologies for the betterment of society. Additionally, they undertake collaborative projects with diverse private entities in specialized domains like aeronautics, metallurgy, and agriculture.

The Challenge

The primary objective of the group is to create Copper EDM Electrodes utilizing Markforged Metal FFF technology. The core purpose is to apply cutting-edge technology to address emerging challenges and develop new industrial solutions. The Metal X and related systems are acquired for research and development in additive manufacturing, supplementing the group's multiple conventional procedures such as subtractive manufacturing, casting, and deformation.

The primary focus centers around the production of EDM Electrodes through the utilization of spark erosion, predominantly for the fabrication of complex components from robust or challenging-to-machine metals. As a secondary application, it can also be employed for insulating ceramics, subject to specific circumstances.

The Solution

With utmost care and consideration, the client made their selection in June 2021 - the remarkable Markforged Metal X and Mark Two. 3D printers. These extraordinary machines now hold the key to groundbreaking research on high-performance metal and thermoplastic compounds.

By adopting Markforged technology, the Integrated and Advanced Manufacturing group, along with other departments in biomechanics and prosthetics, gains access to cutting-edge additive manufacturing equipment. This innovation empowers the research group to tackle highly complex problems and enhance its reputation by finding solutions to intricate challenges.

Markforged provides cost-effective technologies and valuable expertise in equipment development, streamlining part production from the beginning and minimizing the likelihood of errors.

"Metal laser sintering technologies are considered an alternative to additive manufacturing. The cost of these technologies is higher, but they don't always produce a better surface quality," says Pablo Rubén Bordón Pérez, an Industrial Engineer and lecturer at the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

The group found themselves facing significant challenges concerning the financial cost of their investment. Additionally, they encountered difficulties in producing metal parts with complex geometric designs, which was only possible through expensive outsourcing, as their equipment couldn't handle it at a cost-effective rate.

We are currently developing several applications with Markforged technology, such as functional prototypes and medical implants, but being able to produce copper electrodes with complex geometric designs let us find solutions for unexpected challenges in the spark erosion field."

– Pablo Rubén Bordón Pérez, Industrial Engineer & Lecturer at the Department of Mechanical Engineering

"Apart from the gas infrastructure required for Metal X Markforged technology, it was easy to incorporate this technology due to its compact size and simple technical requirements," continues Pablo Rubén Bordón Pérez.

The parts that they printed using the two Markforged printers were small test pieces. These initial developments had a primary focus: solving the challenge of producing copper EDM electrodes. The reason copper was chosen is that it's one of the materials that work incredibly well with the Metal X technology. It turns out that copper is just perfect for EDM electrodes! Now, this is a big deal because it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for manufacturing copper electrodes, and we're talking about numerous applications here, especially when it comes to various research projects.

"For the staff using the equipment, this increased their technical capacities, and promoted self-esteem as they're developing new components or solving problems, things that just weren't possible until now," says Pablo Rubén Bordón Pérez.

Technology Test

Metal Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) represents an innovative additive manufacturing process capable of creating intricate metal components, copper being one of the notable materials. A key advantage lies in the newfound opportunities it presents for Rapid Tooling. This endeavor involves the development of copper electrodes utilizing FFF technology for Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM) and a subsequent performance comparison with conventional electrolytic copper.

To evaluate the Markforged and electrolytic electrodes, tests for density, electrical conductivity, and X-ray energy-dispersive spectroscopy were conducted. Through experiments on previous EDM designs and utilizing evolutionary algorithms, a comparative framework for both electrodes was established.

The final spark erosion tests assessed electrode wear rate, part roughness, and material removal rate for both electrodes. The findings from EDM indicate that Metal FFF technology has the potential to produce functional EDM electrodes with material removal rates and component roughness similar to conventional electrodes. However, it's essential to note that there's an increase in electrode wear. This is primarily due to internal porosity, voids, and other imperfections observed using field emission scanning electron microscopy.

The Future

Their public-funded research center operates differently from the private sector, and conventional ROI isn't their focus. Yet, the immense potential of Markforged technology empowers them with long-term manufacturing savings and boosts their ability to access new funds and resources.

"Thanks to the promising results with Markforged technology, it's highly likely our research center will implement other technologies from the same company in the future," concludes Pablo Rubén Bordón Pérez.

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