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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Previous projects > Industrial Processes > New coatings give tools a super finish
Graphic element New coatings give tools a super finish
     
 
Modern coating processes have taken the manufacturing world by storm, helping to reduce the cost and increase the durability of many important items such as bioimplants, automobile components and even CD-ROMs. Similar processes can extend the lives of industrial tools. The WECAT project developed a new wire-electrical discharge machining (WEDM) system for the production of pressing and punching tools which can be coated immediately after machining without further preparatory treatment. And a new coating technology was developed to replace highly polluting zinc-based galvanising, providing products of the same quality at a lower price. WECAT represents a solid European challenge in a market which has been controlled by Japanese and Swiss players.
 

Since its introduction in 1969, wire-electrical discharge machining (WEDM) has achieved a monopoly position in tool-making and in series production of aerospace components. The process entails the virtually force-free and fully automated precision cutting of electrically conductive materials - mainly metals - with a continuously turning wire electrode. All operations are carried out under water and at a constant temperature, ensuring high accuracy and low thermal distortion. Weaknesses in the procedure include lengthy processing times and the poor coatability of WEDM processed pieces due to surface roughness.
Coating processes improve the surface characteristics and performance of many important items. Super-hard coatings allow the use of lighter and less-expensive materials in applications where only hardened steel would have served before. Such processes can help to extend the lives of industrial tools, and provide an environmentally friendly alternative to more traditional surface treatment processes.

Next step in wire-EDM technology

WECAT aimed to develop new super-finishing WEDM machines for the production of coatable pressing and punching machine tools. First, new wire electrodes had to be developed to suit both the particular pieces to be produced and different power supplies. The project was able to define specific wire electrode requirements for different applications, allowing rapid and informed selection of the optimal system configuration for a given operation. Valuable fundamental knowledge about wire stress during conveyance and cutting was also acquired.
Once appropriate wire electrodes had been developed, a new high-speed generator, an expert process control system and features such as automatic wire threading to produce a staggering 380% increase in productivity compared to previous machines. Moreover, component surface roughness was reduced down to a level sufficient to allow coating without the mechanical pre-treatment (smoothing) previously found to be necessary.
Finally, a modified physical vapour deposition coating technology known as arc bond sputtering was developed. This method can replace traditional zinc-based galvanising, a highly environmentally unfriendly process because of the polluting liquid effluents it produces. A reduction in production, maintenance and waste treatment costs will help to strengthen the competitiveness of potential users, while increases in industrial tool performance will mean reduced residue volumes resulting from 'waste' during cutting and coating.

Europe takes on its competitors

Partners are convinced that WECAT represents an important step forward in super-finish machining and is a solid European industrial initiative in a market traditionally controlled by Japanese and Swiss companies. The project has undeniably consolidated the position of prime partner ONA Electro-Erosion as an important supplier of WEDM machines. When the project started, this Spanish company was in serious trouble due to fierce competition and an extremely difficult market situation. Now, having sold more than 1000 machines, its main challenge is maintaining its position as a developer and marketer of new and innovative products.
All of the partners, including Spanish, Dutch and German participants, made important contributions and have, in turn, benefited from the project. Most are continuing to participate in other joint technological initiatives, and new developments include the coating of very small machine parts and the further reduction of residues resulting from cutting processes. New market launches stemming from WECAT are expected in the short to medium term.

Cordis RCN: 4047
More information (Cordis database)
   
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