Process Developments for Sustainable Electrochemical Machining (SECM)

Academic Institution: Glasgow Caledonian University

Academic Supervisor: Professor Anjali K M De Silva

Industry Partner: Precision Tooling and Castings Ltd

PhD Student: TBC

Start Date: January - March 2020


Electrochemical machining (ECM), which is a form of reverse electroplating, was originally developed in the 1950-60s to machine aerospace material otherwise intractable by traditional machining. Today it has established itself in niche areas of manufacturing, e.g. aerospace, automobile and mass manufacture of metal parts owing to its many advantages such as ability to machine any metallic alloy; zero tool wear; excellent surface finish with no stress or heat induced surface damage. However, its wider adaptation/exploitation in industry is limited due its drawbacks: lack of predictability and control in precision machining; high-energy consumption; the need for acid based electrolytes; and the generation of by products, which may be toxic and cause environmental damage.

Research and development work is urgently needed to exploit the ECM process capabilities, especially for the precision manufacturing SME sector to expand and grow their business in advanced sustainable manufacturing. To this end, it is proposed to develop and enhance the ECM process to overcome the aforementioned drawbacks. Firstly, environmentally benign salt based electrolytes will be investigated that can yield the same or better results for machining advanced alloys. Using the latest digital technology, the precision and predictability of the process will be enhanced and ECM energy usage will be minimised by improving the process efficiency. Finally, the other major drawback of toxic by product generation/disposal will also be investigated with a view to reclaiming the metal from its oxide.

The research will be carried out at Glasgow Caledonian University with industry support form Precision Tooling and Castings Ltd in Prestwick. The ultimate goal of this R&D project will be to enable the company to then develop sustainable ECM machine tools to address many precision manufacturing needs of OEMs.