Micromilling Techniques II: Tool Alignment

David J. Guckenberger1, Theodorus E. de Groot1, Alwin M.D. Wan2, David J. Beebe1 and Edmond W. K. Young2,*

1 Department of Biomedical Engineering, Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA

2 Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, University of Toronto, 5 King’s College Road, MC313, Toronto, ON, Canada.

* Corresponding Author, E-mail: eyoung@mie.toronto.ca; Tel: +1(416) 978 1521

Why is this useful?


­­­­­­­­­­Micromilling is a highly efficient method for fabricating microfluidic devices directly in polymeric materials like thermoplastics. Please see the review article by Guckenberger and co-workers for a primer on micromilling.1 After securing your workpiece to the milling table,2 the next step in the milling process is to align the tool to the workpiece, thereby defining the coordinate origin. Many high-end mills designed for micromilling have automated tool alignment systems. However, lower cost mills that are also capable of milling microdevices may not have tool alignment systems, and the user must therefore manually align the tool to the workpiece to the desired accuracy. Here we present several alignment techniques that are low cost and can be performed by minimally trained users. We divide tool alignment into two separate directions: the vertical z-axis direction, and the planar x-y plane direction.

What do I need?


 

  • CNC Mill (PCNC 770, Tormach)
  • Tool, e.g. endmill of choice
  • Workpiece (properly secured to milling table, see ref. [2])

Specific tooling or materials required for each technique are referenced separately below, under the “Tooling Note”.

What do I do?

 

 


Z-axis Direction

Fig. 1. Four techniques for aligning the tool to the workpiece in the z-axis (from left to right): (i) reflection, (ii) chip, (iii) paper, and (iv) collet technique.

 

(i) Reflection Technique

Tooling Note: This technique requires a reflective surface (e.g., transparent materials such as PS or PMMA), but otherwise does not require any specific tooling.

 

 

Step 1: Start with the tip of the tool slightly above the workpiece, with the spindle turned off.
Step 2: Looking from a near planar location with respect to the workpiece, lower the tool until the tool itself comes in contact with its reflection.
Step 3: Set this location as z = 0.

Tip:         Placing a piece of paper behind the tool will improve contrast, making it easier to identify when the tool contacts the reflection. A magnifying glass can be used to improve visibility.

 

(ii) Chip Technique

Tooling Note: This technique does not require any specific tooling.

 

 

Step 1: Start with the tool slightly above the surface with the spindle running (i.e., the tool should be rotating).
Step 2: Lower the tool towards the surface until either (a) a chip is observed, (b) a mark is made on the surface, or (c) a sound is made from the tool cutting the material.
Step 3: Set this location as z = 0.

Tip:      This method works best for large and flat endmills, and can be more difficult with small endmills or any tool that is pointed or round at the tip. Note that this is a physical contact method, and will blemish the surface.

 

(iii) Paper Technique

Tooling Note: This technique requires a small piece of paper of known thickness.

 

 

Step 1: Start with the tool above the surface with the spindle turned off.
Step 2: Place a piece of paper (with known thickness) between the tool and the workpiece.
Step 3: While moving the piece of paper back and forth, lower the tool in stepwise increments.
Step 4: Continue lowering the tool until it causes resistance to the sliding piece of paper.
Step 5: Set this location as z = the thickness of the paper (e.g., .003”)

Tip:      Practice more to become comfortable with identifying when the endmill comes in contact with the surface.

(iv) Collet Technique

Tooling Note: This technique requires an ER20 tool holder (#31829, Tormach) from the Tormach Tooling System (TTS) and an ER20 1/8” collet (#30112, Tormach).

 

 

Step 1: Place tool in collet and secure using the setscrew on the side.
Step 2: Without the spindle running, lower the tool until it is just above the surface.
Step 3: Loosen the setscrew and allow the tool to fall into contact with the workpiece.
Step 4: Tighten the setscrew.
Step 5: Set this location as z = 0.

 

X-Y Plane Direction

Fig 2. Techniques for aligning the tool in the xy plane. (A) Illustrations of the (i) edgefinder, (ii) chip, and (iii) paper techniques. (B) Guide to offsetting a tool (left) and finding the center of an object (right).

 

(i) Edgefinder Technique

Tooling Note:
This technique requires an edgefinder (e.g., #02035186, MSC Industrial Supply).

 

 

Step 1: Place edgefinder in collet and start spindle (1000 rpm works well with the edgefinder).
Step 2: Deflect the tip of the edgefinder so that it lies eccentric to its initial axis.
Step 3: Starting with the x-axis, move the edgefinder toward a perpendicular surface. The tip of the edgefinder will become concentric upon contact with surface, and then return to an eccentric position immediately afterward. This sudden “jump” in eccentricity marks the edge.
Step 4: Set the current location to either plus or minus the radius of the tip. See Fig. 2B for more details on deciding a positive or negative bias.

Chip Technique

Tooling Note: This technique does not require any specific tooling.

 

 

Step 1: Start with the tool near the face of interest with the spindle running (i.e., the tool should be rotating).
Step 2: Step the tool towards the surface, until (a) a chip is observed, (b) a mark is made on the surface, or (c) a sound is made from the tool cutting the material.
Step 3: Set this location as (plus or minus) the radius of the endmill.

Tip:      This method works best for large diameter endmills. Note that this is a physical contact method, and will blemish the surface.

Paper Technique

Tooling Note: This technique requires a small piece of paper of known thickness.

 

 

Step 1: Start with the tool near the face of interest with the spindle running
Step 2: Gripping gently with thumb and fore-finger, or by pressing it against the surface place a piece of paper between the tool and the surface.
Step 3: Step the tool towards the surface until the tool pulls the paper.
Step 4: Set this location as (plus or minus) the sum of the endmill radius and paper thickness.

Tip:                  This method works best for large endmills.
Caution:          Be sure to keep fingers clear of the cutting tool.

References


1.   Guckenberger DJ, de Groot T, Wan AMD, Beebe DJ, Young EWK, “Micromilling: A method for ultra-rapid prototyping of plastic microfluidic devices”, Lab on a Chip, DOI:10.1039/c5lc00234f (2015).

2.   Guckenberger DJ, de Groot T, Wan AMD, Beebe DJ, Young EWK, “Micromilling Techniques I: Securing Thin Plastic Workpieces for Precise Milling”, Chips & Tips (2015).

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2 Responses to “Micromilling Techniques II: Tool Alignment”

  1. Correlations are made in the middle of micromilling and other basic creation systems for plastics as far as specialized abilities and expense. The principle examination concentrates “on the best way to” parts of micromilling, to empower a client to choose appropriate hardware and devices, and get usable microfluidic parts with insignificant start-up time and exertion. The supplementary data gives more broad discourse on CNC factory setup, arrangement, and programming.

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