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of Manufacturing
of Manufacturing
Vol. 6/No.
Vol.1 6/No. 1
2004 2004

Study of Pulse Electrochemical Micromachining

J. Kozak, Warsaw University of Technology, Warsaw, Poland
K.P. Rajurkar and Y. Makkar, Center for Nontraditional Manufacturing Research,
University of NebraskaLincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA

Abstract three-dimensional microcomponents. Besides tradi-

The need for complex and accurate microcomponents is tional machining techniques such as microturning
increasing rapidly for many industrial and consumer prod- and milling, attention is being focused on nontradi-
ucts. The electrochemical machining (ECM) process has the tional machining techniques such as micro electri-
potential of generating desired crack-free and stress-free
cal discharge machining (EDM) and micro
surfaces of microcomponents. However, it is necessary to
modify the existing ECM process for reduction of the electrochemical machining (ECM) and laser machin-
interelectrode gap (improved accuracy) and higher local- ing because of their unique characteristics (Datta and
ized electrochemical dissolution (smaller feature size). This Romankiw 1989; Datta, Shinoy, and Romankiw
paper reports a newly developed pulse electrochemical 1993; Datta 1998; Masuzawa 2000). The ability of
micromachining (ECMM) process for generating complex 2
and possibly 3-D microcomponents of high accuracy. A math- ECM in rapidly generating a stress-free and crack-
ematical model based on the first principle of the process free smooth surface on any electrically conductive
mechanism has been developed and experimentally veri- material (irrespective of hardness) makes it an ex-
fied using a recently designed and built ECMM system. The cellent choice as a microproduction process. Elec-
effect of voltage and feed rate on process performance has
been studied. The application of the proposed method has trochemical machining (ECM) is based on a
been illustrated by machining complex cavities of 160 m controlled anodic dissolution process of the
and 180 m slot width with straight edges. workpiece (anode) with the tool as the cathode in an
electrolyte cell. In the ECM process, a low voltage
Keywords: Electrochemical Machining, Pulse Electrochem- (830 V) is normally applied between electrodes with
ical Micromachining, Micromachining, Microcomponent Man-
ufacturing a small gap (usually 0.20.8 mm), producing a high
current density of the order of 10100 A/cm , and a
metal removal rate ranging from 0.1 mm /min. to
Introduction 3
10 mm/min. Electrolyte (typically NaCl or NaNO3
It is expected that the world market for microparts aqueous solutions) is supplied to flow through the
and microproducts needed in all areas of industrial gap with a velocity of 1050 m/s to maintain the
and consumer products will reach 60 billion USD electrochemical dissolution with a high rate to flush
by 2005 (Alting et al. 2003; Eversheim et al. 1997). away the reactions products (usually gases and hy-
Many existing precision engineering technologies droxides) and the heat generated by the passage of
in modified form are being tried to manufacture current and electrochemical reactions.
microcomponents. At the same time, new processes However, to make ECM suitable for microma-
are being developed to produce microscale parts with chining applications, it is necessary to develop a
desired accuracies (Kirchmer et al. 2001; Kozak, modified ECM system that will provide as small a
Rajurkar, and Wei 1994; Shuster et al. 2000). The gap as possible (for higher accuracy) and highly
process technologies such as lithography, various localized and controlled electrochemical dissolu-
etching techniques, and the deposition of thin films tion (for desired microfeatures). Instead of design-
are being used mainly to produce two-dimensional ing and fabricating a tool for a given component
microcomponents (Friedrich et al. 1997; Jerman and size and shape, a recently reported electrochemi-
Terry 1997). However, only recently have attempts cal micromachining (ECMM) approach uses a uni-
been made to investigate processes for producing versal tool electrode (e.g., cylindrical) that is
numerically controlled. Although the feasibility of
This paper is an original work and has not been previously published such a system has been described in Kirchmer et
except in the Transactions of NAMRI/SME, Vol. 31, 2003. al. (2001) and Shuster et al. (2000), a comprehen-

Journal of Manufacturing Processes
Vol. 6/No. 1

sive study consisting of a mathematical model for tion of ultra short (in microseconds) voltage pulses
the micromachining process and influence of ma- (Kirchmer et al. 2001). It seems that the localization of
chining parameters on the process performance dissolution coupled with the capability of NC drive
has not been reported. This paper presents such a system to obtain a stable and highly accurate feed (of
micro ECM system, related mathematical model the order of nanometer scale) in the direction of depth
for microshaping, and experimental verification of cut helps in maintaining a very small and stable gap
and results. between the workpiece and the tool electrode.
The anodic electrochemical dissolution occurs
ECMM Process and Model during the short pulse-on time, tp, each ranging from
0.005 to 5 ms, for the pulse ECM process and 5 ns
The proposed numerically controlled ECMM (NC-
to 5000 ns for the ECMM process using ultra short
ECMM) process uses a universal flat-faced wire tool
voltage pulses (Figure 1). The dissolution products
electrode, which is moved in a manner similar to
(sludge, gas bubbles, and heat) can be flushed away
that of a miniature milling cutter, along the three axes
from the interelectrode gap by the flowing electro-
using a computer-controlled nanoresolution drive
lyte during the pulse-off time, to = T tp, where T is
system. The proposed NC-ECMM method has nu-
the cycle time.
merous advantages, such as the elimination of the
Existing work on pulse ECM has shown consid-
tool design process, which is complex, time con-
erable improvements in dimensional controllability,
suming, and costly. Additionally, with the proposed
shaping accuracy, process stability, and simplifica-
approach, the long path of electrolyte flow is elimi-
tion of tool design (Kozak, Rajurkar, and Wei 1994).
nated, thus maintaining a small interelectrode gap,
These performance characteristics of pulse ECM,
which is necessary for accurate micromachining.
along with the abovementioned special circuit for
A very small gap of a few micrometers range is
localization of electrochemical dissolution, make the
achieved through a specially designed circuit con-
proposed ECMM a very desirable alternative for pro-
sisting of two electrodes submerged in electrolyte
ducing accurate and complex 3-D microcomponents.
and resulting in electrochemical double layers (DL)
The purpose of ECMM process modeling is to
on electrode surfaces. The DL works like a parallel
predict the shape of the workpiece for a given set
plate capacitor, which gets charged during the pulse-
of machining conditions. To formulate the math-
on time and is discharged during the pulse-off time.
ematical model, a general case is considered that
This phenomenon of DL helps building a special
describes the changes in the electrochemically
circuit, which consists of the DL itself, a variable
generated shape of a workpiece using a wire tool
DC power supply, and a pulse power supply. A very
electrode. It is assumed that a coordinate system
small DC voltage reinforced with the high-frequency
is attached to the workpiece, which is stationary
pulse voltage is supplied to the machining chamber
during machining.
through this circuit. As the electrochemical reactions
The workpiece surface at a given point in time
are exponentially dependent on the potential drop
(Figure 2) is described as: z = Z (x,y,t).
in the DL, the reactions are confined to the polar-
Following are additional assumptions that have
ized regions, which are very close to the electrode
been made in developing the mathematical model
surfaces. However, the discharging of DL during the
of the ECMM process:
pulse-off time is neutralized by the DC voltage,
thereby preventing the reversal of polarity and hence
preventing the tool dissolution. U
The ECMM process, similar to pulse ECM, uses a
pulse generator to supply the working voltage pulses
across the two electrodes, typically in the form of
tp t
pulse strings consisting of single pulses or group
pulses (Figure 1). The proposed ECMM approach T

results in the localization of the electrochemical dis- Figure 1

solution to sub-micrometer regions, by the applica- Principle Scheme of ECMM Process

Journal of Manufacturing Processes
Vol. 6/No. 1

Electrolyte flow rate between the two electrodes where u is the potential gradient and is the elec-
is high enough to neglect changes in electrical trical conductivity of the electrolyte.
conductivity of electrolyte. Based on electrical neutrality of the electrolyte,
Workpiece material is homogeneous. the electric field is sourceless and has a quasi-sta-
Reaction products do not affect electrolyte tionary nature. Therefore, the distribution of electri-
properties. cal potential, u, in the electrolyte can be described
Workpiece (anode) surface is uniformly cov- by the following:
ered by electrolyte.
Electrical field in the gap is quasi-stationary. div( u) = 0 (4)
Primary distribution of electrical potential in the
gap, i.e., electrode polarization is constant and (div = divergence)
is taken as an average value. Assuming that heating and gas generation do not
affect electrolyte conductivity in the interelectrode
A moving boundary simulation is required to pre- gap, Eq. (4) can be transformed into a Laplace equa-
dict the final shape where, at each time step, the dis- tion, as follows:
tribution of dissolution velocity on the workpiece
surface needs to be determined. According to elec- 2 u 2u 2u
+ + =0 (5)
trochemical shaping theory, the evolution of the x 2 y 2 z 2
shape of the workpiece Z (x, y, t) (Kozak 1967) can
be described as follows: The boundary conditions for Eqs. (1)(5) are
given by the state of the system on the electrodes.
2 Assuming perfectly conducting electrodes, connected
= Kv iA 1+ + with the external source of voltage U, the boundary
t x y conditions can be given as follows:
where Kv is the coefficient of electrochemical ma- U = E c (t) on the cathode (TE)
chinability and iA is the current density on the anode
At the beginning, at time t = 0, the initial space of u = U(t) Ea (t) on the anode(WP)
the workpiece surface is given by the following:

z = Z0 (x, y) (2) u on the insulating walls

In the region where the concentration gradient can
be ignored, Ohms law in differential form describes The last condition expresses the fact that current
current density i in the electrolyte, as follows: does not flow through an insulator. The anodic po-
v tential, Ea, and the cathodic potential, Ec, depend on
i = u (3) current density and are determined by the sum of
both the concentration and the activation over po-
TE tential for each electrode.
Equations (1)(5) give the relative motion of
U the electrode. The governing partial differential
equations have been solved by the finite differ-
ence method for simulating the shape generation
by ECMM. A small time interval, t, needs to be
z z=Z(x,y,t) selected so that the interfaces can be regarded as
stationary when calculating the electrical field and
Figure 2 current density on the anode during this time in-
Scheme for Modeling ECMM
(TETool electrode, WPWorkpiece) terval. After solving the corresponding problem

Journal of Manufacturing Processes
Vol. 6/No. 1

for a known boundary, the problem is solved, it-

Tool electrode
eratively, for a new boundary at the next instant,
given by t +t.
At known time, t, the partial differential Eq. (1)
can be further modified to represent the profile gen-
eration of a workpiece during machining (Figure 2) Electrolyte supply line
in two sections separately, one describing the fron-
tal gap and second describing the side gap. P
Return line
The equation in the differential form for the fron-
tal gap is obtained as follows: Drive table

dz 1 (6) NC control unit

= Oscilloscope
dx 2
2 2

( )
x + z 1
Kv (U E)
and similarly for the side gap the equation is ob-
tained as:
Figure 3
Schematic Diagram for ECMM Process

dy 1 (7)
= A 30X magnification microscope (with two mea-

( )
dx Vf
2 2 2 suring micrometer attachments of 1 m least count

K (UE) x + y R 1 for 2-D measurements) is used to measure the length
v and width of the machined microcavity. To measure
where V is the feed rate of tool electrode, is the the depth of the cavity, a needle probe attached on a
duty factor, R is the tool electrode radius, E is the Mitutoyo dial gauge having a least count of 0.002
potential drop, and is the electrolyte conductivity. mm is used.
To verify the theoretical results obtained using Eqs. Similar to the conventional ECM process, the
(6) and (7), the following experimental study has ECMM process performance is mainly governed
been conducted. by the electrical potential difference between the
electrodes, interelectrode distance, and the tool
Experimental Setup and Procedure electrode feed rate. However the ECMM process
The ECMM experiment setup designed is shown
in Figure 3. The specifications of the designed and Table 1
System Specifications
developed ECMM system are listed in Table 1.
The system mainly consists of a three-axis NC Drive System
Motor type DC
drive table, a high-frequency pulse power supply, a
Maximum travel 15 mm
variable DC power supply, a 20X magnification mi-
Resolution 7 nm
croscope, and an oscilloscope. The drive table pro- Number of axes 3
vides a motion along each axis by a micro translation Maximum velocity 1.4 mm/sec
motor, which in turn can be controlled by a control- Operating system Windows 2000
ler installed in a computer. Thus, any complex 3-D Operating software Win Move
motion of the drive table and hence of the workpiece Power Supply

is obtained by writing a program in the Windows - Operation mode Pulse or DC
based software of the controller. An oscilloscope is Current output 0 1A
connected in parallel to the power supply line of the Voltage output 0 15 V
electrochemical machining cell to monitor the cur- Pulse frequency 10 Hz 1000 KHz
rent waveforms. Duty Cycle 20% 80%

Journal of Manufacturing Processes
Vol. 6/No. 1

involves the use of pulse power supply, therefore machining the slots of 2 mm length on stainless
the pulse parameters, which are pulse-on time, steel (SS-440). The electrolyte used is 10% solu-
duty cycle, and pulse frequency, also affect the tion of NaNO3. The initial interelectrode gap is
process performance. In this stage of investiga- kept at 20 m.
tion, the effect of pulse frequency, pulse voltage, After setting up control parameters, which are
duty cycle, and the tool electrode feed rate has the voltage, pulse frequency, duty factor, and the
been studied on the process performance. feed rate, an experiment is started by moving the
The performance measures in the present investi- workpiece relative to a stationary tool electrode
gation are dimensions of the microcavity machined. in a desired profile in an electrolyte environment
Two measured dimensions side gap along the repeatedly to remove material layer by layer simi-
width (Sx) and side gap along the length (Sy) are lar to that of removing material by a miniature
shown in Figure 4a. The frontal gap (that is, the dis- milling cutter. At the end of each iteration, the
tance between the workpiece surface and the flat face workpiece is given a microfeed relative to the tool
of the tool during steady-state ECM operation) is electrode in the direction opposite to the depth of
shown in Figure 4b. cut. Because ECMM is a self-adjusting process,
Initially, a tool electrode of diameter 280 m after certain number of iterations the machining
(made by the micro WEDM process) is used for process reaches an equilibrium state such that the
downward feed and the machining rate in each
iteration become equal. It has been determined ex-
perimentally that starting with an initial gap of 20
m, and for any value of control parameters in the
range as specified earlier, the equilibrium state is
Tool electrode obtained after approximately 80120 iterations,
Sx Machined given the feed is maintained between 0 and 1 m.
L1 An extensive experimental investigation was
conducted following a full-factorial experimental
design scheme of four factors, two levels each and
three repetitions for each treatment. ANOVA re-
sults (including second-order interactions) for each
b of the performance measures (side and frontal
X 2
gaps) indicated a high R value (95.76%), sug-
(a) gesting that all four factors play an important role
in obtaining the small gaps. However, the men-
tioned gaps were consistently smaller at the 1 MHz
level of frequency and the interaction effect of fre-
Tool electrode quency with other factors was not found to be sig-
nificant. So further investigation was carried out
at a frequency level of 1 MHz, and the voltage
S0 and feed rate were found to be most significant.
The effect of these two factors (at 1 MHz frequency
level) is shown in Figures 5 and 6.
Experimental Results
The side gap and frontal gap are calculated as per
(b) the geometry shown in Figures 4a and 4b and by
measuring the slot width using the measurement sys-
Figure 4
(a) Side gap along width and along length,
tem described earlier.
(b) frontal gap from the face of the tool

Journal of Manufacturing Processes
Vol. 6/No. 1

The experimental results of the effect of voltage obtained are the outcome of a multiple number of
on side gap (Sx ) and frontal gap (Sf ) are shown in passes over a certain work area. So, to neutralize the
Figure 5. The plot shows that with the increase in difference of multiple number of passes and the as-
voltage both the side gap and the frontal gap increase. sumed data for theoretical modeling, the relative
A sudden increase in the gap can be observed at changes in the side gap and the frontal gap with the
about 12 volts, suggesting that it is necessary to keep input parameters (voltage) have been studied. The
the applied voltage below 10 volts. The microscopic strategy used for verification of the theoretical mod-
examination shows that the edges of the cavity ma- eling is to compare the percent increase in the side
chined are sharper at the lower voltage values. gap (or frontal gap) with the percent increase in volt-
It can be seen from Figure 6 that both the side gap age. In this, the smallest level of voltage has been
and the frontal gap decrease with increasing feed kept as the base voltage level, and the correspond-
rate. However, for the feed rate above 63 mm/min., ing value of side gap as the base value. The percent
the sharpness of the edges of the machined slots was increase in the side gap and frontal gap, with the
observed to be less. Therefore, for all the subsequent percent increase in the voltage with reference to the
analysis, the tool electrode feed rate has been kept base level, are shown in Figures 7 and 8.
between 21 and 63 mm/min. Figure 7 shows a very close agreement between
theoretical estimates and experimental results of the
Verification of Theoretical Model frontal gap, Sf. The figure shows that the frontal gap
The stated assumptions in the development of a increases linearly and increases by 100% for a simi-
theoretical model, such as the primary distribution lar increase in applied voltage. The agreement be-
of electrical potential in the gap is linear and the elec- tween the theoretical estimates and experimental
trode polarization is constant and is taken as an av- results of the side gap is limited to a narrow range of
erage value, and the other assumptions, stand valid voltage with the 100 % increase in base voltage value
for the first-order approximation of the process. Also (12 V). The experimental side gap is almost 2.5 times
in this stage of investigation, the data for mathemati- that predicted by the theoretical model at higher volt-
cal modeling, the value of overpotential (E = 3 V), age. The close agreement around 8 V and the large
and Kv (1.2 mm / A min) has been assumed. But differences at 12 V can be attributed to a finding
these values may be different during the experimen- that, in micromachining, supplying a low voltage
tal conditions and also may not remain constant (less than 10 V) is a necessary condition for main-
throughout the process. Additionally, the simulation taining the small gaps.
results have been obtained only for a single pass of The results obtained by the initial analysis of the
the tool electrode, while the experimental results ECMM process have been applied further for the

0.18 55
Side gap Side gap
Gap in micrometers

Gap in mm

Frontal gap
0.04 15
Frontal gap
0.02 10
4 6 8 10 12 14 10 30 50 70 90
Voltage (V) Vf mm/min

Figure 5 Figure 6
Effect of Voltage on Side Gap and Frontal Gap Effect of Feed Rate on Side Gap and Frontal Gap

Journal of Manufacturing Processes
Vol. 6/No. 1

2.15 6.00
Frontal gap ratio to

1.95 5.00

Side gap ratio to

the base level

the base level

1.15 2.00
.95 1.00
.75 0.00
0.75 1.00 1.25 1.50 1.75 2.00 2.25 0.75 1.00 1.25 1.50 1.75 2.00 2.25
Voltage ratio to the base level Voltage ratio to the base level

Theoretical Experimental Theoretical Experimental

Linear (Experimental) Linear (Theoretical) Linear (Experimental) Linear (Theoretical)

Figure 7 Figure 8
Comparison of Experimental and Comparison of Experimental and
Theoretical Results for Frontal Gap Theoretical Results for Side Gap

fabrication of complex microcavities in the shape of and also the straight walls of the slot in Figures 9
an arrowhead, with the tool electrode of 100 m and 10 also confirm the applicability of the proposed
diameter. Simulation of the ECMM process using the ECMM system. Therefore, by using the proposed
developed theoretical model for a smaller sized tool machining scheme, and using the designed ECMM
electrode (100 m) also revealed that at smaller volt- setup, which is equipped with the computer-con-
age levels (45 V) and keeping the other parameters trolled nanoresolution 3-D drive system, 2-D mi-
same as in the previously conducted experiments crostructures can be fabricated very effectively. The
would result in metal dissolution in the very close application of the proposed system with motorized
vicinity of tool electrode (around 20 m). The theo- X, Y, and Z-axis CNC control to generate 3-D com-
retical side gap and the frontal gap values were found plex cavities is under investigation.
in the range of 20 to 30 m.
A microcavity with a slot width 160 m has been Conclusions
generated with the application of 5 V pulses of 1 The ECMM process has been found to be a
MHz frequency, initial interelectrode gap of 20 m, promising machining method for generating com-
and tool electrode feed rate of 42 mm/min. (Figure plex microcavities. The application of microsec-
9). Similarly, a microcavity of pentagonal shape has ond pulse durations and the small interelectrode
been generated with a slot width of 180 m (Figure gap maintained by a highly accurate, numerically
10). The sharp edges of the triangle and the sides controlled tool electrode movement, assures the

160 m
180 m

30X 30X

1.5 mm
2.18 mm

Figure 9 Figure 10
Triangular Microcavity by ECMM Process Pentagonal Microcavity by ECMM Process

Journal of Manufacturing Processes
Vol. 6/No. 1

desired results. Some key findings from both the References

theoretical modeling and the experimental inves- Alting, L.; Kimura, F.; Hansen, H.N.; and Bissacco, G. (2003). Mi-
tigation are listed as follows: cro engineering. Annals of the CIRP (v52/2), pp1-22.
Datta, M. and Romankiw, L.T. (1989). Application of chemical and
electrochemical micro machining in the electronics industries.
1. Key factors affecting ECMM process perfor- Electrochem Society, 136, pp 285C-292C.
mance are voltage, feed rate, frequency, and Datta, M.; Shinoy, R.V.; and Romankiw, L.T. (1993). Recent ad-
2 vances in the study of electrochemical micro machining. ASME
duty factor. A high R value (95.76%) from Journal of Mfg. Science and Engg. (PED-v64), pp675-692.
the ANOVA results indicates the validity of Datta, M. (1998). Microfabrication by electrochemical metal re-
the model. moval. IBM Journal of Research and Development (v42, n5),
2. A theoretical assumption of application of high- Eversheim, W.; Klocke, F.; Pfeifer, P.; and Weck, M., eds. (1997).
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higher frequency (1 MHz) indicated smaller Vol. 2: Micromachining and Microfabrication, Rai-Choudury, P.,
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Kirchmer, V.; Cagnon, L.; Shuster, R.; and Ertl, G. (2001). Elec-
tally verified. A close agreement between the trochemical machining of stainless steel microelements with
theoretical estimates and experimental values ultra short voltage pulses. Applied Physics Letters (v79, nII),
at the frontal gap has been observed. Similarly, Kozak, J.; Rajurkar, K.P.; and Wei, B. (1994). Modeling and analysis
a close agreement for side gap values has also of pulse electrochemical machining (PECM). ASME Journal of
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Authors Biographies
Further work on micro ECM involves the intro-
Dr. J. Kozak is a professor of manufacturing technology at the War-
duction of the planetary motion of the tool electrode, saw University of Technology, Poland. He was a visiting professor at the
integration of the micro EDM and micro ECM, and University of Nebraska during 19901994 and 20002002. His re-
generation of 3-D microcavities. search interests include nontraditional machining processes and microma-
chining and their industrial applications.
Dr. K. Rajurkar is Distinguished Professor of Engineering and Direc-
Acknowledgments tor of the Center for Nontraditional Manufacturing Research at the Uni-
The authors are thankful for the support from the versity of NebraskaLincoln. His research interests include nontraditional
machining processes at the macro, micro, and nano scale.
Nebraska Research Initiative Fund (NRI). Dr. K.P.
Mr. Y. Makker finished his MS degree with a thesis in micro-
Rajurkar acknowledges support from the National ECM. Currently he is pursuing his PhD degree at the University of
Science Foundation. NebraskaLincoln.