Front. Mech. Eng. China 2008, 3(1): 59–65 DOI 10.1007/s11465-008-0005-6


Hongtao LI, Xinmin LAI, Chengfeng LI, Zhongqin LIN, Jiancheng MIAO, Jun NI

Development of meso-scale milling machine tool and its performance analysis


Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag 2008

Abstract To overcome the shortcomings of current technologies for meso-scale manufacturing such as MEMS and ultra precision machining, this paper focuses on the investigations on the meso milling process with a miniaturized machine tool. First, the related technologies for the process mechanism studies are investigated based on the analysis of the characteristics of the meso milling process. An overview of the key issues is presented and research approaches are also proposed. Then, a mesoscale milling machine tool system is developed. The subsystems and their specifications are described in detail. Finally, some tests are conducted to evaluate the performance of the system. These tests consist of precision measurement of the positioning subsystem, the test for machining precision evaluation, and the experiments for machining mechanical parts with complex features. Through test analysis, the meso milling process with a miniaturized machine tool is proved to be feasible and applicable for meso manufacturing. Keywords meso scale, meso manufacturing, milling process, miniaturized machine tool



In recent years, miniaturized products with complex miniaturized features manufactured in small volumes are increasingly in demand for various industries, such as aerospace, biomedical, defense and so on. Most of these Translated from Chinese Journal of Mechanical Engineering, 2006, 42(11): 162–167 [译自: 机械工程学报] Hongtao LI, Xinmin LAI (*), Chengfeng LI, Zhongqin LIN, Jiancheng MIAO State Key Laboratory of Mechanical System and Vibration, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Shanghai 200030, China E-mail: [email protected] Jun NI Shien-Ming Wu Manufacturing Research Center, University of Michigan, Michigan 48109, USA

components fall into the scales from 10 microns to 1 millimeter, which is known as meso-scale in mechanical engineering. Current trends toward product miniaturization require fabrication techniques that can efficiently and economically produce meso-scale components with complex micro-features over a wide range of material types. The relative accuracy and feature size of several technologies for micro/meso scale manufacturing are listed in Table 1. It can be seen that there are two prevalent technologies that produce meso-scale components: MEMS and ultra-precision machining. However, several drawbacks of each technology have limited their further application to meso-scale manufacturing. For MEMS, it is limited to the production of 2.5D components in a narrow range of materials. On the other hand, for conventional ultra precision machining, the overall efficiency is very low for meso-scale production. In addition, the investment required for both technologies are extremely high, which causes the manufacturing cost to increase considerably. The meso milling process with miniaturized machine tool is considered as an attractive technology as it can offer many advantages, including: high relative precision, reduced footprint, low cost and low energy consumption, etc. Table 1 nologies

Application dimension of meso manufacturing tech-

Nano-technology MEMS Meso-scale Ultra-precision machining

feature size L/mm

relative precision c

10 210 102321 0.0121 0.12103

102221021 102321022 102521023 102621023



Due to these advantages, a drive for the development of meso-scale machine tool (mMT) has become the focus of many researchers around the world. For meso-scale machine tool development, the Japanese government initiated a national R&D program called ‘‘Micromachining Technology’’ in 1991, and the first micro lathe measuring about 32 mm 6 25 mm 6 30.5 mm was


Hongtao LI, et al.

developed in 1996. Lu [1] performed micro machining experiments on the miniaturized machine tool. However, most of these works focused on how to establish much smaller machine tools and resulted in extremely high investment. Moreover, the precision of the system was not comparable with the conventional ultra-precision machine tool since they did not implement the mechanism studies. Therefore, there is very little experience and knowledge on the machine tool system design and expected performance. The research findings and approaches previously developed for the conventional machining process are no longer applicable for the mesoscale process. Focusing on this problem, several famous colleges in the US, like the University of Michigan (UM), Northwest University (NWU) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), sponsored a series of research programs named M4 (Micro/Meso Mechanical Manufacturing) in 2000 [2]. Several micromachine prototypes have been established since then. Different from the researches in Japan, their works mainly focused on the mechanism study of mechanical processes at the meso scale. In China, some preliminary researches and literature reviews were carried out by Tsinghua University [3] and Harbin Institute of Technology [4]. This paper focuses on the meso milling process with a miniaturized milling machine tool. First, an overview of the key issues is presented and the research approaches are proposed as well. Then, a precision meso-scale machine system is established for the mechanism studies. Finally, some tests are designed to evaluate the system performances. Through the experimental analysis, the meso milling process is proved to be feasible and applicable.

2 Characteristics of the meso milling process Meso-scale milling with a miniaturized machine tool is not a process that is simply downsized from the conventional process. Features that dominate the processes at the conventional scale may no longer be important when considering the behavior at the meso scale. Conversely, the phenomena that could be neglected at the macro scale may be critical at the meso scale. They will be discussed as follows: 2.1

investigations and experiments are needed to reveal the underlying causative mechanics. 2.2

Micro-structure of the workpiece

In the studies of the conventional machining process, the material of the workpiece is considered as heterogeneous and isotropic. While for the meso-scale process, where the feed per tooth is almost smaller than the size of grains, the actual cutting process turns to be the cutting of grains at the micron level. In this condition, the micro structure, grain size and mechanical properties of grains will have a great effect on the meso-scale cutting. The microstructural components and their properties must be considered in the studies of meso scale machining. 2.3

Cutting edge radius of micro cutter

Cutting edge radius of end miller is the other significant feature of the meso scale process. Through some precision measurements, the edge radius of micro cutter whose diameter is 0.1 mm is usually 223 microns. For conventional machining, it is negligible compared with the cutting conditions. However, when the feed per tooth and the cutting depth are decreased to micron level and are comparable with the radius, this feature cannot be negligible any more. Instead, it becomes a dominant characteristic of the micro process. It is a significant point and needs to be investigated in detail. 2.4

Minimum chip thickness

Minimum chip thickness is one of the most essential characteristics that makes meso machining different from conventional machining process. It greatly influences the chip formation and machining process. The chip thickness should be separately modeled for the situation when the chip forms and does not form. The cutting force model should also be developed individually. All these considerations make the calculation of the critical chip thickness very important. It is essential for the parametric study to accurately identify this critical value with experiments and simulations. Due to the characteristics discussed above, it is necessary to carry out experiments and researches aiming at the milling operation at meso scale.

Size effect in meso cutting

3 Key issues in mechanism studies For conventional machining, cutting forces and energy should decrease with the decrease of removal material. However, when the scale falls into the micron level, the cutting force will be abnormally increased. This phenomenon has been observed in many experiments while there has been no mature theory to explain it. More

Researches in meso-scale manufacturing technology include two aspects: One is the producing technologies and the development of miniaturized machine tools capable of meso-scale components fabrication. This includes machine tool design and development of related

Meso-scale milling machine tool and its performance

devices and technologies. This portion will be discussed in section 4. The other part is the scientific fundamental research (since there are some predominant phenomena of machining at micron level, i.e., size effect, radius of micro cutter edge, minimum chip thickness and so on). Despite some works that had been conducted on the mechanism studies, most of them mainly implemented the methodologies and approaches of macro or micro process and experimental studies. To reveal the mechanism of meso-scale machining, the characteristics must be investigated and a series of accurate models should be developed to give a good description of the mechanics of these characteristics. Next, the key issues of mechanism studies of meso-scale milling will be presented in detail. 3.1



Chip formation is the critical issue in the study of the machining process. For meso-scale cutting, the deformation of a workpiece is divided into three phases: As the engagement is extremely small, it only consists elastic deformation, named as elastic deform phases; with increasing of engagement, ploughing occurs where the deformation consists of both elastic and plastic strain, but there is no chip formed in this phase; when the engagement increases to a certain value, the chip forms as the conventional process. Hence, chip formation is an essential phenomenon that meso machining makes different from the macro process and should be investigated carefully with the FEM simulations.

Modeling of material behaviors at meso scale 3.5

The work material model is the base of the FE modeling of the meso cutting process. The machining process is associated with large strains, strain rate, and temperatures, and for meso-scale machining, size effect is dominant in the process. Therefore, a material model capable of accurate description of these phenomena is required. From the research findings of mechanics, size effect is also observed in some material performance tests, and this kind of phenomenon is well explained with the plastic strain gradient theory. From this point, the strain gradient effect should be integrated in the flow stress and could be used to explain the size effect in the meso-scale machining. 3.2

Modeling of micro-structure of work material

As discussed in section 2, the micro structure of the work material has a significant influence on the meso machining process. A more detailed understanding of the mechanical behavior and properties of grains must be obtained and modeled by material tests and proper approaches. Microstructural composition, grain size, properties of grains will be investigated and modeled with grain tests and application of computational graphics. 3.3

Chip formation process

FE modeling of meso-scale machining process

Based on the work material model and microstructure model, a FEM-based process model for orthogonal machining process can be developed. In addition, some dominant features, such as the tool edge radius, boundary conditions, and frictions should be accurately described in the model. ABAQUS/Explicit is selected for its powerful modeling and solving capability. Moreover, another important part for the process modeling is the calibration and validation. Since the FEM model is fundamental and associates with many parameters, necessary validation experiments are needed and should be designed and performed carefully.

Dynamics analysis of the machine tool

For the meso-scale machine tool, vibration has an impact on the performance of the machine and the micro machining process. Compared with the conventional ultra-precision machine tool, the excitation, which is mainly the micro cutting force and the force caused by runout of the spindle of the system is the same. However, the mass of components of the machine tool is much lighter than that of conventional machines. Therefore, the response must be much more intensive than the ultraprecision machine tool. In turn, this intensive vibration will have many impacts on the performance of the machine tool. 1. It will cause a large relative displacement between the workpiece and the tool, which will influence the surface generation. 2. The intensive vibration will cause the fluctuation of the milling force, which is also the force that micro tools sustain. This might cause the abnormal breaking and wear of the micro tool. 3.6

Surface integrity and quality

Surface finish is the most important since it represents the end-goal of the operation. It involves several considerations: surface integrity (i.e., depth of deformation, cutting defects, and residual stresses) and quality (i.e., hardness, roughness, flatness, etc.). They are highly important for finished machined components due to their influence on fatigue and service life. Little knowledge is currently available on this field when the size dimension is scaled to the meso scale. To obtain optimized parameters for surface performance, the effect of machining conditions should be studied with the help of experiments. 3.7

Parametric studies and process optimization

A parametric study is essential for the processing optimization. As mentioned above, most of the current practices in selecting the parameters of meso-scale machining are based on extensive experimentation and


Hongtao LI, et al.

trial-and-error, which make the precision not applicable and the cost of the machine extremely high. The accurate and reliable model to predict process variables would help to optimize the metal-cutting process. Many parametric study approaches, designs of experiment methods and optimization algorithms of the conventional process can be used. 3.8

Tool wear and tool life

For the meso-scale milling process, the micro tool is one of the most sensitive factors. Production efficiency, cost and surface quality are all related to the tool performance. Meso-scale milling utilizes end mills typically with the diameter ranging from 100 to 500 microns. Their ratio of wear volume to the portion of the tool getting involved in cutting is much larger than that of the macro-milling process, which surely induces great changes in the processing characteristics, including surface roughness, milling forces, dynamic performances and so on. Therefore, it is very important to conduct a tool wear and tool life study and take it into account the milling forces and surface roughness modeling of the meso-scale milling process.


Development of meso-scale machine tool

To carry out the experiments needed for the research, a meso-scale machine tool was established. A photo of the meso scale machine tool is shown in Fig. 1. The overall volume of the machine tool is 270 mm 6 190 mm 6 220 mm, and the working volume is about 30 mm 6 30 mm 6 30 mm. A scheme of the whole mMT system is shown in Fig. 2. It consists of five subsystems: the precision positioning subsystem, the air spindle subsystem, the motion control subsystem, the micro milling tools, and the 3-component precision cutting force measurement subsystem.

Fig. 2

sizes of the features to be machined and the relative accuracies desired, the physical target values for the positioning subsystem were set at 30 mm travel range. The positioning revolution of the stage is 50 nanometers. The measurements and analysis of positioning accuracy will be discussed in the fifth section. 4.2

Air spindle subsystem

The spindle is required to provide the necessary cutting velocity for the machining process. In the case of the mMT, the spindle speeds have to be extremely high to compensate for the very low cutting tool diameters. For the mMT, an air spindle is chosen for its high precision and high speed. Its maximal speed is 120000 rpm, and the runout is within 1 micron. From Fig. 2, it can be seen that the spindle system consists of an air supplier, an air filter and an air spindle. Another essential consideration is the stiffness of the spindle support. It has significant influence on the dynamic performance of the whole system. For the mMT, the material of the support is steel 9445, which has a very high stiffness. Figure 3 shows the inner structure of the air spindle.

Fig. 3

4.3 Fig. 1


Meso-scale machine tool

High-precision positioning subsystem

From Fig. 1, three precision stages can be seen being arranged in a horizontal configuration. Considering the

Scheme of the mMT system

Structure of the air spindle

Motion control subsystem

The motion control subsystem consists of an industrial control computer, a PMAC motion controller, the drivers for the motorized stages, and the software for CAM and motion control. The motion controller is required to generate very complex motions for producing some complex parts with complex geometry features. The PMAC controller is one

Meso-scale milling machine tool and its performance

of the most powerful, which is widely used in ultraprecision control systems. 4.4


accuracy in X and Y direction are ¡ 0.159 mm, ¡ 0.328 mm, respectively.

Micro milling tool

At present, micro carbide tools with a diameter down to 0.1 mm are commercially available from some suppliers in both ball and flat-end mills. It can satisfy the production of very small features. The milling tools used for the tests mentioned in this paper have the diameter of 0.127 mm (1/200 inch). 4.5 High-precision milling forces measurement subsystem For the meso machining process, the cutting force is usually as small as several hundreds of micro Newtons. Nevertheless, the frequency is extremely high. Both of the magnitude and frequency require a multi-component force dynamometer with very high precision. In the mMT system, Kistler 9317B is chosen. The threshold is only 10 mN.


Fig. 4 Arrangement of precision measurement system.1. retroreflector, 2. material temperature sensor, 3. air temperature sensor, 4. processor module, 5. laser head module, 6. data acquisition system

Performance analysis of mMT

After the mMT was established, many tests are designed to evaluate its performances. These tests include: precision measurements, performance tests and processing capability tests. From these tests, it is obvious that the system has a very high precision and can fully satisfy the production requirements of meso-scale components with complex features over a wide range of materials. 5.1

Positioning accuracy measurements of the stage Fig. 5

The performance of the mMT lies on the precision of the XYZ stage. For the mMT, since the geometry features are usually very small, the demand of the motion’s precision is higher. Before the mMT is put to use, positioning accuracy measurement is carried out to evaluate the precision. A laser measurement system from Optidyne Corporation was utilized to measure the accuracy of the stages. The system arrangement is shown in Fig. 4. Through the error measurements, error analysis and error compensations, the positioning accuracy could be improved a lot. After these steps, the accuracy measurements are carried out and the results are shown in Fig. 5. Measurements are conducted five times from the reference point (stroke end) at fixed intervals (5 mm) in both directions within the full-stroke range. In the figure, ‘F’ stands for forward, while ‘B’ means backward. As a result, we determined that the positioning accuracy of the stage is about 1.62 mm. Other precision indexes were also analyzed: the repeatability is 0.313 mm, the straightness


Accuracy measurements

Machining precision evaluation

To evaluate the machining precision of the system, two experiments were designed and performed: One is a plane machining experiment and the other is a concentric slots machining experiment. Figure 6 is the picture of a part in the plane machining test. The material of the workpiece is aluminum. The processing conditions were depth of cut of 10 mm, feedrate of 1.5 mm/rev and a spindle speed of 60000 rpm. Fig. 6a is the picture of the machined plane and Fig. 6b is the sampled data of the surface profile by atomic force microscopy (AFM). The surface roughness of the produced surface is calculated to be 144.57 nm. Figure 7 shows the SEM picture of the part in the concentric slots machining test. The material of the workpiece is brass. The diameter of the outside circle is about 1.5 millimeters. The minimal thickness of the walls


Hongtao LI, et al.

Fig. 6 AFM

Plane produced by meso scale milling process. (a) Picture of the machined plane, (b) Sample data of the surface profile by

Fig. 7

Concentric circle machining

Fig. 8 Logo of meso manufacturing workshop in SJTU. (a) CAD model, (b) Picture of the part

between circles is 20 microns. The max depth is 200 microns. Detailed dimensions are shown in the figure below. These tests show that our system has a very high machining accuracy. 5.3

Fabrication of the parts with complex features

Finally, to evaluate the processing capability, some parts with complex features are fabricated using the mMT system. The material of the workpiece is aluminum, and the tool used is 0.127 mm. The machining test is conducted at a depth of cut of 10 mm, feedrate of 1.5 mm/rev and the spindle speed of 60000 rpm.

Fig. 9 Logo of Shanghai Jiaotong University of China. (a) CAD model, (b) Picture of the part

Figure 8 shows the logo of our research team, Meso (Meso manufacturing workshop). Besides meso milling, meso forming, meso EDM and meso laser forming are also the research interests of our group and many works have been carried out. The left is the CAD model and the right is the photo of the workpiece. The dimension of the part is 4 mm 6 1.75 mm 6 0.03 mm, and the minimal feature size is only 0.1 mm. Figure 9 shows the logo of our research center, BMTC (Body Manufacturing Technology Center at Shanghai Jiaotong University). The left is the CAD model while the right is the photo of

Meso-scale milling machine tool and its performance

the workpiece. The dimension of the part is 6.875 mm 6 4.367 mm 6 0.02 mm, and the minimal feature size is only 0.1 mm. We can see from the picture that the profile of the features is pretty clear. These machining experiments can fully prove that the mMT system is feasible and applicable in the production of meso-scale components with complex micro features over a wide range of material types.



For meso-scale manufacturing, the meso milling process with a miniaturized machine tool provides a new potential technology that can offer many advantages such as high relative precision and low cost, etc. From the researches carried out in this paper, the following conclusions can be drawn: 1) Based on the analysis of the characteristics of the meso-scale process, key issues of its mechanism studies are presented and the corresponding research approaches are discussed as well. 2) To satisfy the requirements of practical application and mechanism studies of meso milling, a high-precision meso-scale machine tool system was built, which presents an experimental platform and research objective for the investigation of the meso milling process. 3) Many performance tests were conducted to examine the feasibility of the meso milling process with a miniaturized machine tool. The performance tests demonstrate that the system has very high precision and capable of meso-scale manufacturing. Acknowledgements This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 50575134).


References 1. Lu Z N, Takeshi Y. Micro cutting in the micro lathe turning system. International Journal of Machine Tools & Manufacture, 1999, 39: 1171–1183 2. Liu X, Vogler M P, Kapoor S G, et al. Micro- endmilling with meso-machine-tool system. NSF Design, Service and Manufacturing Grantees and Research Conference Proc, Dallas, TX, 2004: 1–9 (in Chinese) 3. Sun Y Z, Liang Y C, Cheng K. Micro scale and meso scale mechanical manufacturing. Chinese Journal of Mechanical Engineering, 2004, 40(5): 1–6 (in Chinese) 4. ZhaoW S, LIiW Z, Wang Z L. Research on a high precision micro EDM system. Electromachining & Mould, 2004, 1: 6–9 5. Kurita T, Hattori M. Development of new concept desk top size machine tool. International Journal of Machine Tool and manufacture, 2005, 45: 959–965 6. Lucca D A, Rhorer R L, Komanduri R. Energy dissipation in the ultraprecision machining of copper. CIRP Ann, 1991, 40: 69–72 7. Vogler M P, Devor R E, Kapoor S G, et al. MicrostructureLevel force prediction model for micro-milling of multi- phase materials. ASME Journal of Manufacturing Science and Engineering, 2003, 125: 202–209 8. Kim C J, Mayor J R, Ni J. A static model of chip formation in microscale milling. ASME Journal of Manufacturing Science and Engineering, 2004, 126: 710–718 9. Ikawa N, Shimsfs S, Tanaka H. Minimum thickness of cut in micromachining. Nanotechnology, 1992, 3: 6–9 10. Milton C S. Metal Cutting Principles. London: Clarendon Press, 1984 11. Zhao H Y, Jiang Z D, Tian S J. Analysis on some factors influencing surface quality in nanoscale ultra-precision cutting. Chinese Journal of Mechanical Engineering, 2004, 40(4): 190–194 (in Chinese) 12. Rahman M, Kumar A S, Prakash J R S. Micro milling of pure copper. Journal of Materials Processing Technology, 2001, 116: 39–43 (in Chinese) 13. Tian Y L, Liang Y C, Cheng K, et al. Effect mechanism of tool cutting edge in ultraprecision cutting process. China Mechanical Engineering, 2004, 15: 1320–1322 (in Chinese)

Development of meso-scale milling machine tool and ... - Springer Link

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