Printed electronic sensors for real-time monitoring of metal machining


RESEARCHERS in the UK are developing embedded sensors and electronic components for the real-time monitoring of machined metal parts.

The two-year Intelligent Tooling project is a collaboration between the Centre for Process Innovation, BAE Systems, Element Six, The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, Advanced Manufacturing, Printed Electronics, The National Physical Laboratory and DMG Mori Seiki.

Possible applications for this sensor technology are in high value machining applications in manufacturing sectors including defence, space, rail, automotive, marine and energy.

The aim is to be able to sense critical process variables, such as temperature, force, acoustic emission and vibration, close to the cutting surface. This level of detailed sensing could create a step change in the capacity and productivity of machining systems, reducing cycle times, human intervention and process variation.

Small variation in input parameters, such as material and tooling properties, are often only observed in the final inspection of products.

Within the high value manufacturing sector, this often leads to conservative parameters or conservative tool lives being enforced. With embedded sensing allowing manufacturers to obtain data on the machining process at the time of cutting, these variations can be diagnosed and managed within the process, allowing improved tool utilisation and improving processing times.

The target of the Intelligent Tooling project is to develop a prototype tooling insert with embedded sensing capability, designed to withstand and exceed the harsh environmental conditions that are present in metal machining.

According to Dr Peter Tune, Business Manager at CPI, the Centre will be leading the project.

“CPI’s role in the project is to design and print the electronic sensors, providing expertise in the integration of conventional and printable electronics,” Dr Tune said.

“Printing will be used…to apply sensing functionality close to the cutting edge of the tooling inserts. Conventional electronics will be integrated to drive the sensors and transfer data to the control systems.”

Print sensing allows robust, lightweight sensors to be incorporated into curved structural designs and to be printed in bespoke configurations in high volumes and at low cost. The project will however present a tough challenge for printed sensing, but the resulting learning will be directly transferrable to other embedded sensor applications where there are similar challenges.