It’s not each day that industrial machining sends you right into a match of pleasure. However at present might be that day. For those who spend time on the web, you might need come throughout GIFs of steel elements becoming collectively so exactly that the boundaries between them seem to disappear. My lord, the enjoyment that sparks. Like, actually sparks: That is the paranormal world {of electrical} discharge machining, or EDM, by far probably the most oddly satisfying subject in all of engineering.

This can be the primary you’ve heard of EDM, nevertheless it’s in all probability touched your life not directly. The tiny, exact elements of an implantable medical system? EDM. Jet engine elements fabricated from hardy nickel alloy? That’ll be EDM too. If a producer wants elements that match as tightly collectively as humanly doable, or elements fabricated from superhard supplies that conventional machining strategies can’t contact, EDM is the way in which to go.


Conventional milling includes the mechanical shaping of a fabric—“making use of a mechanical power towards the workpiece to bodily make a chip or take away materials,” says Brian Pfluger, EDM product line supervisor at Makino, a machine device maker. “Whereas with EDM we’re not bodily touching the half—we’re machining with lightning bolts.”

To start with, that’s steel as hell. However extra particularly, we’re speaking heaps and plenty of little sparks. The “blade” in an EDM machine is definitely a superfine brass wire via which electrical energy programs. Although the machine is slicing via extraordinarily powerful supplies, equivalent to carbide (which is so powerful that conventional milling strategies use it to drill via different supplies), the blasts of electrical energy it makes use of are comparatively weak. However the blasts include extraordinarily excessive frequency, one thing like 20,000 sparks per second alongside the size of the brass wire.

“It nearly appears like a laser line, however should you actually slowed it down it could be sparks all the way in which up and down that line,” says Steve Sommer, vice chairman of Dependable EDM, an EDM store. “Every spark is nearly like just a little miniature explosion.”


The wire itself by no means truly touches the fabric. The rapid-fire sparks vaporize teeny tiny bits of the steel being minimize, on the order of 5 microns large. (A micron is a millionth of a meter. For context, a crimson blood cell in your physique is between 6 and eight microns large.) This is called sublimation.

“It is similar to dry ice,” says Pfluger. “You go immediately from a strong to a gasoline.” These so-small-they’re-almost-nonexistent particles then get caught up in a dielectric fluid working over the EDM and are flushed away. “That is sort of like washing your hair—rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat.” The fluid additionally helps hold the equipment from overheating.

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