Ultrasonic machining (USM) is a non-traditional machining process in which abrasives contained in a slurry are driven at high velocity against the work by a tool vibrating at low amplitude and high frequency. The amplitudes are around 0.075 mm (0.003 in), and the frequencies are approximately 20,000 Hz. The tool oscillates in a direction perpendicular to the work surface and is fed slowly into the work so that the shape of the tool is formed in part. However, it is the action of the abrasives, impinging against the work surface, that performs the cutting. The general arrangement of the USM process is depicted in the below figure 1.
Common tool materials used in USM include soft steel and stainless steel. Abrasive materials in USM include boron nitride, boron carbide, aluminum oxide, silicon carbide, and diamond. Grit size ranges between 100 and 2000. The vibration amplitude should be set approximately equal to the grit size, and the gap size should be maintained at about two times grit size. To a significant degree, grit size determines the surface finish on the new work surface. In addition to surface finish, the material removal rate is an important performance variable in ultrasonic machining. For a given work material, the removal rate in USM increases with increasing frequency and amplitude of vibration.
The cutting action in USM operates on the tool as well as the work. As the abrasive particles erode the work surface, they also erode the tool, thus affecting its shape. It is, therefore, important to know the relative volumes of work material and tool material removed during the process similar to the grinding ratio. This ratio of stock removed to tool wear varies for different work materials, ranging from around 100:1 for cutting glass down to about 1:1 for cutting tool steel.
The slurry in USM consists of a mixture of water and abrasive particles. The concentration of abrasives in water ranges from 20% to 60%. The slurry must be continuously circulated to bring fresh grains into action at the tool work gap. It also washes away chips and worn grits created by the cutting process.
The development of ultrasonic machining was motivated by the need to machine hard, brittle work materials, such as ceramics, glass, and carbides. It is also successfully used on certain metals, such as stainless steel and titanium. Shapes obtained by USM include non-round holes, holes along a curved axis, and coining operations, in which an image pattern on the tool is imparted to a flat work surface.