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Precision Engineering 28 (2004) 65–72

Development of parallel spark electrical discharge machining
Fuzhu Han∗ , Masanori Kunieda
Department of Mechanical Systems Engineering, Tokyo University of Agriculture & Technology, Tokyo 184-8588, Japan
Received 22 November 2002; received in revised form 6 May 2003; accepted 30 May 2003

Abstract
This paper describes the development of parallel spark EDM method. In the discharge circuit, the electrode is divided into multiple
electrodes, each of which is electrically insulated and connected to the pulse generator through a diode. A capacitor is inserted parallel to
each discharge gap between each electrode and workpiece (here workpiece is common for each electrode). Compared with conventional
EDM in which only a singular discharge can be generated for each pulse, multiple discharges can dispersively be generated for each pulse
in parallel spark EDM. Results of experiments on parallel spark EDM and conventional EDM show that not only is the machining process
more stable, but the machining speed and surface roughness can also be improved with parallel spark EDM.
© 2003 Published by Elsevier Inc.
Keywords: EDM; Parallel spark EDM; Multiple discharges; Simultaneous discharges; Large area finishing

1. Introduction
Electrical discharge machining (EDM) has the advantage
of high precision and is widely used in the machining of
metal molds. However, it comes with the major problem of
poor removal rate compared with the electrical chemical machining (ECM), milling and the like. The low removal rate
is due to the fact that discharge must be generated intermittently using a pulse generator and there is only one discharge
point for each pulse. The pulse is indispensable because the
plasma formed at the discharge point should be deionized
during the pulse interval so that the next discharge point can
be generated at some other place. Generally, the removal rate
can be improved by shortening the pulse interval, however,
when the pulse interval is shortened below a certain length,
the plasma cannot be extinguished during the pulse interval,
resulting in concentrated discharge [1]. Therefore, improving
the removal rate by generating discharges at multiple points
for each pulse will appears to be an appealing solution.
To generate discharges occur at two or more places, Fujimoto [2] developed a multi-circuit system of using a number
of discharge circuits and corresponding number of electrodes
to the circuit. It was reported that this method can improve
the machining speed. However, the demerit of this system is
that it needs a number of discharge circuits, which results a
high making cost when the number of the electrodes is larger.
∗ Corresponding

author. Tel.: +81-42-388-7421; fax: +81-42-385-7204.
E-mail address: hanfz@cc.tuat.ac.jp (F. Han).

0141-6359/$ – see front matter © 2003 Published by Elsevier Inc.
doi:10.1016/S0141-6359(03)00076-X

Mohri et al. [3] proposed a method of dividing the electrode
into multiple electrodes. Each of these electrodes is electrically insulated and connected to the pulse generator through
a resistance. It has been reported that this method produces
better surface roughness even in the finishing of a large surface area, because the influence of the large stray capacity of
the working gap on the surface roughness is eliminated by
dividing the large electrode into multiple electrodes. On the
other hand, with the breakdown in the gap between one of the
divided electrodes and workpiece, the surface electric charge
on the other electrodes is transferred towards the electrode
where the discharge occurred, resulting in higher gap voltages at the other electrodes. Hence, it has also been reported
that discharges can occur in multiple electrodes simultaneously. However, the method proposed by Mohri et al. is effective only for finishing large surface areas with significantly
large stray capacity.
Suzuki et al. [4] and Kubota et al. [5] developed a twin electrode discharge system for the discharge dressing of metal
bonded grinding wheels. The discharge circuit is formed by
connecting the pulse generator to one of the two electrodes,
the grinding wheel, and the other twin electrode serially. In
this system, for each generator pulse, one discharge occurs in
the gap between one tool electrode and the grinding wheel,
and another discharge occurs at the same time in the gap between the other tool electrode and the grinding wheel. Hence,
two discharge points can be obtained simultaneously at both
the gaps between the twin electrodes and grinding wheel using only one generator by this method. There is therefore no

As a result. 1. in the present study. 1 was adopted in which the pulse interval time can be preset. The next section discusses the reasons for this simultaneous discharge phenomenon. However.2. The machining conditions are shown in Table 1. A capacitor is inserted between the workpiece and each electrode. resulting in more stable machining. 3. the voltage between each electrode and workpiece rises to the voltage of Vcc. since in each charging period of the capacitors. because multi-spark EDM can be theoretically applied only when using two electrodes. Thus. However. Circuit of parallel spark EDM. charge is generated in each charging period of the capacitors or each ON time of the transistor. As a result. the parallel spark EDM can attain a significantly higher removal rate. 1 is a RC type circuit. the equivalent circuit of Fig. 2. M. the circuit with the switching device as shown in Fig. Principle of parallel spark EDM method The circuit of parallel spark EDM is shown in Fig. Han. each of which is electrically insulated and connected to a pulse generator with a diode. the polarity of the pulse generator is changed adaptively to equalize the gap voltages measured at both gaps. After the voltage of both electrodes rises due to the electric charge from Vcc. discharge locations are dispersed. In order to understand the phenomenon of simultaneous discharges. gap voltage was measured at points a and b (see Fig. the maximum possible improvement of the removal rate is expected to be at most two times higher than that of the conventional EDM. Actually. 2. compared with conventional EDM in which only one dis- Electrode R d D1 D2 D3 … Dn Vcc Cn C3 C2 C1 … Fig. machining stability and surface roughness. discharge also occurred on electrode 2. However. Therefore. only one discharge occurs in one electrode.8 Cu 10 mm × 10 mm . the voltage of electrode 2 remained the same as the voltage of Vcc. The electrode is divided into multiple electrodes. … Workpiece Tr. indicating that discharge occurs twice in one charging period of capacitors. Each capacitor is charged through a diode by Vcc (dc generator) when the switching device (transistor device) is ON. the voltage between the other electrodes and workpiece remains the same as the voltage of Vcc until a discharge occurs in the other electrodes. in which to balance the removal rates in both gaps. Kunieda / Precision Engineering 28 (2004) 65–72 need to insulate the grinding wheel from the machine body or attach a slip-ring brush. the voltage of electrode 1 dropped. Discharge phenomena using parallel spark EDM method 3. 2 shows voltage and current waveforms in the gap using parallel spark EDM method when the electrode is divided into two. the waveforms measured at points e and f are considered not exactly equal to the waveforms at the gap.66 F. Such waveforms were observed more frequently in the experiments than those in Fig. 2 and 3 were measured at points e and f (see Fig. 3 shows voltage and current waveforms of both electrodes when discharge occurred almost at the same time in both electrodes. but. the number of discharges in each charging period of the capacitors is equivalent to the number of electrodes divided. 4) which are distanced from the gap. thus the switching device in the circuit can be eliminated. 1.1. and developed the multi-spark EDM method. since the RC type circuit has a demerit of easily causing abnormal discharge due to its no pulse interval time. 3. In this case. Simultaneous discharges The voltage waveforms shown in Figs. Fig. since the diode is reversely biased. After about 30 ␮s. discharge occurred in electrode 1 first. 4) Table 1 Machining conditions Open voltage [V] Discharge current [A] Pulse duration [␮s] Pulse interval [␮s] Capacitor [␮F] Distance between neighbor electrodes [mm] Material of electrode Size of electrode 120 50 2 100 0. Kunieda and Muto [6] utilized the same circuit configuration as the twin electrode discharge system. The removal rate and energy efficiency of multi-spark EDM are considerably higher than those of conventional EDM methods. a new parallel spark EDM method was proposed in this study in which multiple discharges are generated one by one or simultaneously while each pulse voltage is applied.1 0. if discharge is generated between any one of the electrodes and the workpiece. ideally. Since inductance L existent in the electrodes is not zero. Moreover. At this instant. The aim of this study was to obtain a considerable improvement in the removal rate. the voltage between that electrode and workpiece drops so that the voltage between point d and workpiece also drops simultaneously. Voltage and current waveform Fig.

F. Meanwhile. Measurement of voltage. it was found that the voltage waveform of electrode 2 was influenced by the breakdown at electrode 1. Voltage and current waveforms of parallel spark EDM method using two electrodes. Since electrodes 1 and 2 were parallel and closely placed. the transitional voltage of electrode 2 can be expressed as follows: u2 = u0 − M di1 dt (1) Tr. which are the closest possible points to the gap to eliminate the influence of electrode inductance. Han. Fig. the waveform was enlarged along the time axis. . Taking into account the influence of the induced electromotive force. Kunieda / Precision Engineering 28 (2004) 65–72 67 Fig. The drop of the voltage and the rise of the current in electrode 1 were observed at this moment. Voltage and current waveforms of parallel spark EDM method (simultaneous discharge). 3. the electromotive force is induced on electrode 2 due to the change of the current through electrode 1. Discharge occurred in electrode 1 first. 4. In order to investigate waveforms at the movement of breakdown in detail. M. 5 shows current and voltage waveforms measured when discharge occurred simultaneously on both electrodes. R Electrode1 Diode e Electrode2 f Vcc a b Workpiece Fig. 2. Fig.

However. the rising speed of the current through electrode 1 was so fast that the induced electromotive force M(di1 /dt) was the largest at this moment. In this study. because multiple electrodes are used. in the case of parallel spark EDM. which appears to be simultaneous discharges in both electrodes. electrode 2 and point d. Kunieda / Precision Engineering 28 (2004) 65–72 Fig. When the current through electrode 1 peaked. and i1 is the current through electrode 1. the induced electromotive force also decreases. . the decrease in the current through electrode 1 produced a negative electromotive force. the electromotive force induced by the discharge in electrode 1 triggered the breakdown in electrode 2.68 F. When discharge stopped. Voltage waveforms of parallel spark EDM method. 6. since the electromotive force M(di1 /dt) is zero at this moment. As the rising speed of the current through electrode 1 decreases. where u0 is the open voltage. M. Voltage and current waveforms of parallel spark EDM method (simultaneous discharge). 6 shows the voltage waveforms of electrode 1. It was found that the Fig. M is the mutual inductance between electrodes 1 and 2. resulting in the sharp drop of the voltage of electrode 2 from the open voltage. the voltage at point d (see Fig. Han. it is difficult to determine which working voltage of electrodes should be monitored. adaptive servo feed control is used in conventional EDM. resulting in the rise of the voltage of electrode 2 over the open voltage u0 . Thus. 1) was monitored. in which the average working voltage is monitored and the electrode feed rate is controlled so that the average working voltage in the gap can be kept constant. Fig. 5. the voltage of electrode 2 became equal to the open voltage u0 . Right after the breakdown occurred in electrode 1. 4. resulting in gradual increase in the voltage of electrode 2. Adaptive servo control for parallel spark EDM Generally in order to keep the gap distance constant.

That is. by monitoring the voltage at point d. resulting in enhanced localization of discharge locations in the same electrode. 9. it was found that simultaneous discharges occur easily in neighboring electrodes due to the induced electromotive force in parallel spark EDM. but is distributed in all the electrodes uniformly. the total discharge frequency of both electrodes was almost twice higher than that of the setup shown in Fig. Such phenomenon was also observed by Kojima et al. Discharge frequency of parallel spark EDM method. Experimental setup of conventional EDM method using branched two electrodes.2. In contrast. 5. conventional machining using one electrode was also carried out in which the working surface area was set the same with the total working 4 3 2 1 0 0 200 400 600 800 Time[s] Fig. the parallel spark EDM method not only increases the machining speed but also improves machining stability due to the dispersion of the discharge locations. M. 9 shows the change in the discharge frequency with the lapse of time in the case of parallel spark EDM. 8. 7 shows the change in the normal discharge frequency with the lapse of time under the condition that two electrodes are connected to the pulse generator directly as shown in Fig. Fig. [7] using a discharge location detector. Han. Workpiece Electrode 1 5 Electrode 2 4 3 2 1 0 0 200 400 600 800 Time[s] Fig. To compare with conventional EDM.F. Discharges are localized periodically and alternately in one of the pair electrodes. the adaptive servo control for parallel spark EDM can be carried out easily. Hence. Removal rate using two electrodes 6 Electrode 1 Electrode 2 5 The machining speed was investigated using the parallel spark EDM method when the electrode was divided into two electrodes. they presumed that the production of debris in one of the pair electrodes decreases the breakdown strength. This means that the working voltage of the electrode whose gap is minimum can be detected accurately by monitoring the voltage at point d. 69 Electrode 1 R Electrode 2 Vcc 5.1. The machining conditions are shown in Table 2. Hence. 8. Discharge frequency of conventional EDM method using branched two electrodes. Dispersion of discharge locations in parallel spark EDM Normal discharge frequency[kHz] Fig. 7. This fact indicates that the discharge does not concentrate in one electrode. Fig. 5. the voltage at point d becomes zero. Table 2 Machining conditions Open voltage [V] Discharge current [A] Pulse duration [␮s] Pulse interval [␮s] 120 50 2 100 . Based on the observation. whenever electrode 1 or electrode 2 falls into a short circuit with the workpiece. It was found that discharges occurred evenly in both electrodes. Kunieda / Precision Engineering 28 (2004) 65–72 voltage at point d is always equal to the gap voltage which is the lowest. 8. Moreover. 6 Normal discharge frequency[kHz] In Section 3. Machining characteristics using parallel spark EDM method Tr.

3. the removal rate of parallel spark EDM becomes higher than that of conventional EDM. thus achieves good surface finish even in large area finishing. 5. the removal rate of parallel spark EDM continues rising while the removal rate of conventional EDM decreases. 12. The machining conditions were the same as those shown in Table 2. the energy per pulse from the pulse generator was adjusted equal to that used in the . 11 shows the relationship between normal Fig. Kunieda / Precision Engineering 28 (2004) 65–72 Parallel electrode Removal rate[mm3/min] Single electrode Removal rate[mm3/min] 2 1. the stray capacitance of the capacitors formed by the electrode and workpiece is significant due to the formula C = ε(S/ l). ε: permittivity of dielectric.5 1 0.70 F. Relationship between removal rate and electrode numbers.5 times faster than that obtained in conventional EDM. Consequently. the removal rate of both parallel spark EDM and conventional EDM is almost the same. discharge frequency and number of electrodes. the area of electrode is larger and the working gap is shorter. The divided electrodes were lined up with a distance of 0. the removal rate does not increase in proportion to the number of electrodes. when the servo reference voltage becomes lower. It was found that the discharge frequency increased as the number of electrodes was increased. The relationship between the removal rate and servo reference voltage is shown in Fig. and the total working surface area was kept constant. In order to investigate the influence of the stray capacity in conventional EDM. Hence. when the servo reference voltage becomes lower than 30 V. The removal rate obtained with four electrodes was about 2. since discharge does not always occur in all the electrodes during one charging cycle. Here. Relationship between discharge frequency and electrode numbers. 5. 10. S: area of electrode. Especially. an electrode measuring 50 mm×50 mm was divided into four electrodes as shown in Fig. it is difficult to obtain good surface roughness in the large area finishing of conventional EDM.8 mm. When the servo reference voltage is higher. dividing the large area electrode into multiple electrodes and using parallel spark EDM eliminate the influence of the stray capacity. 12 shows the relationship between the removal rate and number of electrodes. Conventional EDM using one electrode measuring 50 mm × 50 mm was also carried out. However. resulting in increased removal rate. Thus. since the excessive current from the stray capacity flows in the gap. However. 10. Planetary motion on the X–Y plane in radius of 4 mm was superimposed on the tool feed in the Z-axis direction to prevent the generation of partition marks among the multiple electrodes. no matter how small the current supplied from the pulse generator is restricted. surface area of the pair electrodes in the parallel spark EDM method and the energy per pulse was adjusted equal to that used in the parallel spark EDM method. (C: capacity. Relationship between removal rate and servo reference voltage. and Fig. Fig.4. the removal rate with four electrodes should be four times higher than that with one electrode. Fig.5 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 20 40 60 80 Servo reference voltage[V] 1 2 3 4 5 Electrode numbers Fig. Large area finishing using parallel spark EDM method In the large area finishing of conventional EDM. M. Ideally. l: gap distance). 11. Han. Removal rate using more than two electrodes Change in the removal rate was also investigated when the number of divided electrodes was more than two. 13. each of which is formed by each divided tool electrode.

Int J Electrical Machining 1998. Han. but machining speed.8mm 25mm Electrode Y X Workpiece Fig. and surface roughness as well. Large area finishing using parallel spark EDM method. Fig. Fig. M. the surface finished by the conventional EDM shows several thermal damage. use of parallel spark EDM in large area finishing not only improves machining process stability. The experiments show that multiple discharges can be generated one by one or simultaneously during a single charging with this method. Both parallel spark EDM and conventional EDM were observed to be stable when a long pulse interval was set. 13. when the pulse interval was set shorter than 30 ␮s. resulting in stable machining. than that (Ry 25 ␮m) obtained by conventional EDM. while the parallel spark remained stable. 14 shows photos of the machined surfaces obtained by both methods. J Jpn Soc Electrical Machining Eng 1969. but machining speed. Conclusions A new parallel spark EDM method was developed. The roughness (Ry 19 ␮m) obtained by parallel spark EDM is better Fig.F. 15. 14. and surface roughness as well. . In addition. the machining by conventional EDM got unstable. Photos of finished surfaces. The experimental results obtained from the parallel spark EDM and conventional EDM show this new method not only improves machining process stability. [1] Kunieda M. the discharge can be distributed over all the electrodes uniformly. [2] Fujimoto R. Nakashima T. 15 shows the surface roughness results by both machining methods. Results of surface roughness.3(6):1 (in Japanese).3:53. parallel spark EDM method by inserting the same capacitor as the each one used in the parallel spark EDM method between the electrode and workpiece. Compared with the surface obtained by parallel spark EDM. Kunieda / Precision Engineering 28 (2004) 65–72 71 25mm 0. 6. The multi-circuit system electric discharge machining process. However. Consequently. Factor determining discharge location in EDM. References Fig.

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