Electrochemical machining: towards 3D simulation and application on SS316
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Gomez Gallegos, Ares Argelia
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Electrochemical machining (ECM) is a non-conventional manufacturing process, which uses electrochemical dissolution to shape any conductive metal regardless of its mechanical properties and without leaving behind residual stresses or tool wear. Therefore, ECM can be an alternative for machining difficult-to-cut materials, complex geometries, and materials with improved characteristics, such as strength, heat-resistance or corrosion-resistance. Notwithstanding its great potential as a shaping tool, the ECM process is still not fully characterised and its research is an on-going process. Various phenomena are involved in ECM, e.g. electrodynamics, mass transfer, heat transfer, fluid dynamics and electrochemistry, which occur in parallel and this can lead to a different material dissolution rate at each point of the workpiece surface. This makes difficult an accurate prediction of the final workpiece geometry. This problem was addressed in the first part of the present thesis by developing a simulation model of the ECM process in a two-dimensional (2D) environment. A finite element analysis (FEA) package, COMSOL multiphysics® was used for this purpose due to its capacity to handle the diverse phenomena involved in ECM and couple them into a single solution. Experimental tests were carried out by applying ECM on stainless steel 316 (SS316) samples. This work was done in collaboration with pECM Systems Ltd® from Barnsley, UK. The interest of studying ECM on stainless steels (SS) resides on the fact that the application of ECM on SS typically results in various different surface finishes. The chromium in SS alloys usually induces the formation of a protective oxide film that prevents further corrosion of the alloy, giving the metal the special characteristic of corrosion resistance. This oxide film has low electrical conductivity; hence normal anodic dissolution often cannot proceed without oxide breakdown. Partial breakdown of the oxide film often occurs, which causes pits on the surface or a non-uniform surface finish. Therefore the role of the ECM machining parameters, such as interelectrode gap, voltage, electrolyte flow rate, and electrolyte inlet temperature, on the achievement of a uniform oxide film breakdown was evaluated in this work. Experimental results show that the resulting surface finish is highly influenced by the over-potential and current density, and by the characteristics of the electrolyte, flow rate and conductivity. The complexity of experimentally controlling these parameters emphasised the need for the development of a computational model that allows the simulation of the ECM process in full. The simulation of ECM in a three-dimensional (3D) environment is crucial to understand the behaviour of the ECM process in the real world. In a 3D model, information that was not visible before can be observed and a more detailed realistic solution can be achieved. Hence, in this work a computer aided design (CAD) software was used to construct a 3D geometry, which was imported to COMSOL Multiphysics® to simulate the ECM process, but this time in a 3D environment. This enhanced simulation model includes fluid dynamics, heat transfer, mass transfer, electrodynamics and electrochemistry, and has the novelty that an accurate computational simulation of the ECM process can be carry out a priori the experimental tests and allows the extraction of enough information from the ECM process in order to predict the workpiece final shape and surface finish. Moreover, this simulation model can be applied to diverse materials and electrolytes by modifying the input ECM parameters.