5-Axis Machining at the Nanoscale

FANUC’s ROBONANO α-0iB sees first installation in North America.

(Image courtesy of FANUC.)

(Image courtesy of FANUC.)

A new tool at the University of Wisconsin – Madison College of Engineering could lead to very small changes in the manufacturing industry—small changes with a massive impact.

FANUC’s ROBONANO α-0iB five-axis milling machine has been in use for a decade in Japan, helping to create the next generation of semiconductors. The machine differs from others in its nanoscale precision and the various roles it can play.

The ROBONANO is capable of simultaneous five-axis milling and scribing, as well as high definition turning and nanoscale measurement.

The machine is on a multi-year loan to UW Professor Sangkee Min, whose lab in the department of mechanical engineering and the Grainger Institute for Engineering is planning to use it for a number of studies, including materials research and the development of new techniques in manufacturing design.

“Many materials have different properties at the nanoscale that create all sorts of different possibilities that aren’t possible with conventional machines,” said Min.

An example includes the development of synthetic sapphire for shatter-proof device screens. Made from heating aluminum oxide to extremely high temperatures, synthetic sapphire is difficult to manufacture due to its brittle nature.

(Image courtesy FANUC.)

(Image courtesy FANUC.)

Min’s initial research on synthetic sapphire with the ROBONANO in Japan showed that the material can be far more pliable when handled at the nano level.

Nanoscale machining may be the next step in manufacturing design, with designers freed from the macroscopic limitations currently hindering innovation. Min notes that smartphone design is a prime example of the “design for manufacturing” paradigm leading to stale product lines.

While long-term investments and supply chains are costly to change, keeping designs fairly static across multiple industries, Min hopes to identify ways to speed up the manufacturing process and flip the paradigm: manufacturing for design.

Sangkee Min with the ROBONANO in his UW Lab. (Image courtesy of Stephanie Precourt/University of Wisconsin.)

Sangkee Min with the ROBONANO in his UW Lab. (Image courtesy of Stephanie Precourt/University of Wisconsin.)

“I want to be able to ask the manufacturer, ‘what is your perfect design?’ and be able to provide that,” said Min. “The opportunities are almost limitless for improving products and manufacturing processes with this machine.”

This research could be the start of huge improvements in manufacturing, though change doesn’t come easy, or cheap. A revolution in the industry will require changes across multiple levels, which could mean slower adoption of new technologies and designs, particularly for SMEs.

For more information visit FANUC’s product page or the UW-Madison mechanical engineering website.