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Energy and Resource Efficiency in the Abrasive Flow Machining Process: An Assessment of Environmental and Economic Viability Within a UK Precision Machining SME

[+] Author Affiliations
Mitchell J. Howard, Kai Cheng

Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UK

Paper No. DETC2014-34110, pp. V004T06A051; 10 pages
  • ASME 2014 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference
  • Volume 4: 19th Design for Manufacturing and the Life Cycle Conference; 8th International Conference on Micro- and Nanosystems
  • Buffalo, New York, USA, August 17–20, 2014
  • Conference Sponsors: Design Engineering Division, Computers and Information in Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-4635-3
  • Copyright © 2014 by ASME


Environmental performance of the abrasive flow machining (AFM) process is currently not well understood. Its flexibility as a manufacturing process has only recently been realised in SMEs (Small to Medium Enterprise) as a feasible automated alternative to deburring and polishing of complex geometry by hand, and as an alternative to honing and grinding using semi-automated machinery. [1–3]

Economic benefit is still the main driver in the commercial uptake of environmentally-sustainable technologies [4, 5]; despite AFM’s known flexibility and capability, this paper presents systematic research by focusing on AFM including, 1) assessing and comparing the requirements of competing processes (values sourced from [6]), 2) their power consumption, 3) operating conditions, 4) cost of pre-requisite ancillary equipment and 5) embodied energy and recyclability of machine structures and consumables. Three workpiece scenarios are laid out (distinguished by feature-count, processing time, tolerance-demands and setup-count) for comparison purposes — the trade-off between environmental and economic cost is described with reference to industrially-significant quality measures such as repeatability, accuracy, precision and uniformity. Key findings in this research include the comparatively high energy demand from natural gas-fired warm air blow-heaters, a requirement for the heating of spaces for human labour activity. Performance is shown to be limited by design — the AFM machine in this study operates with only an additional 22% of current between idle mode and production mode [7] suggesting sub-assembly redesign may be of benefit. To conclude, the AFM process offers a clear route to sustainable part-finishing, low-maintenance and high potential for ‘greening’ considering factors in addition to running cost.

Copyright © 2014 by ASME



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