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Polishing partnership combines research and industry

Neil Duffie

Decorative initial cap Polishing the parts of a micro-device isn’t as simple as, for example, polishing a shoe or sanding a piece of wood. Technicians maybe could polish a micro-part by hand if they had a big enough magnifying glass, but it is impossible to selectively polish particular areas of the tiny components. In addition, tiny parts can’t handle as much heat as can their macro-sized counterparts, meaning that too much friction could actually melt the part.

These barriers to micro polishing, which likely will become more important as nanotechnology advances push the development of ever-smaller components, are the subject of a new partnership that has received a National Science Foundation Grant Opportunity for Academic Liaison with Industry. The grant comes with a three-year award of almost $500,000.

Xiaochun Li

Professors Neil Duffie and Xiaochun Li and Associate Professor Frank Pfefferkorn are collaborating with William Dinauer (MSMSE ’90) and other engineers at LasX Industries Inc., a company in St. Paul, Minnesota, that provides high-performance industrial laser systems and contract laser-materials processing services. The team is working to identify a laser-based system that can polish three-dimensional metal parts measuring approximately 0.16 inches or less.The system could also polish select areas of those parts or the metallic molds used to fabricate plastic micro-components.

The collaboration has been more than 20 years in the making. While a graduate student, Dinauer worked for Duffie on a polishing project that involved mechanical tooling. The two continued to work together after Dinauer graduated and was hired at the Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics. Dinauer’s career shifted to focus on laser technologies, and he founded in LasX in 1998. Dinauer and Duffie kept in touch, and when Duffie contacted him about the laser micro polishing project, Dinauer was glad to help.

To create the system, the team is testing a variety of lasers to find one with optimal characteristics for micro polishing. Dinauer and his engineers obtain lasers and technical information from their suppliers, which they pass on to the UW-Madison researchers. The engineering professors then study the interaction of the laser with metal surfaces to understand how different operating conditions and laser characteristics affect polishing.

They are also working to develop better strategies for controlling laser polishing and will design systems robust enough to handle a variety of metals.

“I’m pleased that we’re able to embark on something like this with UW-Madison, and I hope we continue collaborations like this on other laser-based projects,” says Dinauer.


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Date last modified: Monday, 20-December-2010
Date created: 20-December-2010