Lynchburg, VA. – Approximately 50 people attended a demonstration of a technology called "ultrasonic machining" at AREVA's Technical Training Center on June 9, 2011. The technology, originally developed by the Edison Welding Institute (EWI), applies ultrasonic acoustic vibrations to traditional machining processes to reduce friction and improve performance. The demonstration displayed the ultrasonic drilling capability and proved that the technology can cut drill time in half and considerably extend drill bit life. Additionally, the need for drill bit coolant can be eliminated or significantly reduced thereby minimizing environmental cleanup. AREVA will first deploy the technology in reactor repair work next year, and coolant elimination was one of the primary drivers.
The demonstration received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and was co-sponsored by EWI and AREVA. Any and all competitors were welcome to attend, and the audience included representative from companies such as Babcock & Wilcox, Curtiss-Wright, E.H. Wachs, and Newport News Shipbuilding (representing the US Navy). In response to other successful demonstration, some companies have already shown interest in applying the technology in its current stage. Newport News Shipbuilding would like to use it for the catapult rails on a new aircraft carrier, while Constellation Energy believes they may be able to use it for machining during outages.
Currently ultrasonic machining has only been deployed on drilling applications. EWI has evaluated single point turning an drilling applications and plans to work with industry to deploy it into other machining processes in the near future. They are currently working to develop and patent a module that can be mounted on any standard machining system. It has also been suggested that the technology could eventually end up in consumer products such as hand-held power drills. Although in its early stages, ultrasonic machining shows the potential to generate widespread improvement in machining productivity.