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Perfection through precision

At the Furtwangen University (HFU) Institute for Precision Machining (KSF), the focus is on sustainable and long-lasting components with precise dimensions and form

Turning, milling, grinding... there are many ways to manufacture a workpiece from a block of material. In the best-case scenario, these so-called metal-cutting manufacturing processes (i.e., those where chips fly) result in a final product that fits perfectly, runs smoothly – literally – and never breaks. The truth is somewhat different. In industry, huge sums of money usually have to be spent to replace worn parts, which are often manufactured in lengthy and complicated processes. To illustrate this, the production of a single ceramic brake disc for the automotive industry, for example, takes around 20 minutes - and is, as a result, expensive. Unless that is, this brake disc is made by KSF, the Tuttlingen-based Institute for Precision Machining. The manufacturing process here takes less than two minutes, and the piece is so precisely manufactured that it also results in a much shorter braking distance – regardless of temperature or weather.

It sounds a bit like magic, but such results are due to the research into ever more precise, finer methods that the KSF scientists carry out. Foremost among them is Professor Dr Bahman Azarhoushang, Director of the institute and a member of the Faculty of Mechanical and Medical Engineering at Furtwangen University. "The outstanding equipment and plant we have assembled here is virtually unique in the world," reports Professor Azarhoushang. The machines in the large production hall on the Tuttlingen Campus of HFU which are used to create workpieces for a wide variety of research projects using grinding, turning and milling processes, as well as eroding and laser machining, are worth several million euros. It is not only the automotive and machine tool industries which benefit from the precise results. New products and processes for medical technology are also developed at KSF. Professor Azarhoushang slides a white finger orthosis over his hand as an example and explains, "If you break your finger, an orthosis can be used to support it. That is complicated, because the angle has to be repeatedly adjusted to prevent the hand losing its mobility. Together with our industry partner we are developing a splint using 4-D printing technology. In the future doctors, or perhaps even the patients themselves, can simply heat the splint, adjust it, and a few minutes later everything is firm again. "

In terms of precision in the manufacturing process, the machine next to it is particularly impressive. Here, in the "Subsea" project, a component for a pump is being manufactured – only initially a seemingly unspectacular process. After all, this pump is to be used in the ocean at a depth of 3,000 metres. Diamond – the hardest substance in the world – makes up 50% of the material. And in such a location, a pump can neither be maintained, nor can its components be replaced. The solution is –perfection. At the KSF in Tuttlingen, dimensional and form precision can be achieved down to the micro- and nanometer range, surfaces can be machined, and the finest grooves, slots and recesses can be etched to virtually eliminate any abrasion and wear. Incidentally, this also drastically reduces the use of lubricants and emulsions – for the environment, precision also pays off.

The Institute for Precision Machining cooperates with industry using practical problems to initiate and promote research into fast and cost-effective solutions.  For example, in the "Grinding Technology Working Group", researchers work together with around 30 companies from across the manufacturing chain, on the continual optimisation of processes. And, last but not least, students also benefit, as the broad possibilities and outstanding equipment offered by the Institute are incorporated into teaching - students have unique opportunities for thesis or doctoral work.