Controlled erosion encompasses abrasively drilling, grooving or milling a part.  Micro-abrasive blasting is powerful enough to drill holes in ceramic substrates, yet gentle enough to cut slots in fragile silicon and glass wafers.  MicroBlasting is “shockless,” generating neither heat nor vibration.

Controlled erosion with microblasting to create small holes in glass

Where Used

Serializing lenses with automated Comco microblasting equipment

AEROSPACE

  • Ring bearings – milling channels to control fluid transfer and heat buildup
  • Microfluidics
  • Sensors
  • Ring laser gyros – applying serial numbers to lenses without micro-cracks
  • Cutting composites
  • Thermocouples
Controlled erosion with microblasting to create bevel on wafer

SEMICONDUCTOR

  • Wafers – cutting slots, holes and apertures in thin, fragile substrates; contouring or beveling edges of silicon power devices to expose junctions
  • Inkjet printer cartridges – cutting slots in silicon wafers to create ink reservoirs near the nozzle
  • Wafer carriers and end effectors
  • IC epoxy removal
  • MEMS – machining vias in glass and silicon
  • Ceramic rings – creating a dimpled pattern on the surface
Controlled erosion to lace eggs created in Comco's Advanced Lathe automated microblasting system

ARTISAN

  • Glass engraving
  • Egg lacing

INDUSTRIAL CONTROLS

  • Thermocouples – removing MgO to expose contacts on heat sensing harnesses
Controlled erosion: cutting strengthened glass with Comco microblasting equipment

ELECTRONICS

  • LEDs
  • Cutting strengthened glass
Controlled erosion to remove graphite on heart valves in automated microblasting system

MEDICAL

  • Nitinol tube thinning
  • Microfluidics
  • Mechanical heart valves – graphite removal
Controlled erosion to devest crowns and bridges using Comco microblasting equipment

DENTAL

  • Devesting crowns and bridges

How To

MicroBlasting delivers controlled erosion at its best, as it provides very tight control over the media delivery process to accurately mill or etch surfaces. Controlled erosion can be performed on everything from hard ceramics to soft epoxies. Here are some key variables, requirements, and notes to consider:

Blaster Characteristics

It is taken for granted that every micro-abrasive blaster supplies a consistent flow of abrasives. However, in order to control the erosive depth to 70 nanometers, a precise abrasive flow is required. This means the micro-abrasive blaster is a variable in controlled erosion applications. Even small fluctuations in the abrasive flow cause variation of particle velocities at the nozzle. Though imperceptible to the human eye, these variations result in the uneven erosion of a surface.

We recognize the importance of a consistent flow of abrasive. All of our micro-abrasive blasters feature our patented modulator system that feeds a precise amount of media into the air stream at 60 times per second.

Optimizing Media Flow

Material removal rate from a part surface is directly tied to the number of particles that strike the surface and the speed at which they travel.

  • Quantity: More abrasive speeds up your process as long as each particle strikes the surface of your part. Abrasive streams slow and jam when as they become oversaturated and particles hit other particles from behind.
  • Velocity: Increasing media density decreases velocity. Every additional gram per minute decreases velocity by one meter per second.

Abrasive Selection

  • Type: Aluminum Oxide is the most common abrasive used on hard, brittle materials. Sodium Bicarbonate is a better choice for soft material because it cuts through the fibrous structure without “burning” the surface.
  • Quality: Variation in the size, distribution, and quality of the abrasive impacts removal rate. Even subtle variations significantly impact the end product. A bottle of carefully-sized Sodium Bicarbonate is not the same as your supermarket baking soda or the industrial abrasive supply equivalent.

Process Control

Controlled erosion applications typically require automated systems. A human operator becomes a major source of variation when removing nanometers of material. Automation greatly extends the capabilities of MicroBlasting.

What Affects Surface Finish?

  • Substrate Properties: The most significant variable in a controlled erosion application is the composition of the substrate. Crystalline surfaces erode evenly and fracture along crystal interfaces; while on sintered materials, the ceramic and the binder may erode at different rates. The ceramic may “pluck” from the binder, creating a large crater. Over time this plucking results in a wavy surface finish.
  • Particle Velocity: Higher pressure yields faster removal rates, but higher pressure creates a rougher surface.
Controlled erosion of Magnesium oxide to expose heat sensing harness on thermocouple with microblasting
Comco's JetCenter automated microblasting system powered by AccuFlo abrasive blaster
Controlled erosion of glass; cutting holes in glass slide using Comco automated microblasting system

Manual/Automatic

The vast majority of controlled erosion applications are performed with automated systems. By automating the parts-handling component of the system, tight tolerances can be achieved—in some applications, as tight as 0.5 microns. Automation is almost always necessary to etch pockets into a substrate. There are two approaches that can be used with automation:

DIRECT MACHINED

  • Direct machining is best when removing large, simple sections of material.
  • A small nozzle and accurate parts-handling capabilities cut a pattern into the substrate.
  • The focused abrasive stream avoids overspray, eliminating the need for a mask and reducing abrasive consumption.

MASKED

  • A metal or polymer photoresist mask exposes only the areas that require blasting.
  • Sweeping the nozzle back and forth over the entire mask erodes fine layers of the exposed surface.
  • Masking is common in applications with many small features.

The above approaches, direct machined and masked, can be applied in manual applications when tolerances are not critical and/or volume is not sufficient for automation.

Hydrodynamic Seals

Bearing surfaces must run cool to meet new efficiency requirements in jet engines. Precision channels etched into the surface of a ring create an air bearing. Because these bearings are made from hard, brittle materials, etching a flow path with a tolerance of 0.5 µ presents a significant challenge.

MicroBlasting is surprisingly well-suited for this requirement, as it provides tight control over particle velocity and accurately controls etching depth. The ideal abrasive for this application is Aluminum Oxide. It is only slightly softer than diamond and able to cut through these hard surfaces easily.

Our automated systems are able to monitor the abrasive stream for both quantity and consistency and feed these measurements back into the system to keep the etching rate constant.

Microscopic view of precision etched channels in hydrodynamic seals
Controlled erosion of silicon wafers to cut slots for inkjet printer heads using microblasting

MEMS and Microfluidics

Silicon wafers incorporate both semiconductor and mechanical features now. The manufacture of ink jet printer cartridges is a good example of this convergence. The via, or hole, that connects the ink reservoir to the individual nozzles is carved into the same silicon wafer that manages the signal. This via must be drilled into the middle of each silicon wafer segment and its shape is critical to flow of ink to each nozzle.

MicroBlasting cuts an organic shape in a silicon wafer, improving the fluid dynamics of the ink flow. Even better, a micro-abrasive stream can drill without generating heat or vibration, limiting the formation of micro-cracks.

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