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Accurate to the Micron – Meet the tiny world behind mankind’s biggest endeavours

April 12, 2018
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The modern world is waking up to the real challenges we face as a species. Global climate change, dwindling fossil fuels, the ever more destructive potential of our weaponry. Like it or not we live with the phantoms of disaster looming!

Against the odds, these threats are pushing the limits of our technology innovation and our imagination. But as is the nature of our world, in order to be successful, these endeavours must not only be righteous but profitable. As a result, new global markets have emerged: electric vehicles, renewables, and life protection. Big, daunting projects that need significant investment, collaboration, and cutting-edge technology. Technology that is precise to the smallest degree. Precise to the micron. As companies think about the big picture, we’re taking a look at the fascinating processes behind the tiny parts integral to these giant leaps forward.

 

Precise to the nth degree

In order to satisfy the demands of the companies they supply, parts manufacturers have to be very, very precise. Brandauer, one of the largest presswork and stamping companies in Europe, are receiving greater demand from businesses in emerging export sectors, and their products are subject to the harshest scrutiny.

Take their Electrical Steel Laminations. These are tiny, high-demand components, with silicon infused steel that make them useful in electrical motors, magnetic coils, transformers and more. To give you an idea of their size, Brandauer manufacture these as small as 12mm in diameter and just 0.1mm in thickness. That’s one and a half times smaller than a 5p coin, and seventeen times thinner.

In their various profiles – loose, bonded or interlocked – these parts must be made within the finest margin of error. Brandauer, for example, might make 1.5 million laminations every day, and their parts will be consistently accurate to within just 20 microns. A human hair, for comparison, is 50 microns thick. When you’re making parts for the next generation electric engine, or a military drone, the consequences of any inconsistencies are serious. That’s why trust in the capabilities of a supplier like Brandauer is of the utmost importance.

 

A really, really tiny drone

It’s all well and good talking about components, but it doesn’t mean very much unless they go into something worthwhile. Feast your eyes on the PD-100 by Flir. A Personal Reconnaissance System with a rotor span of just 1.2cm, nicknamed ‘Black Hornet’. In other words, a really, really small drone.

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Brandauer supply the electrical steel laminations for the drone’s motors. It’s designed to be used in law enforcement, search and rescue, and in the military. It does the usual drone things like providing live video feed, but in a small and inaudible package flying as far as 1.6km away from the controller. It’s commercially available too, so if you want a military-spec drone for yourself, now you know where the electrical steel laminations in the motors come from.

 

Small parts, big business

The machinery needed to create these tiny components is perhaps even more impressive than the parts themselves. Brandauer’s factory is 45,000 square feet, that’s about 7 football pitches worth of land, filled with the tools and presses necessary to stamp in excess of 1 and a half billion components a year.

The sheer size of the factory means that as many as 50 distinct components can be produced simultaneously at any one time. And just a single one of those busy machines has the capacity to create anything between a single prototype and 2000 parts a minute. Marry this with technology like Wire EDM, and you get manufacturing that is completely flexible to the customer’s needs.

Speaking of which, Brandauer’s state of the art Wire EDM is fully equipped with the latest CAD/CAM software for design and prototyping. The Special Products Division supports one-off to 20,000 component projects and includes some very smart equipment, such as the latest 3D printing technology. Brandauer are set up for those unique projects, like the PD-100, where completely bespoke parts for very interesting products go from the seemingly impossible, to reality.

 

Business moves with the times

In response to the very real and impending possibility of fossil fuel exhaustion, the electric vehicles look to be the most rapidly growing market of all those emerging. The need for components such as electrical steel laminations for motors is exciting for manufacturers like Brandauer. In a single car there could be anything between 70 to 150 motors, all of which require multiple laminations.

The market is a growing one and those requirements will only increase over time, with more and more applications requiring electric motors. By 2020 the electric motor market is expected to exceed £90billion! In the end, it pays for businesses to be ahead of the game. As long as companies compete to future-proof themselves, we can be safe in the knowledge the world’s problems will be combated on a monumentally big – and small – scale.

 

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April 12, 2018
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