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Sandia's Micro-Electro Discharge Machine (Micro-EDM) (above). On the upper right inset is the Micro-EDM electode in copper that was made with the LIGA (electroforming) process. On the lower right inset is a screen fabricated into .006 inch kovar sheet using the Micro-EDM electrode. The walls of the screen are .002 inch wide by .006 inch deep.

Meso-machining technologies being developed at Sandia National Laboratories will help manufacturers improve a variety of production processes, tools, and components. Meso-machining will benefit the aerospace, automotive, biomedical, and defense industries by creating feature sizes from the 1 to 50 micron range.

Sandia's Manufacturing Science and Technology Center is developing the following meso-machining technologies:

These technologies complement Sandia's existing micro-scale technologies such as silicon-based micro-machining and LIGA (electroforming). The various meso-scale processes have different material capabilities and machining performance specifications. Machining performance specifications of interest include minimum feature size, feature tolerance, feature location accuracy, surface finish, and material removal rate.

Sandia's Manufacturing Science and Technology Center is pursuing partnership projects with universities and industry to further develop meso-manufacturing technologies that Sandia uses to help fulfill its important national security objectives. One such partnership involved working with Lousiana Tech University on an FIB project to ion machine micro-end mills and micro-turning tools. The FIB is capable of machining nano-scale features in a variety of metals. Also, Sandia is partnering with Purdue University to research micro-EDM.


The end mill was used to make this 25um deep channel in aluminum.

A 25um end mill tool, with five cutting edges, was fabricated using focused ion beam maching.

In addition, Sandia is conducting research and development (R&D) to develop processes to manufacture parts in specialized materials that cannot be obtained either in commercial markets or through U.S. Department of Energy production facilities. For instance, work is being conducted to fabricate subminiature parts with non-planar features from engineering materials such as steels, kovar, plastics, ceramics, and rare earth magnets.



Sandia can machine both 2-D and 3-D, micron-sized features in engineering materials such as ferrous metals and ceramics. Our advanced meso-machining processes also can complement micro-fabrication in such applications as:

Sandia's Micro-sinker EDM is being used to extend the material base for LIGA. The LIGA process is used to fabricate subminiature, high-precision copper electrodes. The Micro-EDM uses these copper electrode tools to plunge into materials such as kovar or stainless steels. Our Micro-wire EDM is capable of machining with 25 micron diameter wire and has positional accuracy of 1.5 microns.


Sandia has developed a femto-second laser machining workstation. This technology is capable of machining deep micron size holes in a variety of materials with practically no debris. Femto-second laser machining has an impressive material removal rate while avoiding thermal damage.



In collaboration with Pulsed Power Science the two photos show how 20 micron wide micro holes drilled by a Ti Saphire system (120 Femtoseconds) in air and in vacuum. These are compared with a hole drilled by an ND: YAG laser (λ= 1.06 um; pulse width= 100 nanoseconds, p=50 mw, 2 kHz). All images were taken from the entry slide of the Kovar foil.


Meso-scale stepper motor machined by Micro-EDM process. Stepper motor size is 10mm x 10mm x 5mm. The Micro-EDM enables high performance motors by machining difficult materials such as Neodymium iron boron and Hiperco® alloy



Sandia's new research projects include blending silicon-based Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) with meso-machining technologies. Computer numerically controlled micromachines are multi-degree of freedom stages fabricated in polysilicon enabled by parallel kinematic mechanisms and driven by electrostatic linear stepper motors.

Also, electromicrofluidic packaging is enabling a scale factor of approximately 1,000 that exists between small, standard fluidic connectors (microliters) and fluid channels on the silicon based electromicrofluidic IC (nanoliters).

Micro-end mill machining PMMA video

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Metal Cutting of 6061-T6 Aluminum Alloy video

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Jeremy Palmer
David Gill