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Journal of materials processing technology

USER JOURNAL TITLE: Journal of materials processing technology


A knowledge-based system for electrochemical machining procedure


Khairy, A.B.











Processed by RapidX:

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.~om'nal of Materials Processing Tedmotogy 58 1996) 121 130


A knowledge-based system for electrochemical

machining procedure
A.B. Khairy
Deparmwm of Productima Enghwer#ag, Alexandria UniversiO,, Alexandria. Egypt
Received 24 April 1994; accepted 7 February 1995

industrial summary

The paper addresses the concept and prototype development of a hierarchically structured knowledge-based system (KBS} fbr
the optimized process operation of electrochemical machining. The KBS ~s developed for conditions whereby a near-true shaping
and equilibrium material removal process hold in a true working environment The structare of the KBS permits updating and
installation of individual function, database and modules such as those used for determining ECM variables and identifying
constraints and parameters for optimum anodic-tool shape deemed to produce a certain workpiece geometry. The KBS is
structured to select the feasible process parameter according to a given set of workpiece attributes. The KBS has a modular
structm'e which can accommodate multiple configurations of workpiece shapes and sizes. Qualitative indices have also been
implemented to lacilitate decision-making among candidates of materials and/or electrolytes. Initial testing has demonstrated the
feasibility of integrated heuristic and algorithmic procedures for real-time applications. A fully implemented version of this KBS
will enable the user to perform high quality machining with optimum rates of performances. Machining time is proportionally
saved and deductive selection of machining variables can be made. The KBS software is written in the C language and has been
tested for a real operation witll ECM cell environment.
geywonls: Electrochemicalmachining; Knowledge-basedsystem

I. Introduction

The application of electrochemical machining (ECM)

to exotic alloys to produce intricate shapes and high
surface quality has signi!icantly increased in recent
years. There has been a deeper understanding of the
physics of the process as well as a wider spectrum of
knowledge about it. To simplify and standardize the
application of ECM, certain procedures have been
compiled and recommended by research and professional bodies [1-3]. However, most of the tentative
procedures which have been adopted are based on
personal knowledge, skill and judgement. Many decisions have to be made when handling even a simple
ECM machining operation concerning the selection of
many independent variables as shown in Fig. I. Many
process parameters have interrelated actions that directly or inversely affect the workpiece geometry and
surface integrity, and may cause damage to the cathodic tool if not controlled judiciously.
A dynamic environment usually arises when using an
ECM machining cell to perform a variety of operations,
Elsevier Science S.A.
SSDI 0924-0 i 36(95)02116-4

that involve different configurations of t o o l workpiece

and input parameters in practical situations. Most general process designers have limited proficiency in handling all the difl'erent ECM operations encountered and
seek lhrther expertise from human experts and/or refer
to literature. Information is not always readily obtained
because the bulk of the know-how, based on practice
over many years, is not conveniently recorded or easily
consulted in documents or databanks. Training of personnel to gain the missing skills and experience is
rendered dillicult because of the loss of expertise as
skilfui personnel leave work. Under such circumstances,
if appropriate knowledge is not available from a suitably reliable source, the job in hand is likely to be
delayed, and there is a risk of degraded machining
quality, equipment damage, and increased down-time.
To increase productivity and to enhance quality and
provide an aid to design, planning and manufacture of
ECMed components, a computerized knowledge-based
system (KBS) is being developed. The knowledge base
described in this investigation provides a knowledge
consultancy system that guides the selection of the most


A,B. ghai~3'/ Journal t!f Materials Processittg 7~,clmoh~gy 58 (1996) 121-130

appropriate machining conditions for achieving specifications of a given object based on its geometrical and
physical description.
Since the early 1980s KBS have emerged as specialized problem solvers which emphasize the use of the
knowledge rather than algorithms, but in a rather
nonspecialized-nonheuristic domain. Several protype
KBS have been developed in the domains of manufacturing, robotics and fault diagnosis and have proved to
be cost effective.
The concept of using expert systems for optimizing
the selection of machining processes stems from work
done in the past ten years [4-71. An example is Hon's
work [4] on laying down the foundations of adopting
artificial intelligence techniques in planning a strategy
to select the optimum machining process among many
candidates. This was hindered by embodying too many
machining methods in the knowledge base. Mill and his
colleagues [5] proposed a generative planning technique
that was based on generic object models for intelligent
sequencing of machining operations. Khairy [6,7] has
limited his consideration to the selection of a machining
method from a family of nonconventional processes,
via an expert systems environment.
The application of knowledge.based systems to guide
selection of machining conditions for conventional n'lachining methods has been rather limited [8,9], although
these systems have been implemented more successfully
in diagnostic engineering [10], There are databases al.
ready available for the selection of materials [11,121,
but these did not include any data for the class of
nonconventional processes like ECM. There are also
Pc, based systems to apply the concepts of concurrent
engineering in design and manufacturing via clas, tcal
methods of machining [13,14], Thompson et al. [15]
suc~ssively tested the implemention of a prototy~
KBS for seam welding automation and control. Bonnet
et al, [i6] reported ~aa~u~ydiversified applications of
expert systems particularly in CAD, diagnosis of breakdown, process control and robotics.

2. E C M - -

a candidate for KBS

The essence of KBS was not captured in the area of

ECM, although some work has been reported about its
application in EDM [17]. The task of optimizing the
tool design and operating conditions requires complex
computations and judgement, and a decision about
them may not be unique, i.e. a number of possible tool
geometries and operating choices could be viable. Furthermore, any adopted scheme in ECM depends on the
expertise of the problem solver. The establishment of a
neat methodology for tool design is particularly difficult
because of the complexity of hydrodynamic reactions
and variability in parameters during machining. The
most important aspect of tool design as linked with
selecting machining parameters is to arrive at a combination of nominal tool geometry that leads to the
production of the required object geometry through the
highly turbulent machining gap in between. If the techniques of geometric modelling are applied, a frame of
plane and isometric models for tool and accompanying
workpiece can be obtained for any machining combination. The formulation of KBS in this case should
ultimately be based upon a full recognition of the
following ECM features:
(!) For a typical machining operation, the entire
process of selecting the machining parameters, determining tile tool shape, finding the interdependencies
between process variables, and issuing appropriate plan
sequences is difficult to formulate and expertise demanding.
(2) The knowledge related to ECM technology is
wtst and needs a selective approach.
(3) Problems such as multiplicity of boundary limits
in analytical tool design and finding, Ibr example, a
realistic mode of dissolution may lead to a number of
alternative choices if only an algorithmic strategy is
These aspects make a problem of selecting ECM
operation parameters a prime candidate for the KBS
approach. Apparently, no KBS has been developed to
deal with the obscure and highly subjective ECM operation. This is the first stage, being addressed here, in a
series of disciplines aiming to computer customize the
ECM process, In the following stage, the knowledge so
selected for a typical ECM operation can be used to
invoke a fully integrated manufacturing system.

3. Initial procedure for KBS

~,g, !, EI~M independent variables.

To address this problem properly, both factual and

heuristic information for common combinations of
tool-electrolyte-workplace and configurations of machining zone should be assimilated into a KBS. This

A.B, K&:a'O'/,t~m~nu/o/Mawria/s l,ocessm,~T~chnoa~gy58 {~996) ~2~





methods. For example, simple analyticat rutcs are used

to assess the limitations of ECM machine tooi aad its
power generatm', and more complex heuristics t~or determining the best combination of etectrotyte-toot for a
given workpiece. The KBS also includes algorithmic
procedures to estimate the material removal rate, projeered area in the machining zone, maximum current
density, and required applied voltage, and more comprehensive procedures for the tool design. The flow
chart in Fig. 3 summarizes the steps of the strategy

Fig. 2. Procedure for conducting ECM.

system should then be able to guide the selection of
optimal interaction between process variables on the
basis of an expert's knowledge, and to explain how a
particular conclusion {goal) was reached.
The procedure for conducting a typical ECM operation is depicted in Fig. 2 as a sequence of one or more
actions {machining operations) and resources {ECM
machinery) that enable the goal state {producing a
finished part) to be reached, given the initial state
(stock). The following methodology is adopted to accomplish this target:
(I) Identify the ECM machinery to be used and its
(2) Obtain all factual information pertaining to the
workpiece specifications such as hardness, geometry,
required surface integrity and electrolysis parameters as
well as the quantity (usually more than 30 pieces to
justify expensive tooling).
(3) Determine initial values lbr appropriate machining.
(4) Use a set of experience-ba,~ed rules to determine
if the overall operation performance can be improved
by reconsidering original choice{s) of machining
parameters or if an originally infeasible choice of electrolyte mixture and/or tool material and shape can be
made feasible.
(5) Produce the final operation procedure.
Once the final machining parameters and the corresponding tool shape have been determined by KBS, the
information is displayed on the workstation monitor
for all recommended choices. If the ECM machine tool
is equipped with a numerically controlled facility, the
recommended choices are converted into commands for
setting the controllers of the machine such as the opengap voltage, feed rate and electrolyte pressure. From
the proposed strategy it can be seen that there are
different types of knowledge and reasoning processes
required for the complete planning of a given ECM
operation. The knowledge base builds upon such facts
as workpiece geometry and machine tool limitations
and comprises both rule-based and algorithmic procedures. Rules are based on analytical as well as heuristic

4. Architecture of knowledge base

The knowledge base is developed to contain as much

expertise relevant to ECM as possible. Most of this
expertise, i.e. experience and knowledge, available to
date is documented in technical reports and annals
published by the CIRP, E&O STC-Committees, and in




............................ l In


Fig. 3. Flow-chartof operation procedure strategy.


A, B, ghaio' / Journal of MatertaL~" Processing l't,chm.h~gy 58 (1996) 121 - 130

Fig. 4. Structure of knowledge base.

the publications of the Machinability Data Centre,

typically the Machining Data Handbook [3]. Besides
these two main sources, many other technical papers,
reference books and case studies are also available in
literature. A protocol analysis, however, was used to
gather ECM in readily formatted records of information which were expressed afterwards as facts about
concepts and practices, and rules for the handling of
the facts. No knowledge was elicited verbally from
experts since it proved to be time consuming and
difficult. Fig. 4 shows the structure of the knowledge
base for ECM. It has tbur working modules: information-input module, machining procedure module,
tool design module, and process economy module.
Each of these modules requires certain types of
The software is structured in two levels of hierarchy, as shown in Fig. 5, with the third level being
the databases required lbr the assigned modules.
There are six databases used in the program, namely:
(i) ECM-candidature database: which contains inibrmation about the suitability of a given workpart
for machining by ECM Ii'om the outset. The inlbrmarion is related to the material hardness or tough.
heSS, complexity of part geometry, post-machining
cold work, size of production, state of residual or
imposed stresses, and surfac~ integrity.

Control ]

(ii) ECM-limits database: which has documented

information pertinent to the range of power supply
ratings, types of electrolyte, their concentrations and
temperature, the flow rate, velocity, and pumping
pressure, working gaps and dimensional tolerances.
(iii) Material database: which embodies information concerning workpiece and electrode materials
designation (only according to AISI-SAE or ASTM),
composition, electrochemical properties, and material
removal rate for pure metals and alloys. At the time
of writing, the database contains data on 80 alloys
commensurate with ECM applications, along with
data on 37 pure metals. Ten specific alloys are suitable for tool electrode. Any other alloy can eventually be included in this database.
(iv) Technological-merits database: this contains
textual and numerical information concerning process optimal performance including certain machining geometries, electrolytes, tool electrodes special
materials and rigidity, surface integrity, tolerances,
(v) Machining parameters database: which is algorithm-oriented information to compute the resultant machining parameters including the anode
projected area, maximum current density, start and
end amperage, equilibrium feed rate and working
voltage (open-gap). The mathematical expressions for
these parameters are concisely given in Appendix A.
(vi) Electrolyte database: which is application.oriented information tbr a given workpiece material.
The in!brmation includes electrolyte type (composition pure or mixed), concentration, temperature at
inlet, 'lnd pumping pressure. At the time of writing
the database is limited to only pure neutral elec.
trolytes and 13 mixed electrolytes to suit various applications. Other types of nonaqueous liquids,
molten salts, or gaseous electrolytes will be added
A set of cautionary remarks concerning specific se.
lections are implemented in the databases to guide the
user. The structure of these databases is designed
based on the principles of relational schema. The top
level in Fig. 5 is the controlling program that governs
the module sequence, calls to the database, and user
interface. All of the main activators and menus are
located at this level. The four modules at the intermediate level receive information in a processable format
from the top level. The modules have a look-up table
structure for easy user consultation. The function of
each of these modules is explained below.

4.1. h~brmation-input module

This introductory module is of informative as well as
Fig, 5, Hierarchial ECM structure,

confirmative nature. Prior to receiving any user instruc-

A, B, Kha~'ry / ,hmrmd ~l" Mago'ia/s Pna~'~,s,s'i~g F,'~'hm&agy 5S ( 999# ~21 130

tions, the system starts by displaying a cosmetic cautionary note that the work material ought to be electrically conductive. This is followed by 1he system
enquiring about the work geometry and material designation to check its suitability for ECM. When imlbrmafion (i.e. facts} is supplied Io the system it goes on to
assess six properties concerning the material hardness,
shape complexity, surface status with respect to cold
working effects and general integrity, edge finishing and
scale of production, by consulting the ECM-candidature database. The latter, through the relational schema
structure of databases [22], can retrieve the required
information from databases as structured rules which
are produced, for example, as numerical values of
hardness or a rated percentage of surface integrity. The
overall assessment is shown in terms of a verdict about
the part being most suitable, suitable or unsuitable for
ECM. If the given part is classified as belonging to the
first or second rank the system proceeds, through interactive mode with the user, to show the typical limits for
ECM operating parameters as tabulated in the processlimits database.
4.2. Mach#l#~g-proce&we mmhde
This module makes use of a combination of structured rules and algorithms to set up the off-line procedure for ECM of the part pie-assigned to the previous
module. On the basis of part features and material the
module determines the appropriate machining parameters by consulting the material, machining parameters
and electrolyte databases. The selected parameters are
displayed (in menu-driven structure} to the user with an
option to modify. A machining procedure is delined on
the basis of the given part's information and the rules
embedded in the knowledge base. This constitutes the
'primitive' choice of the machining procedure. All the
restrictions of the process and machinery limits are
taken into account at this stage. If the user wishes,
another refined phase of machining procedure can be
invoked which will show if a preferred selection of
procedure items is available. This is accomplished using
several technological rules (developed from nonroutine
experiences and facts reported in the literature) formulated by consulting information contained in the technological-merits database. Upon selection of the
machining procedures, the details of various steps involved are structured with corresponding values of
machining parameters tbr possible repeated use on
similar jobs.


separate finite demem analysis iFEA} package ~o co~

struc~ ~he opthnum contouring of eIectrode tool that
will match the part geometry, otherwise a simpte
method of approimate tool shape design can be used.
based on recommendations given m [3], and summarized in Appendix B. If the work part has been dealt
with by the KBS before, the module will directly retrieve its predesigned tool geometry from a machinery
database 0f implemented).
4.4. Process ecommn' too&de
In this module, the cost elements pertaining to tooih~g material, electrolytes, sludge disposal and machining time are considered at the sealing stage of operation
planning. The choice of trepanning, for example, to
reph|ce a conventional ECM drilling operation is easily
picked up through a group of icons in a CAD menu
and by consulting the technological merits database.
Comparative electrolytes cost indices are also included
in this database to facilitate their choice if many are
compatible with the job. If a question about part
material is still open, a machinability index ststem, like
that described in [23], can be implemented to rate the
material choice fi'om other candidates in the material
database. Although structuring the KBS into functional
modules has considerably simplified the consultation
process, on many occasions there has been a trade-off
between system modularity and tile final approved
choice by the user.
In summary, rich knowledge about the ECM process
is formulated in the form of production rules IIF:
THEN/ELSE) in the control program which functions
as a recta-level governor. Depending upon the usersupoplied information aboul the work pal'l, the control
program invokes the main menu schema in the input
information model. Having retrieved appropriate inlbrmarion for a given work part, the machining procedure
module is invoked and interacts with the |ool design
and process economy modules. These modules have
generic rules and algorithms, which interface with their
respective databases. The meta-rules in the controlling
program feed the retrieved information from the machining parameters, electrolyte, and technological merits databases to the machining procedure moduie which
generates the machining procedure and parameters required by the user. All transversal interactions between
the four modules in intermediate level are governed by
the controlling program.

4.3. Tool design module

5. Implementing the KBS for ECM

This module is invoked to perform one of two functions. If the work part is ne~ to the system the module
goes on to consult, based on given part features, a

There are two distinct approaches to the implementation of a rule-based KBS on micro-computers. The first
approach is to focus on a selection from among the


A.B. hTlaip3' / Journal of Materials Processiog Techm~h~gy 58 (1996) 121-130

char metalp [10];
char metalp [10];
float size [10.10.10];
float tolerance [5.5.51
float ECP
float mrr;
int jmax:
int volt;
int amperage;
int feedrate;

/* alloy standard design */

/* tool alloy design */
/* part size */
/* tolerances */
/* electrochemical */
;* metai rate */
/* max current density */
/* open-gap voltage */
/* working current */
/* equilibrium feed */

Fig. 6. Data structure in C format.

many commercial expert systems shells that are available on the market. These shells provide supporting
routines for the development (induction) of production
rules from examples (data) which serves to reduce
considerably the labour involved in such an effort.
Alternatively, we can use a development programming
language that can handle both conventional and symbolic programming issues of the KBS. Although *,1
languages like LISP and PROLOG have attracted
much attention in the expert systems environment for
some time [23], the new trend, emerging recently, is
closer to conventional programming languages like C.
The primary advantage of building KBS using conventional programming languages is better control over
the entire consultation/inference process, as well as the
ability to modify, or enhance any portion of the sys.
tern. The requirements for the KBS include structured
and easily accessible databases, and several modules
thai attain sets of domain-specific heuristics, rules lbr
drawing inferences, algorithms for quantification, and
data tbrmatting for information display. All these
functions are highly interactive, and could be carried
out in real time if ECM numerical controllers are
availale, The data structure in C language satisfies all
these requirements [24] and proved to be most efficient
in problem solving even when competing with A! languages [i 5,25].
The information that is generated for a work part is
stored in pre-assigned data structures. The machining

parameters are systematically assigned to their appropriate structure member by the machining procedure
module. As an example of the data structure used in
the KBS, the MACHINING structure in C format is
illustrated in Fig. 6. The 'metal p' and 'metal t' arrays
are C declarations of the standard designations work
part and tool, respectively. The remainder of the structure contains the necessary machining parameters. This
data structure would be available for each module so
that the required information for each work part can
be easily cited. The user supplied information on part
material type size, tolerances, etc., are passed onto the
machining procedure module/tool design module which
provides the interface between the material, machining
parameters, technological merits and electrolyte databases and the user. Fig. 7 shows schematicaUy the
schema for the machining parameters database. The
relationships between attributes and parameters are
then translated into a relational database and implemented. The machining procedure module operates by
prompting the user to enter each attribute consecuti,~aly in a menu list. At each step a list of all possible
knowledge is displayed. For example the first prompt
asks for the material type of the part. A list of all this
material's physical specifications in the database is displayed for user's knowledge. This process is repeated
for each attribute of the operation in hand.
Once all the queries have been put, the operating
parameters are uniquely defined in the domain of the
current database. The appropriate parameters corresponding to each query are found from menu assignments and are displayed on the monitor screen before
being placed in the current machining structure, Fig. 6.
The parameters may then be examined and altered by
the user if desired, or refined further by consulting the
technological merits database.
The consultation process continues to occur
smoothly through the tbur intermediate modules, their
elicitation of data from database, and under full coordination of a stepped procedure by the controlling

Fig, 7. Schema of machining parameters database.

,4. B. Kh~k'v / ,PournM o! Mawrhds ?ro~'es,~k~,e Tectmo/og.v 58 ~8996) ] 2 J 130


R u k 06

J - 7

~5 ~15



30 . . . . . . .

Diffictdt contours are involved,

and more than 30 pieces ~vill be
Part is thought to be suitabte for

(Tolerance = +_0.05 R, = 0.5 pm Dims, in ram),

Fig. 8. Part geometry and specifications.

6. Experimenta| verification and discussion

In order to verify the KBS discussed above for ECM

applications, a computer workstation (HP-RC20) is
interfaced with an ECM machining cell. The workstation hosts the software for KBS and acts as the supervisory controller and decision-maker for the cell
environment. The following illustrative example will be
used to demonstrate how the system provides off-line
consultancy in practical situations. The ECM machine
tool used is a Charm(lies A3000 which will be used to
verify the machining procedure tailored by the KBS.
Fig. 8 shows a part with a through-hole which is the
only surface required to be machined by ECM. The
part general specifications (attributes, Fig. 7) are given
including material type, dimensions, tolerences, surface
roughness and cy!indericity. Values for the last three
parameters are assumed, lbr the moment, to lie within the typical ECM values, as shown in a supplied
The part material, AISi 4340, is a high strength steel
that is typically used in critical applications such as
connecting rods, landing gears and many precision
engineering components. To set up the KBS the user
must assign the alloy name to answer a query from the
initial menu. The system issues a cautionary notice
emphasizing that the material ought to be electrically
, v e. Although humble, this wanting message is
useful for users not accustomed to ECM and who may
confuse it with other processes, e.g. plasma machining,
or EDM, which can occasionally handle semiconductive materials and ceramics. The first prompt checks the
candidature of the given material for ECM. If not
overridden by the user, the knowledge-base will check
first the material hardness as obtained from the material database by rule 05.
Rule 05

The material vickers hardness is

less than 500
Material is thought to be
unsuitable for ECM,
Apply rule 06

If the above rule conclusion (right-hand side) is denied, it will work as a meta-rule for rule 06:

Once more rule 06 can be used as a meta-rule for

further inference to achieve the 'most suitable' ECM
applicability, i.e.
Rule 07


Part is thought to be suitable for

ECM, and
The surl:ace to be stress-flee, and
The edges to be burr-free, and
A high surface integrity is
Part is most suitable for ECM

which was tile conclusion accepted for the given exampie. A few other rules can be triggered prior to the
preceding rules for matching data provided by the user
concerning machine tool capabilities with that of a
machine already in the knowledge base. The system can
now provide the user with a display of alloy properties
as extracted fi'om the materia~ database as follows:
alloy type

chemical equivalent

theoretic~d removal rate

= AIAI 4340
= 0.40% C, 2.0 Ni, 0,8
Cr, 0.7% Mn,
0.25% Mo
= 2.65 (calculated by
the percentage by
weight method)
assumed valency .....
(could also-- 3)
= 2.18 cm~/min,
(tabulated, assuming
100% dissolution
current ~fl~cle~cy)

The values displayed for chemical equivalent and

theoretical removal rate are shown at this early stage
only for guidance. The actual values of these parameters will be rectified flora calculations of machining
parameters. The user can have further guidance
through displaying the contents of ECM limits database; as shown in Table 1. In fact the information
about process limits can be restored rapidly any time
~,-,,v-~,,'-" claecks during the KBS consulting session. The knowledge base will continue prompting the
user to accomplish the steps of the machining procedure. In the next phase the user should input the
dimensions of the projected area, Ap (the tool area
perpendicular to the feed direction) within the machining gap (Appendix A), or this r,hould have been (dentiffed earlier from data stored about the part in the


A,B, Khalo' / Journal of MateriaLs' Processing Technoh~gy 58 (1996) 121 - 130

CAD interface (an ASCII/DXF or IGES.file). To

cope with either possibility two declarative rules are
fired to the user
Rule 09

Dimensions of the part are

Restore data from the user
Restore data from DXF, or
IGES file(s)

Rule 10

Dimensions of the part are

Apply algorithm 5.1 to calculate
the projected area

Algorithm 5. I enables the machining procedure module to calculate the projected area at the frontal machining gap. A set of algorithms are used consecutively
to calculate the maximum current density (J,,,,0 available from the machine power generator, equilibrium
feed rate (f), current at equilibrium (1), and open-gap
voltage (V). Typical values for the part shown in Fig. 8
are, respectively,
Ap ~. 0.196 cm -~
J,,,,,~ ~ 15 300 A/cnY' (rate ampere = 3000 A)


~ I 1.000 era/rain (current efficiency = 100%)

~ 2999 A
~ 10:~20 V(dc)

These values will be reconsidered by the system lbr

further refinement when consulting the technological
merits database as explained below.
The design of electrode tool for the given problem is
a simple one, however, the user may opt to consult
either of the algorithms explained above in the tool
design module. For this particular part the KBS system
is instructed to accept the goal of designing the tool
electrode shape as a mirror image of the paws internal
hole less the average along the hole side walls, i,e, side
gap or overcut, This is cited by the knowledge base at
the technological merits database for drilling or trepanning operations. The system will display the dimensions
of suitable tool geometry (beside an extra length for
tool clamping on machine head) to be
Total tool length = 32 (for drilling engagement)+ 18
{for tool clamping)= 50 mm
Total diameter = 4,98 (0,02 mm dimensional
The tool clamping length and a rigidity index, based
on length/diameter ratio for selected tool material, are
both determined by system rules and displayed to the
user, Now the tool material will be selected from 10

recommended alloys for tool electrode material available in the material database. For our particular example the system selected naval brass (60 Cu = 39 Zn) as
the best general purpose electrode material. Since
drilling is done only at the frontal machining gap, the
side walls of the tool are coated with flexiglass and the
reason for this conclusion is given as 'being suitable for
insulating the tools used for production of a small
number of parts'. All the choices made by the knowledge base can be explained, and extra useful remarks or
hints are provided for the user.
The work materials of cathode and anode are both
well identified up to the present stage. It is only the
electrolyte that needs to be selected. The selection process shows that 12'/,, (wt./vol.) NaC! solution will be a
good choice, or a mixture of 12',NaC! and 6% NaNO~
electrolytes can be used to minimize surface pitting
along the side walls of the hole as well as reducing the
taper. The recommended inlet temperature of the electrolyte is from 35 to 38 C, inlet pressure being 1.0 MPa
and outlet pressure 0.3 MPa. All the conclusions made
by the knowledge base so far are written to a file that
keeps all these choices in procedural form suitable for
testing, and maybe modification, by the user. Before
this procedure is finally produced the system can revise
its earlier choices for the current efficiency, and can give
hints of expected deviations in hole geometry due to
approximations in tool shape design, if required. The
conclusions concerning tool material and mixed electrolyte are drawn by process economy rules. The tool
material is indicated as easily repairable and cheap,
whereas the mixed electrolyte, although more costly
than pure NaCI, provides better surface integrity and
Tile machining procedure with the machining
parameters assigned to it by the KBS was subjected to
a test run on the Charmilles.A 3000 machine tool. Five
specimens of 4340 steel were ECMed using the systematic step-by-step procedure and resulted in excellent
proximity between dimensions and tolerances of specimens. The surface roughness of two specimens machined in a mixed NaCI, NaNOs electrolyte was, on
average 0.7 of that sustained for machining in pure
NaCI electrolyte; R~ = 0 i mm and 0.07 mm, respectively. The system finally brings to the attention of the
user the fact that the current efficiency of 100% can
now be changed to 90% for pure electrolyte and 60%
for mixed electrolytes, hence the pre-assigned feed rate
should be modified.

7. Concluding remarks

A knowledge-based system (KBS) has been developed to aid planning ECM operations. The major

A, B, Kh~ArV i J~mrsa'd ~/" M<~ser~als Pr~J~'ess#~g 7"e~'km,t~>ly 58 l ~)9(~j ~2 ~ 130

Perhaps in the next sta~,e of research a k~ov:le~ebased system can be developed ~o aid process selection
~o sui~ a particular material or vice-versa.

accomplishments of the research reported in this paper


(1) The developed syslem is modular, which allows

for the addition of more detailed function modules or
databases without allering the resl of the program.
(2) Botli heuristic and algorithmic procedures have
been implemented to enjoy complete consideration of
ECM practice. Step-by-step procedures have been developed to set out the machining parameters, supported
by an explanation mode of the conclusions reached by
the system, and a facility to refine it.
(3) An experimental verification 'test run' has been
conducted on an ECM machine. The KBS has been
able to provide the necessary support required and
successfully guided the part machining process.
For the knowledge base to be comprehensive, data
on non-neutral electrolytes ought to be introduced. The
system is user-friendly and can be used either by those
having much ECM experience, or those who need a lot
of guidance. The family of nonconventional machining
processes are extremely good candidates lbr KBS because of the considerable shopfloor expertise needed.

Appendi A
The basic mathematical relationships between ECM
parameters are as follows:
(1) Specific metal removal rate = C (chemical equivalent/specific weight) where C = 1/96 500.
(2) Maximum current density = rated amperage of
equipment/projected electrode area.
(3) Equilibrium feed rate = (material removal rate
current efliciency)iprojecicd a r e a ,

Appendix B
The approximate design of c o n t o u r cutting electrodes
(with insulated periphery) is given by [3], as shown in
the Figure below.

Feed. vI

-.-,.=-I I-::.i l!',

P .....







I..i--, Projected ,,orlial area. Aw " - * ' l

ANGLE 0 -- O" to 20" (o = 70" Io 90")

Use mirror or conjugate image of parl and uniform
gap. Sc ,s S e .

ANGLE 8 -- 20" 1o 40" (a - 50a Io 70")

Correct tool shape from unilofm gap Io
Sc : Se sec 0 or S c " ~
sin a"

ANGLE ~ -- greater than 40 (o less than 50")

Develop iDOl shape by trial cuts and correction.
An Approximation:

AGap ~ Se (sec e - cos e }

I 2 ~)


i !ion

il le

iloi I < 40



A.B. Khairy / Journal qf Materhds Processing Te,'hm,h,gv 58 (1996) 121 -130

Appendix C
Table C!
Typical values for ECM operating parameters [3]
Power supply
current density:

8 to 465 A/cm:
50 to 40 000 A
5 to 30 V

type and concentration:
most used:
frequently used:
less frequently used:
flow rate:

NaC! at 60 to 240 g/I

NaNO~ 120 to 480 g/I
Proprietary mixtures
1500 to 3000 m/min
0.95 l/min/lO0 A

Frontal working gap:

Side overcut:
Electrode material:

0.076 to 0.76 mm
0.127 to I mm
Brass. copper, bronze

two-dimensional shapes:
Surface roughness. R,,

_+0.025 mm

inlet pressure: 1.37 to 2060 kPa

outlet pressure: 0 to 310 kPa
temperature: 26 to 46 C

three-dimensional shapes:

+0.051 mm

0,2 to 1.6 mm

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