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Novel Fluids Quicken Workpiece Fixation

Some workpieces are quite sensitive and can be damaged when clamped in a vise. That is why researchers at Saarland University, Germany, developed a procedure in which such workpieces can be held by a fluid. Upon activating a magnetic field, the fluid containing iron particles solidifies within fractions of a second to a firm negative of the workpiece.

In this way, the workpiece is held gently, can be machined precisely and is protected from vibrations. The new fixation technology has already been tested in the aircraft industry and will be presented by the scientists at the Hannover Fair, from April 19th to 23rd. The Saarland research booth C44 is located in Hall 2.

A flip of a switch is enough to convert the oily, honey-like liquid into a firm and tough substance with the appearance of dried-out clay. This effect is a special property of so-called magneto-rheological fluids. Most of them are silicon or mineral oil suspensions with an even distribution of ferrous particles. By exposing the fluids to a magnetic field the particles immediately orient themselves in the direction of one of the poles. "This effect has been known for more than 50 years. To use it in an industrial context for the fixation of workpieces, it was necessary to solve several problems", explains Harmut Janocha, professor for Process Automation at Saarland University.

His team investigates how the substances can be used to fix workpieces and how they can be implemented in other applications. The research also focuses on how to create an optimised magnetic circuit for different applications. In the European funded cooperative project Maffix, it has been possible to implement and test the new technology in the aircraft industry. Until now it was necessary to clamp titanium frame members, used to stabilize the body of the aircraft, in a complex way before machining. Titanium has the property to easily retract to its original form (memory effect), making it impossible to correct even the smallest, unwanted deformation.

"By using our fixation system the steps involved in the process could be shortened in a significant way, since the frame members could be inserted into the liquid without any additional fixation elements. The fixation now only requires half the time", added Professor Janocha. Due to this fact the production process has been improved enormously, since fixation of the workpieces took up more than half the overall time of processing. "Now it is possible to process the workpieces in a gentler way, since they are protected against vibrations during milling and bevelling", pointed out Janocha.

The European Maffix project, which was funded until October 2008 with about one million Euro, included cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research in Würzburg, as well as companies from Spain, Germany, Italy and Romania. The task of the research project was to develop novel fixation systems for workpieces with the help of this special fluid.


Thomas Würtz
Lehrstuhl für Prozessautomatisierung (LPA)
Universität des Saarlandes
Tel.: +49(0) 681 302- 57591
Tel. +49 (0) 511 / 89 49 71 01 (Telefon am Messestand)

Friederike Meyer zu Tittingdorf | idw
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