Wire EDM

Introduction and Motivation

Technology grows exponentially smaller over time to meet the increasing demands of performance and portability across various industries; these include medicine, consumer products, electronics, aerospace, automotive, defense, and many others. Such shifts in technology have been made possible by ongoing research on the harnessing of scientific phenomena to perform material addition, removal, and/or modifciation at increasingly small size scales. The mission of the UC Micro and Nano Manufacturing Laboratory is to expand the horizons of what is possible in manufacturing at these size scales by researching the relevant fundamental scientific phenomena that make these processes work. Examples of prior work can be seen in Figure 1

Diagrams of micro 3-D printing

Figure 1. Micro and nano manufacturing processes studied in the UCMAN laboratory

Electro-discharge machining (EDM)

When you hear the word “machining”, usually you imagine conventional machining methods in a machine shop that use cutting tools: lathes, drills, mills, and so on. Electro discharge machining (EDM) is a nontraditional method of machining that uses the principle of spark erosion to remove material. EDM can take the form of die-sinking EDM (analogous to a drill press, as seen in Figure 2 and Figure 3), or wire EDM (analogous to a band-saw, as seen in Figure 4). This goal of this project is for the student to create a functioning wire EDM system.

Machine with sparks flying

Figure 2. Sparking from electro discharge machining (image source: atlantaedm.com/articles/a8-history-of-edm.php)

The working mechanism behind EDM, whether it is operated in a die-sinking or wire method, is achieved by placing two electrodes, a tool and a substrate, in a dielectric fluid. When a high voltage is applied to the electrodes and they are sufficiently close, the dielectric breaks down and a spark occurs across the fluid, causing machining to occur, as illustrated in Figure 3.

Schematic of EDM system and spark erosion

Figure 3. Schematic of EDM system and spark erosion (image source: me-mechanicalengineering.com/electric-discharge-machining/ )

The laboratory has all the starting materials needed for a working EDM system:

  • Tool, substrate, and dielectric materials
  • Three linear stepper motor stages for a 3-axis stage
  • Power supplies
  • Input/output boards of several brands to allow for computer sensing and control of hardware (Arduino, National Instruments, Raspberry Pi)
  • Electronic circuit components such as wires, transistors, capacitors, alligator clips, resistors, and so on
  • Troubleshooting tools including a multimeter, oscilloscope, and current probe
Schematic of wire EDM

Figure 4. Schematic of wire-EDM (image source .engineersedge.com/edm.shtml)

The task of the student is to automate a working wire EDM system from the materials available in the laboratory. The wire EDM configuration is shown in Figure 4, where the “tool” is a wire moving through a set of spools and able to cut the entire cross-section of the substrate.

Learning opportunities for students

Participating in this project will expose the undergraduate student to hands-on, interdisciplinary research. Students will build have the opportunity to build rare and valuable skills in studying physical phenomena from first-principles, experimentation characterization methods, analog hardware design, and/or modeling of the process at the atomic scale. Fundamental research skills will be covered including literature review, presentation, and report writing. The undergraduate student will also be encouraged to begin building a professional body of research work by presenting the work at either a conference and/or preparing a paper for journal publication.

Final deliverables will include

  • Experimental proof-of-concept on student-determined CAD files
  • Documentation on the problem-solving process 

Students will gain exposure to

  • Providing new knowledge on an emerging manufacturing technique
  • Conducting a literature review
  • Hands-on experiments with the electro-discharge setup and hardware
  • Coding  algorithms
  • Problem solving
  • An excellent opportunity to exercise your initiative, creativity, critical thinking, scientific judgment, scientific knowledge, problem solving, and teamwork skills
Headshot of Murali Sundaram

Murali Sundaram

Professor, CEAS - Mechanical Eng

631 Rhodes Hall


Dr. Murali Sundaram is a Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at the College of Engineering, University of Cincinnati. He has over 25 years of professional experience that includes ten years of industrial experience in precision manufacturing and three years of postdoctoral research experience in micro and nanomanufacturing. Dr. Sundaram is a recipient of a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation. His research interests include Additive Manufacturing, Nano-Manufacturing, Nontraditional Machining, Micromachining, Hybrid Machining, CAD/CAM, Metrology and Process Simulation. Dr. Sundaram is advising/ has co-advised over 25 graduate students (including 6 Ph.D. students) and several undergraduate students. He has authored five book chapters and over 100 refereed publications. Dr. Sundaram serves as Associate Editor of SME's Journal of Manufacturing Processes and is an International Editorial Review Board member of the International Journal of Manufacturing, Materials and Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Sundaram is a member of ASME and SME.