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Laser drilling – what is it?

Although ELE has had laser drilling capability for many years, we are seeing a increased amount of  interest – so here is a short article on the subject, that you might find useful.


We have two  5 axis ND YAG pulsed lasers  in our UK  facility.

The lasers can produce thousands of holes in one component, with diameters as small as 0.3mm/0.012” in size through material up to 15 mm/19/32” thick to a tolerance of 0.01mm/0.001” using percussion and trepanning drilling techniques.

OK, but what’s a YAG Laser ? I hear you say

This is a bit techie,  but I have tried to simplify it as follows;

A  Nd:YAG (neodymium-doped yttrium aluminium garnet; Nd:Y3Al5O12) is a crystal that is used as a lasing medium for solid-state lasers and it is the neodymium ion which provides the lasing activity in the crystal.

Interestingly the first demonstration of the Nd:YAG Laser was by J. E. Geusic at Bell Laboratories in 1964, not that long ago and is still seen as relatively new technology.

At ELE we use Pulsed Nd:YAG lasers, which are typically operated in the so-called Q-switching mode.

Put simply, this means that an optical switch is inserted in the laser cavity and waits for a maximum population inversion in the neodymium ions before it opens. Then the light wave can run through the cavity, depopulating the excited laser medium at maximum population inversion. In the Q-switched mode, output powers of 250 megawatts and pulse durations of 10 to 25 nanoseconds can be achieved.

So what does this allow us to do for our customers? 

The laser can be used in both aerospace and industrial gas turbine applications to drill cooling holes for enhanced air flow/heat exhaust efficiencies in super alloys.

At ELE our Nd:YAG lasers are used  to support customer requirements for things such as Heat Shields – found on the Eurofighter, where a combination of percussion drilling, followed by the trepanning of the same hole, using the laser beam, in order to reduce recast layer and gives a more circular hole.

We drill Nozzle Guide Vanes  and turbine blades in super alloys, for both Aerospace and Industrial applications. With holes as small as 0.3mm it is a very efficient and quick way to drill a large volume of hole, with configured precision. We can even drill through Thermal Barrier Coatings without delamination of the coating.



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STEM: Traditional Hi-Tech Drilling for Modern Industry

At ELE we know the importance of achieving complex engineering solutions, especially when it comes to manufacturing processes. Non- traditional methods of drilling and machining provide cost effective solution, high quality for intricate cooling systems, including those in the aerospace and gas turbine production industries.

One such intricate and effective drilling technology is Shaped Tube Electrolytic Machining or STEM as it is more commonly referred to. While there are other drilling techniques, such as capillary, laser and fast hole, STEM still offers a way to create clean, multiple, round and shaped, accurate holes with large depth-to-diameter ratios.

Making small, precision holes in metal has always been a challenge for manufacturers. A popular option is electrical discharge machining, although this is an efficient method of manufacture it does have some drawbacks one of them being that it produces sparks and creates precipitate in the hole being drilled. STEM is more often used because it doesn’t have this problem and there is less consequent tool wear and therefore reduces tooling costs.

The Benefits of STEM

Compared to other manufacturing and tooling processes, STEM delivers major benefits to many industries, such as:

  • It can produce round and shaped holes including radial edge, film cooling, and platform holes with large depth to diameter ratios.
  • It is still one of the most versatile deep drilling technologies in the world.
  • It can be used to drill multiple holes at the same time, reducing time and cost.
  • It produces less stress on materials and can be used on some of the hardest metals that are used in manufacturing, across the board, today.
  • It can handle numerous drilling profiles with depth ratios of up to 300 to 1 with diameters as small as 0.5mm.
  • Because it uses an acid electrolyte process, it can handle hard metals with a high degree of precision, quickly and with little waste.
  • The process delivers fast metal removal with low thermal and mechanical stress.

How Does Shaped Tube Electrolytic Machining Work?

STEM drilling was developed primarily to handle large depth-to-diameter ratios, a requirement for many industries and manufacturing processes including those in aerospace. These deep holes cannot generally be drilled in the conventional way without some form of waste, expense, or reduced quality and accuracy of the drilling. Other processes such as ECM tend to create precipitates which then hamper the electrolytic flow path of the bore preventing the deep drilling that is often a prerequisite for manufacturing industries. Stem drilling achieves deeper hole depth to diameter ratio’s by using an acid electrolyte – making it ideal for hardened materials such as nickel-based corrosion resistant metals, where depths of 300:1 can be achieved.

Areas of Use

STEM is used extensively in areas such as jet engines and industrial gas turbine; products like HPT turbine blades, nozzle guide vanes and heat shields, where small holes, starting at 0.05mm diameter can be created for cooling, with high precision in multiple arrays. A major benefit of Shaped Tube Electrolytic Machining is that several holes can be drilled simultaneously reducing manufacturing time and costs. Furthermore in  processes where the designer demands no re-cast layer,  something that the EDM process cannot provide, as it can weakening the surrounding material an issue and can in some cases initiate parent metal cracking , STEM does provide a fast and accurate solution to this issue.

How can we help you?

At ELE we combine a range of manufacturing technologies to deliver the best outcome for each of our clients. Processes such as STEM, allow ELE to deal with a wide range of complex designs and materials to a very high degree of precision.



We love a challenge!

When you need help with a project or just need some advice from one of our technical team - hit the button

Viper Grinding: The Future of Manufacturing

Introducing flexibility into the manufacturing process that helps improve performance and reduces costs is key to success nowadays. Searching out the best technology and combining this with highly skilled teams of design engineers and operators lies at the heart of everything that ELE stands for. Viper grinding technology enables engineers to create more intelligent designs by delivering a grinding tool that can be used on multiple axes, cutting the time spent on changing to different settings, substantially reducing manufacturing time and delivering a high degree of accuracy for more complex machine parts. One area where we differ from our competitors is with the introduction of one of the largest viper grinding machine currently available. Viper stands for Very Impressive Performance Extreme Removal and the acronym suits this technology perfectly. The process has been around for a few years now and replaced older, less effective manufacturing practices. It was originally developed by Rolls Royce Aerospace to help make compressor and turbine blades as well as engine parts to high degrees of accuracy and complexity. It was an immediate success when brought onto the market, a machine which greatly reduced lead times and brought excellent benefits to the manufacturing process as it behaved less like a conventional grinding machine with a wheel that generally ground over the part, the new viper concept was having the wheel moving around the part, more like a multi axis milling machine. These benefits include:

  • The process of grinding is now more efficient and has high levels of consistency allowing for factory processes that deliver high precision finishing across different parts with significantly reduced set up times.
  • There is less thermal damage to components, because of the unique way that the Viper grinder takes smaller cuts at rapid speed with very high coolant pressures, pressures that are so high in fact that they actually impregnate the grinding wheel with coolant during the manufacturing process.
  • Viper grinding can be easily incorporated with other processes such as milling or drilling within the machine due to its integral carousel, offering greater flexibility to the whole manufacturing cycle and finished parts can be completed in a single set up in some cases. All which helps toward cost, set up and lead-time reduction to the customer
  • 5-axis viper grinding machines work with some of the hardest materials in the manufacturing process including nickel based super alloys, making it ideal for sectors such as aerospace where integrity and safety are so important.
  • Speed is also part of the benefits with viper grinding – it delivers up to 5 times normal grinding performance.

The true benefit of viper grinding is that it allows engineers and machinists to produce machined parts and turbines with a much great degree of accuracy. This in turn allows developers to create more exact design criteria, improving tolerances something that is needed for safety critical parts within the aerospace, gas and automotive industries.

How can we help you?

Advanced technology lies at the heart of everything ELE delivers. With a highly skilled workforce we maintain our position at the forefront of technology, advanced by continually investing in our manufacturing processes and making things possible” for our customers. This gives us the ability to produce high quality, complex components for both for large and smaller scaled products to exacting specifications for our clients. Something we do by using latest technology such as the viper grinders to make turbine blades, nozzle guide vanes, seal segments along with other related hot gas path products.  If you want speed, efficiency and reliability to a high standard, then viper grinding from ELE is the perfect solution. At ELE we combine a range of manufacturing technologies to deliver the best outcome for each of our clients.

We love a challenge!

When you need help with a project or just need some advice from one of our technical team - hit the button