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Micro-manufacturer springs into action

01 June 2012

Adapting to increasing demand for micro-sized components is something that Advanex Europe - a Midlands based precision engineering company – has taken very much to heart. Les Hunt talks to managing director Paul Clifford about how the demand for micro components is affecting the company’s production methods.

Tiny springs contained in this jar are compared with the size of a Euro coin
Tiny springs contained in this jar are compared with the size of a Euro coin

The terms micro-engineering or micro-manufacturing describe the design and manufacture of miniature components and systems. Technology trends have provided greater potential for miniaturisation, and as demand for smaller end user products increases, the supply chain has had to adapt its production methodologies. The components may be very tiny, but they have to function reliably, and this places considerable responsibilities on the manufacturer in terms of his production technique and quality control procedures.

In recent years, Advanex has played its part in this revolution, focusing on the micro-engineering of springs to create tiny components for a variety of end-market products such as mobile phones, computers, PDAs and disposable medical devices. Micro-engineering requires a sea-change in manufacturing technique and Advanex has responded accordingly, creating a specialised bespoke manufacturing system that has enabled it to achieve some remarkable firsts.

Indeed, using this new technology, the company has manufactured what it claims is the world’s smallest spring - having a wire diameter of just 15µm and an inside diameter of 45µm. Developed for the electronics industry, this particular component is smaller than the eye of a needle and is virtually invisible to the human eye.

Clearly, these components pose a manufacturing challenge. The wire size is so small and the springs so delicate that special care must be taken during manufacture and appropriate handling techniques need to be employed, post-production. Production equipment must be adjustable within extremely fine ranges, while inspection and quality control demand sophisticated, high-magnification vision systems.

A key post-production consideration and critical customer requirement is to ensure that these sub-miniature components do not come into contact with any airborne contamination. Advanex says that paying close attention to detail at this stage is one way the company has managed to remain competitive in this market. Even tasks as simple as counting and despatch become complex issues as they require extremely accurate weighing systems and packaging processes to ensure that the springs are received in the right numbers and in pristine condition.

Illustrative of the company’s success is the establishment of a customer base among highly competitive Asian electronics manufacturers for whom it produces a variety of miniature metal stampings and micro-pressings. And in Japan the company is also actively engaged in the manufacture of precision springs for the medical device sector.

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