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Invention puts bite into Apple iPhone

Engineers at Brunel have created the UltraMill machine, a cutting-edge manufacturing tool which is helping UK and European manufacturers compete in high value manufacturing, particularly ultra-precision and micro manufacturing.

Used to produce medical devices, watch and electronic components, UltraMill has inspired a pioneering diamond cutting tool and has been used by Apple to make the bevels around the edge of the iPhone 5S.

UltraMill was developed by Professor Kai Cheng and his team in Brunel's Advanced Manufacturing and Enterprise Engineering group, in collaboration with Ultra Precision Motion (UPM) Ltd.

Their aim was to support UK and European small to medium enterprises working in high value manufacturing (value that included non-profit elements such as social impact) in their efforts to develop an edge over their global competitors.

Brunel’s UltraMill machine is a bench-top micro-milling machine which mills, drills and grinds a wide range of miniature components as well as the fine surface features on components of up to 150x150x80mm. Its unique construction, using air bearings and direct drives on all axes, means the UltraMill can achieve outstanding dimensional precision, surface geometry and the finest surface textures.

The UltraMill is now being manufactured using parts provided by UK manufacturing companies and, inspired by the new tool, a global market leader in diamond cutting tools has developed the world’s first diamond micro-milling tool. Four companies now have this technology and it has been used to create the bevelled edges of the iPhone 5S.

This work has led to further research to develop a new, smart cutting tool, which can monitor the micro-milling process by measuring the cutting forces in real time.