The world's smallest drilled hole

Engineers at Cardiff University are appearing in this year's edition of the Guinness World Records book for the smallest hole ever drilled -- at least with human-made tools. By using a process named electro-discharge machining (EDM), they've drilled holes just 22 microns wide. But read more...

Engineers and scientists at Cardiff University are appearing in this year's edition of the Guinness World Records book for the smallest hole ever drilled -- at least with human-made tools. By using a process named 'electro-discharge machining' (EDM), they've drilled holes just 22 microns wide. Now they want to use another process, borrowed from nanotechnologists, to create holes with a width of only 100 nanometers. And they hope that their tools will help designers in medical and electronic sciences. But read more...

This research has been conducted at the Manufacturing Engineering Centre (MEC) at Cardiff University. His director, Professor Duc-Truong Pham, said he is happy that his team appears on a book published in more than 100 countries. But here are some details about what Pham and the MEC scientists have done.

MEC scientists have developed machinery which can drill holes just 22 microns (0.022 mm) in width, less than half the width of a human hair. The new technique uses a process called electro-discharge machining and will eventually enable improvements in the miniaturisation of electro-mechanical systems.

Here are some more details about this process, given by Wikipedia and by MEC's marketing director Frank Marsh in "World's narrowest hole?" (November 2005)

"The standard rods available commercially are capable of making holes of 150 microns. Although lasers are able to make small holes, these are of poorer quality when compared to the EDM process. Lasers make holes that taper, whereas EDM makes parallel or vertical holes."
The process is achieved by creating a minute electrode, with a diameter of only 6 microns (0.006 mm), which was itself produced by manufacturing a highly precise wire electrode discharge grinder.

Below are two images picked from this document. On the left is a picture of an electrode with a 6-micron diameter. And on the right you can see two holes drilled by using this technology, the top one having a diameter of 22 microns and the bottom one a diameter of 22 microns. (Credit: MEC, Cardiff University)

World's smallest drilled hole

Of course, you don't expect to drill holes this size in your walls. So what will this technology be useful for? Here is MEC's answer.

The ability to produce such quality tiny holes in any conductive material signals a major advance in mechanical engineering and will benefit designers in the medical and laboratory sciences, as well as electronic design engineers in creating smaller electronic systems which will cover a wide range of industrial and consumer industries.

And as scientists are as childish as you and me, they're already busy trying to beat their current record by using new nanotechnology equipment which include a focused ion beam (FIB, link to Wikipedia) which can create holes of only 100 nanometers in width.

Sources: Cardiff University news release, November 16, 2006; University of Georgia News, November 17, 2006; and various websites

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