The objective of this study is to investigate the feasibility of machining micro-holes on the non-conductive Aluminum Nitride (AlN) ceramics using micro-electro-discharge machining (EDM) process by exploiting various coating techniques. Although ceramics possess excellent mechanical properties under compressive load condition and superior thermal properties, machining of microscale features on ceramics remains challenging due to the extreme brittleness associated with ceramics. Due to the involvement of higher cutting force and tool wear issue, conventional machining process appears to be unsuitable for machining ceramics. On the other hand, non-contact and negligible process force associated with EDM process makes it one of the competitive processes for machining of ceramics. A series of experiments were carried out on AlN ceramics using “Assistive Electrode” micro-EDM process with a goal of machining blind micro-holes into the ceramics with the aid of on-machine fabricated copper tungsten tools. It was found that multi-layer coatings of silver and copper with copper tungsten electrode resulted in successful machining with high-aspect-ratio holes during powder mixed micro-EDM of AlN ceramics, while micro-holes with less than one aspect ratio are machined without powder addition to the dielectric. It was also observed that comparatively lower level of discharge energies, i.e., lower value of voltages and capacitances were favorable for successful machining of micro-holes in ceramics, even though it results in significantly higher machining time. Despite of relatively low discharge energy usage in micro-EDM, machined surfaces appear to be very rough. The machined surfaces indicate that melting and evaporation, as well as thermal spalling, are the dominating material removal mechanisms. The machined surfaces contained many thermal cracks and porosity on the surface. The elemental composition analysis confirms the presence of aluminum and nitrogen elements on the machined surface. Finally, by careful selection of machining conditions and assistive electrode, successful machining of micro-holes is possible on the non-conductive ceramic surfaces using the micro-EDM process.
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