5 Absolutely Mental Manufacturing Processes

  • Here's an overview of 5 highly unusual manufacturing processes you don’t hear about every day!
  • Read this article to gain an insight into explosive forming, exothermic welding, cold spraying, electrical discharge machining, and hydrographic printing.
  • Dazzle your colleagues with your in-depth knowledge of some COMPLETELY MENTAL manufacturing processes they won't have a clue about.

What you’re about to witness is a roundup of some absolutely mental manufacturing techniques that are insanely interesting, and just a little bit wacky. Some will make you awe-struck at their ingenuity, some will make you question everything you know, and at least one will make you ask ‘what’s the point?’

Well, the point is this; sometimes you just need to see some crazy stuff to make you appreciate just how cool engineering and manufacturing can be. And if you get the opportunity to see any of these in real-life, jump at the chance as these can be jaw-dropping and mesmerising at the same time.

1. Explosive Forming

Let’s kick off the list by blowing some stuff up! No need for a punch or press, nothing beats this method, quite literally. It’s definitely up there with one of the most absolutely mental manufacturing techniques.

Explosive forming works by placing a sheet of material, usually a tough metal, submerged in water above a mould or die and detonating an explosive device above it. The shockwaves sent through the transfer medium (e.g. water) will then shape the material into the required form.

It was first used in the 1960s mainly by the Russians during the space race, proving useful to create large corrugated metal sheets for rocket nose-cones and other parts. Another industry that uses explosive hydraulic shock methods is boat-building. It means they can shape the hull of large boats without having to weld panels together, making the process a whole lot easier.

2. Exothermic Welding

Next time you pass some rail engineering works, look out for this process taking place as it’s often used to join long lengths of rail together. You may not be able to see it too well however, as the welders are supposed to put up screens to protect onlookers’ eyes from damage caused by the white hot thermite welds.

Welding railway tracks together using thermite (Exothermic Welding)

The process involves using a thermite chemical reaction to heat the metal to a molten state allowing a strong weld to be formed. Pretty cool stuff, as no external heat source is needed, just the raw power of pure chemistry. The resulting weld needs chiselling and grinding to create a surface smooth enough for running trains, but the payoff is in the extreme strength and reliability of the weld compared to other methods.

This process, along with the advent of continuous welded rail, has revolutionised the rail industry, doing away with the old noisy clickety-clack joints and fishplates of yesteryear!

3. Cold Spraying

If it’s absolutely mental manufacturing techniques you’re into, check this one out. Powder particles are accelerated up to roughly 1000 metres per second (approx. 2200 mph!) using a supersonic compressed gas jet, like a compressed air cleaning tool on acid. The process disrupts the surface layer of the material, allowing new deposits to build up quickly and evenly.

It’s basically an extreme way to coat items such as machine parts that are temperature sensitive or made from materials that are easily compromised by oxygen or water damage.

As it’s a quick and fairly simple process, Cold Spraying is often used for repairing high-grade materials. For example, the US military use cold spraying to repair components on their Blackhawk helicopters.

Graphite eletrodes for EDM

4. Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM)

Some bright spark came up with the wonderfully simple idea of using electrical sparks to shape materials. An electrode creates a powerful spark with the workpiece, creating blistering heat of up to 12000 oC, melting away anything that stands in its way. The process is highly controlled, so intricate shaping can take place. Water is used immediately after machining to cool the surface quickly.

Wire EDM is a slightly different process, used to cut contours into materials with a length of wire that generates high-powered sparks. Again, no contact is made between the electrode and the workpiece.

EDM is also perfect for drilling and shaping hard materials such as titanium, hence it has become popular in medical equipment production and aerospace manufacturing where they need to shape extremely tough materials such as Hastelloy, Waspaloy, Nitralloy and Nimonic.

5. Hydrographic Printing

Ever wondered how decorative designs are printed onto items such as motorcycle helmets, gun barrels and car dashboards?

Wonder no longer. The process most commonly used to give a sleek, beautifully finished design on all kinds of materials including metal, plastic, glass and wood is called hydrographic printing.

It involves placing a design film on the surface of a water tank, applying a chemical to turn the design into a floating liquid which also acts as a bonding agent, then lowering the object into the tank through the ink layer which adheres to it. The object is then removed and lacquered to create a glossy, brilliant finish. Check out the video below. The process is strangely hypnotic and very satisfying to watch!

So there you have it, an insight into 5 absolutely mental manufacturing techniques. Each is extremely effective in its own right, especially when used for the application it was developed for. Can you think of any uses for one of the above techniques to help manufacture your next product?

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