UF Engineering Students Develop World’s Fastest Milling Machine

September 9, 1996

GAINESVILLE — Staying one step of ahead of industry, a group of engineering students at the University of Florida has developed the world’s fastest milling machine.

“Our machine is now the fastest,” said Jiri Tlusty, graduate research professor in mechanical engineering at the University of Florida College of Engineering. “The main achievement is we built it all with students.”

Used primarily to make airplane parts, milling machines secure metal or aluminum to a carriage, shaping it with rotating milling cutters. The accomplishment of Tlusty’s students to build their own machine was borne of necessity. Without the money needed to buy a milling machine capable of the high speed his students would need, Tlusty decided it would be best if they built one themselves.

“It would be a good exercise and goal for the students,” Tlusty said. “Not only to simulate something on a computer and write the dissertation, but to really design and build and put together a machine.”

With support from the National Science Foundation and McDonnell Douglas Corp., the students designed the machine and built all but the largest parts.

But it was Tlusty who was perhaps his students’ best resource.

“I started as a designer of machine tools in June 1940,” he recalled. He went on to become a designer, researcher and pioneer in the machine tool industry. The Communist invasion of Czechoslovakia forced him to leave his native Prague in 1970 and begin teaching. His students in the Machine Tool Research Center are amazed at Tlusty’s experience — a virtual living history of 56 years in the industry.

Dave Bernhard, a doctoral student who helped develop the machine, said the work he has done with Tlusty is “right on the cutting edge.” “Most machine tools are running at about half the speed of ours and they’re moving to a higher speed now,” he said. “The objective was to push the envelope. There are other manufacturers doing what we’re doing, but they are not quite at the stage we are.”

Tlusty expects one manufacturer, the largest machine-tool company in the United States, will unveil a high-speed milling machine with about the same parameters this fall.

The company, Tlusty said, “actually hired two of our Ph.D. graduates because we have the special knowledge.”

Five or 10 years ago, when Tlusty first began working on high-speed milling, there was very little interest from industry and the general engineering community.

Now, with the aircraft industry mired in a slump, more work is subcontracted. As those subcontracting companies have seen the value of producing the airplane parts faster, the idea of high-speed milling is catching on. The U.S. Air Force now is doing research and development in high-speed milling, and aircraft builders are becoming more interested.

“Now it seems there is much more interest in this technology,” he said. “High-speed milling makes it possible to make the parts strong, stiff and light, which you cannot do with a conventional machine.”

Bernhard said Tlusty’s lab is truly unique in that developments achieved there are now being utilized and applied in the industry. That pays off for students when they graduate, he said, as more manufacturers are now looking for people with experience in high-speed milling.