Laser assisted machining is an alternative to conventional machining of hard and/or difficult-to-process materials which involves pre-heating of a focused area with a laser beam over the surface of the workpiece to cause localized thermal softening along the path of the cutting action. The main advantage that laser assisted machining has over conventional machining is the increased material removal rate and productivity. Laser assisted micromilling is a scaled down derivative of laser assisted machining assuming that the process effectiveness potentially exists at the meso/micro scale. It is well-known that continuous-wave (c.w.) lasers generate a wide and deep heat affected zone, and can cause microstructure alterations, potentially making laser assistance counter-productive at the meso/micro scale. The novel use of a pulsed laser in assisting micromilling enables processing of die/mold metal alloys that are typically hard and/or difficult-to-process in micro scale, while reducing the heat affected zone. A fairly innovative technique is introduced by thermally softening only the focused microscale area of the work material with induced heat from a pulsed laser, and material removal is performed immediately with micro mechanical end milling. The focus of this paper is to present a fundamental understanding of the pulsed laser assisted micromilling (PLAM), in particular, to investigate the influence of pulsing on microscale localized thermal softening by coupling with the finite element simulation of the micromilling process. Experiments and Finite element method-based process simulations for micromilling of AISI 4340 steel with and without the laser assistance are conducted to study the influence of the pulsed laser thermal softening on the reduction in cutting forces and its influence on the temperature rise in the cutting tool.

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