Machine Shop

  • 01 Machine Shop
  • 02 How It Works

01 Machine Shop

TRIUMF’s state-of-the-art Machine Shop supports TRIUMF scientists and engineers in pushing the innovative limits of experimental design both at TRIUMF and in Canadian and international collaborations. 

Entering TRIUMF’s rare isotope production and experimental facilities, visitors are struck by the fact that a particle physics laboratory resembles a huge industrial space, warehouse-sized rooms filled with hundreds of meters of shining stainless piping connecting exotically shaped metal instruments. 

This advanced metalwork is the nuts-and-bolts of particle physics. It’s the sophisticated metal architecture that guides high-energy beams of rare isotopes and serves as the skeleton for cutting edge physics experiments such as the Ultra-Cold Neutron facility. 

Thus, the in-house Machine Shop, located in the southwest corner of the TRIUMF grounds, is a critical component of TRIUMF scientists’ ability to successfully create and run world-class experiments, and TRIUMF’s ability to operate one of the world’s most advanced rare isotope production facilities. 

TRIUMF also has ancillary specialized Machine Shops, including the Remote Handling Group’s “hot” machining shop, specialized for remotely working with radioactive components; and the Scintillator Shop, specializing in creating light-detection components, often in plastics, using oil-less machining to avoid contaminating the plastics with corrosive oils. 

02 How It Works

Working closely with TRIUMF’s Design Office and Engineering team, the 15-person Machine Shop staff specialize in translating physicists’ vision into prototypes and one-of-a-kind experimental components. This is often an iterative process in which scientists, designers and machinists work back-and-forth to create unique components that must meet extreme tolerances for vacuum, cryogenics, and high-precision measurement.  


High-vacuum components 

Most TRIUMF facilities operate under high-vacuum conditions and the Machine Shop is a world leader in creating components for these high-vacuum environments, from beamline parts to those for experiments such as TITAN and IRIS.  

Creating components for high-vacuum requires specialized welding that ensures both the absence of embedded air molecules in a weld and the weld’s tightness against leakage. To achieve this, the Machine Shop’s electron beam welder operates within a meter-squared vacuum chamber. (The shop also has two highly skilled manual Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) welders, another technique for making leak-tight welds.) Welds are leak checked using a helium leak detector. The component is put under vacuum conditions and sprayed with helium, which is detected if it leaks through. To be used at TRIUMF a component must meet a requirement of not permitting the passage of more than one centimeter-squared of gas in ten years.  


Computer-controlled machining 

For complex cutting and 3D shaping, the Machine Shop operates a suite of advanced computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines. These CNC machines are programmed using Mastercam™ software, enabling the machinist to directly import the SolidWorks™ design files from the Design Office. TRIUMF machinists specialize in working with both common metals (stainless steel, aluminum and copper), and the exotic metals (titanium, tantalum, niobium and molybdenum) required for a variety of TRIUMF applications including target ovens, collimators, SRF cavities, and cryomodules. Tantalum and niobium are soft, gummy metals which require specialized machining techniques and experienced machinists. 

For rough cutting in 2D, TRIUMF machinists use a powerful CNC OMAX™ water jet cutter. Operating at 45,000 PSI, the water jet’s .8mm diameter stream of a mix of water and abrasive garnet can quickly slice through up to eight centimetres – almost the length of a credit card – of stainless steel.  


Precision cutting and welding 

For high-precision cutting and shaping in 3D, TRIUMF machinists use CNC milling machines, all seven of which are capable of four-axis control, and two of which are capable of 5-axis simultaneous movement for turning a solid block of metal into a component that includes features such as a curved bore or spherical electrode. 

Experimental components are 3D machined to tolerances of just ± 20 microns, or millionths-of-a-meter. Similarly, TRIUMF welders join tiny, complex, fragile components, for example, target foil elements, as thin as .025mm (1/1000 of an inch).