One of the most astonishing changes in manufacturing is the evolution of cutting tools. Their cumulative progress is making machine-related workloads more efficient and precise. All this while saving time and bettering yield production. It’s plain simple to say that cutting tools’ enhanced performance presents a win-win scenario for the industry! To carry forward the previous statement, this feels like an ideal moment to touch the ground on cutting tools — a technology that never ceases to amaze me and that is taking manufacturing to a new stage.

Cutting tools have been around us for centuries, even before the industrial revolution began.

In those early days, millions of years ago, they were primitive utensils — mostly made from sharp-edged wood, bones, or stone — used for survival purposes, hunting, and preparing food. Then, the main leap is taken throughout the XVI and XVIII centuries. At that time, the first versions of metal-working lathes, engine cylinder boring machines, and screw-cutting lathes came into the picture. Their arrival, along with metal shaping machines, the steam hammer, and the milling machine, set the footprint for what would come with the boom of the industrial revolution. 

The collection of new knowledge on metallurgy led the way to the practice of serial production.

Essential findings on material metallurgy were unbottled during the XIX and XX centuries. These discoveries brought into the cutting process a new kind of element known as alloys. Alloys are a combination of metallic compounds that can offer better performance, in terms of strength and durability, than pure materials can reach.

Alloys are some of today’s most used metals in cutting machines. A go-to example is steel — a combination of iron and carbon mixed in different proportions to obtain varying capabilities to specific targets. 

The physical properties of alloys — and metals in general — proved to be well-fitted for the act of cutting, which is central to sustaining serial production in manufacturing. The reason is simple. Cutting tools are the most efficient means to shape objects and meet the design’s precision. Otherwise, could you imagine how long it would take for a man to fine-craft an automotive piece? 

Besides metallic compounds, diamond has been another recurring element used in the cutting process.

Since it is one of the hardest materials on earth, diamond is well-regarded as one of the best cutters in the field. So much that diamond cutters have been a constant fixture in several sectors for diverse purposes:

  • IT industry to make computers,
  • Stone and ceramics processing,
  • Oil and gas drilling,
  • Mining extraction, and
  • Automotive and aerospace part manufacturing. 

A counterpoint of diamond cutters is how expensive they can be when fared against other options.     

The current work to enhance cutting tools’ performance will drive manufacturing work to a new stage. 

A cutting tool is a device that applies a direct force to a material to deform its body. For the process to be effective, the cutting tool must always be harder and stronger than the material it is trying to cut through. There lies the challenge!

In manufacturing, cutting tools enable the creation of intermediate pieces or finished products that serve a purpose within the core production process. 

Over the past few years, there has been a focus on ameliorating the cutting materials and machines’ design and performance to boost:

  • Production targets, 
  • Time-effectiveness, 
  • Precision, and 
  • Process economics. 

All critical variables for the feasibility of the manufacturing market!

Several experiments on chemical composition, atom-level microstructure, and the cutting process per se are taking place. The R&D has already improved applications and taken technology deployment across a wider scope. 

The progression can be appreciated through the development of advanced cutting materials such as polycrystalline diamond (PCD), cemented carbides (WC, TiC, or TaC), compacted graphite iron (CGI), and cubic boron nitride (CBN). Still, more fit-for-purpose materials continue to be invented and tested on a daily basis. 

On tooling, the refinement of coating technology, speed, vibration levels, and lifespan are ongoing aspects on top of the experts’ minds. They work hard at it to bring safer and high endurance machines with more accuracy and capability than ever before. 

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