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Measuring the performance of cutting tools at extreme operating temperatures

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New microscopic techniques on the mechanical performance of cutting tools at their extreme operating conditions have been developed for the first time

Cemented tungsten carbide composites (WC-Co), also known as ‘hardmetals’, are used in tools for such things as cutting, machining and drilling because of their high mechanical properties which include hardness and wear resistance. However, their performance is governed by their microscopic composition and is strongly dependent on temperature. During their normal operation these instruments can reach extreme temperatures – up to 700 ˚C – and whilst much effort has been made to understand the mechanical behavior of these metals at ambient conditions, studies at these higher temperatures have been missing.

Through the work of the EMPIR project Metrology for length-scale engineering of materials (14IND03, Strength-ABLE) a new method was developed to study the mechanical response of hardmetals at these elevated temperatures for the first time.

By combining high temperature nanoindentation, a way of testing the hardness of very small volumes of material using an indenter tip to deform the material, along with electron microscopy a significant decrease in the performance of these composites was evidenced at high temperatures.

Francois de Luca (NPL), who performed the work, has said “Small-scale characterisation techniques enabled the investigation of the mechanical behaviour of cutting tools in operating conditions. The work allowed for crucial material data to be collected in extreme conditions, providing manufacturers of hard metals with new guidance to design tools with better performance and longer lifetime”.


This EMPIR project is co-funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the EMPIR Participating States.

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