Diamond is the hardest material known to man. It’s also the most resistant to abrasion and that’s what makes diamond, including synthetic diamonds like polycrystalline diamond (PCD), ideal for use in cutting tools. PCD tools are noted for their longer cutting life, their ability to operate at higher cutting speeds, and their exceptional performance processing non-ferrous materials like aluminum as well as composites.
Diamond is made of Carbon. It can be synthesised by subjecting the hexagonal phase to extreme pressures and temperatures by using large hydraulic presses. The conversion of graphite to a harder cubic phase is made easier using a catalyst.
For PCD products, diamond powders are mixed and placed on a cemented carbide substrate disc and encased in a protective metal canister. The capsule is loaded into the High Pressure, High Temperature (HPHT) system and pressure and temperature applied for 30 – 120 minutes.
Manufacturing application demands determine the choice of grade of PCD tooling cutting tool material. The important requirements of the material to be considered are abrasion resistance, toughness and strength, and work piece finish. The ability to grind and EDM materials, and quality of cutting edge also influence choice of grade. The ideal choice is the best combination of abrasion resistance and toughness.
Putting PCD to Work in Manufacturing
Creating PCD and selecting the right grade is only the beginning, however. Making an accurate, effective PCD cutting tool for use in manufacturing requires expertise, high-level engineering, and an innovative approach.
“Design and application engineering are critical to creating PCD cutting tools,” says Charlie Novak Jr., ARCH® Cutting Tools Business Development Manager/Coordinator ‑ ARCH® Specials. “Focusing on providing an overall solution and working on the process instead of focusing on simply creating a single tool is important.
It’s even better if that can be accomplished with no outsourcing. That is, if a single tooling solution provider can deliver a total solution to a manufacturer, from materials to finished tooling; and then support that solution with professional services.”
Novak notes that ARCH Specials is unique in providing end to end PCD solutions.
“We offer industry-leading, innovative design and application engineering with a dedicated team of design engineers operating within our proprietary process that is capable of responding to today’s accelerated demands of the manufacturing industry for quick turn-around and value.”
Novak also notes that the ARCH Cutting Tools process delivers total tool tolerances as tight as .003mm, and that inspection reports are available for every tool produced. The same professional expertise that produces these tools backs them as well.
ARCH Specials will re-tip its tools with turn-around in fewer than two weeks, to maintain productivity for its customers. Additionally, Novak adds, ARCH Specials will also re-tip tools from other manufacturers, in support of its customers.
The secret to the best tooling solutions lies in the process behind the design and application engineering.
“In reality, our customers are buying a hole,” says Charlie Novak, Sr., General Manager – ARCH Cutting Tools – Mentor. “What they need is a precise hole in their product and they’re relying on our tool to create that hole; and it has to be right the first time and every time.”
Future Markets, Wider Application
As the utilization of aluminum-based parts continues to grow – particularly in automotive manufacturing, to reduce weight – the performance of PCD tooling is becoming a more significant issue.
“Regulatory requirements in the automotive industry to reduce weight and improve fuel economy; as well as various uses in alternative fuel vehicles, including battery EVs, to reduce overall weight have made the application of aluminum more widespread and increased the demand for PCD tooling,” says Bill Orris, ARCH Cutting Tools Director of Product Development and Custom Solutions.
And the demand will continue to grow, due to demands in other industries.
“Aerospace applications and innovative uses of aluminum in consumer products will drive demand as well,” he added. “Quality products depend on quality tooling; and it’s important to be in partnership with our customers to meet their goals.”
Although cutting tools represent a relatively small percentage of the total cost to manufacture a specific product, the cost of lost production because of the failure of a tool to perform properly can be substantial. PCD cutting tools can last up to 25 times that of an equivalent carbide tool.
Correct cutting parameters is the key to seeing the true value of PCD over other cutting tools, adds Novak, Jr. “An operation can generally machine much faster – at higher speeds with increased chip load; the greatest increase is with speed. PCD maintains a sharper edge and has a lower coefficient of friction. Those characteristics, coupled with the proper speeds and feeds, will result in better surface finish and increased throughput.”
PCD cutting tools, created through a rigorous design and application engineering process, deliver longer tool life – with less adjustments over the life of the tooling, more through-put, and help manufacturing operations capture all available cost savings without compromising quality or productivity.