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An Industry in High Demand

An Industry in High Demand

An Industry in High Demand

Tom Nathan of ANCA explains how demand for carbon fibre reinforced plastics (CFRP) growing at 9.3 percent per year leads to huge potential for cutting tool manufacturers. 

Using strengthening fibres embedded in a supporting material has been around since the dawn of time. From mud brick houses reinforced with straw to the first composite bows made with wood, bone and pine resin, it was recognised that composites deliver superior compressive and tensile properties. 

The transportation, low-carbon energy generation, aerospace, defence, civil construction and sporting goods industries have all adopted composites for their high-performance and low weight applications—and the demand continues to grow year-on-year. A report by Credence Research in 2019 estimates a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 9.3% for Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastics (CFRP) during the period 2017-2025. Growth in the poly-crystalline diamond (PCD) tool market has been double that of standard carbide cutting tools over recent years, making it an outstanding opportunity for tool manufacturers looking to be active at the leading edge of cutting tool technology. 

Tom Nathan, product manager at ANCA, has witnessed the huge increase in inquiries in this area – reflecting a growing demand by tool manufacturers to produce cutting tools to service this market. “Commercial applications for composite materials continues to grow year-on-year with the market space for cutting tools also expanding. With superior strength to weight ratios, CFRP is being used in a wide variety of low weight structural applications from planes, cars, turbines and even drones,” he says.

Cutting tool manufacturers are creating and adopting a variety of cutting tool designs and technologies—developing new tooling for the wide variety of composites used today. ANCA has been working closely with its customers to design innovative solutions that help address these needs, creating new tool geometries and machine technologies that can erode and grind market-leading CFRP solutions.

Understanding the Composite Market

Industries today use a variety of composite-matrix materials (epoxies, phenolics, polyimides) and fibres (carbon, Kevlar, glass) to suit varying applications with very different material properties. In metal cutting, the creation and evacuation of chips serve to remove heat from the point of cutting. In a polymer matrix composite, the matrix tends to be soft but very tough. When analysed at the micro level, machining of polymer matrices does not form chips, but rather a fine ‘dust’ that results from localised micro-fracturing. This matrix dust does not readily dissipate heat from the cutting edge as the matrix material generally has a very low thermal conductivity. 

Nathan states that this creates significant problems when using ferrous (iron) based cutting tools for machining composites. “The increased heat leads to localised thermal expansion and lower yield strength which varies the tool geometry, ultimately leading to premature wear,” he says.

The next challenge comes from the embedded fibres. These fibres are strong, stiff and highly abrasive when machined. Different composite materials utilise different fibre orientation methods to aid the mechanical properties sought. Fibre forms can be unidirectional, fabric weaves, braided or even chopped which makes the composite materials behave very differently when being machined.

To complicate matters more, Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastics (CFRP) can be layered with backing materials comprised of aluminium or titanium to aid strength and rigidity. Alone, these substrates require their own types of tooling geometries, however, varying layers of these materials with matrix composites materials demands tool geometries that can cater for a wide variety of machining operations with dramatically different cutting properties. 

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