What Is Carbide And Who Needs It

What is carbide and why should anyone really care? Mostly because nearly everything manufactured has been produced using this amazing material. Carbide cutting tools are some of those unsung heroes, the backbone of injection mold making that just keeps plugging along.

The general public is mostly concerned with appearance and performance of the things they buy, not how it was made. So, it makes sense that this is just not that important to the layman.

Mold making and milling
Using Iscar Carbide Cutters

For most manufacturing, such as tool-and-die or mold making, there are two main materials used for the saws, drill, end mills, and insert cutters: high speed steel (HSS) and carbide.

What is carbide

From a chemists viewpoint, carbides can be any group of compounds made up of carbon and one other element that is a metal, boron, or silicon. In reality numerous compounds fit into this group: Calcium Carbide, Aluminum Carbide, Silicon Carbide, Tungsten Carbide and Iron Carbide.

Any toolmaker knows what carbide feels like, looks like, how it performs, whether it is magnetic or not and that it is very brittle. The extreme hardness that makes is such a durable cutter also makes it exceptionally easy to chip and fracture.

Where would we be without carbide?

Modern manufacturing depends on carbides for it’s very existence. These are called cemented carbide and are classified by wear grades, impact grades and cutting tool grades.

All those cookies we like to eat end up on some kind of industrial sized conveyor belt to scoot them along into cute little packages. These belts all have some kind of carbide guides which are the wear grade types. Many other production lines rely on the wear resistance of these guide and other bearings for longevity.

That soda can used to be a flat piece of aluminum, now it is all stretched and formed into a little can. This was done in a forming die, which also relies on carbide to withstand the fantastic pressures required to form the metal into a can shape.

Then there are the carbide tipped saw blades down in the basement, on the circular saw. Or the cement drills at the hardware store and machine shop down the road. Milling machines around the globe spit out metal chips by the bucket load to produce anything from airplanes to cell phones.

Mold making and Lean Mfg.
Mold Making And Lean Mfg.

These days carbide is often coated with all manner of wear resistant materials, all in an attempt to enhance the cutting performance.

Solid carbide end mills and drills are routinely coated with semi-secret formulas that individual companies develop to gain an edge on the competition. New processes are invented in an almost continual basis, each one claiming to out-perform the other.

Carbide Cutting Tool Benefits

ToughnessWear Resistance
Abrasion ResistanceResistance To Cratering
Resistance To Thermal DeformationChemically Inert
Twice The Strength Of HSSSuperior Compression Strength

One comment

  1. My husband has tons of supplies in our garage that I’ve been wanting to learn more about. Before reading this I had no idea that there are multiple kinds of compounds that can be considered a “carbide”. It seems to me like we wouldn’t be able to do a lot of the things we do in manufacturing without carbide tools! Thanks for the information.

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