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Digital solutions in the metal cutting world

Sandvik Coromant UK : 13 February, 2013  (Special Report)
This brief technical article from Sandvik Coromant looks at the increasing influence of digitalization on metal cutting.
Digital solutions in the metal cutting world

Digital solutions are entering the metal cutting world. Much of today´s manufacturing is equipped with sensors monitoring movements and activities during the production process. There is a lot of data to interpret and analyse in order to optimize the processes. Several CAM companies are deeply involved in these projects and in how to use digital data in development of CAD/CAM services to the end customer.

The benefits of using digital data are: optimized processes by simulation and knowledge sharing through networking when making production preparations. This opens up the use of digital products, which now turns into a competitive advantage. As a result, competence is moving from the shop floor into computers.

Technicians with both machining competence and CAD/CAM competence will be a critical resource within manufacturing companies. This will be a competitive advantage for those who take control of the “digital world”.

The driving force for this development is the constant chase to increase the productivity. IT-systems and usage of digital data enable this. Increasing productivity means building up processes that can guarantee the running-time of the production equipment.

Components are getting more and more advanced, hence it is vital that they are 100% right from the beginning. This leads to new ways of designing and manufacturing components.

An example of this development is what we call “Functional products”, where partners and collaborators take full life cycle responsibility for the customers’ final products. This way of working is somewhat revolutionary, because this means that you have to share ideas, production- and technology-knowledge already during the design of a product to be able to make money on the end products made by the end customers.

Digital data also enables new ways of manufacturing products. Examples are 3-D printing and direct cast components.


Not everything is about digitalization. In order to deal with the growing demands in increased efficiency in engines, production processes and higher quality demands, material development is one of the major influences in the manufacturing industry.

Products with higher strength, higher finish and tolerances are common in almost every industry. The usage of advanced materials spans from sporting equipment to space shuttles.

Examples of materials that have become more common are:

  • High strength steels including hardened steels
  • Higher wear resistance materials
  • High temperature alloys/materials
  • Composite materials (metals and non-metals)
  • Bi-/Tri-metals

The challenges for a tooling supplier are many. Tougher materials, demands on productivity and cost reduction, increased environmental regulations, machine design and more all effects development processes in a tooling company.


Parallel to materials development, component development is also evolving. A lot of research is put into finding new ways of forming components, in order to save manufacturing time and reduce the number of manufacturing steps.

Different methods are tested in how to produce a finished component. There are techniques like continuous casting, 3-D printing, and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) as examples.

When these technologies are mature they will influence the whole manufacturing industry, how they look at design of products to what manufacturing technology to use. This will of course affect the tooling industry by opening up new possibilities but it is also a direct threat to the traditional way of machining components.

Some products might not need any machining due to these new technologies or just need some finishing. This will radically change the market place for insert usage. As a result it will also change the machine industry.

The increase in APT prices (Tungsten powder), that started in 2005, has continued during 2010 and 2011. The price has increased by 330% between 2004 and 2010, while the increase in production is only 10% *. This impacts on profitability levels. Due to the expected reduction of imports from China in the coming years, the future gap between global supply and demand of tungsten is expected to increase. Accordingly, APT prices are also expected to increase even further. Given this market situation, the recycling of inserts will become even more important.

Recycling is of course a very important part of the carbide industry. Therefore it is of importance to find profitable ways to use and reuse existing tungsten carbide. Other alternatives are to find ways of using less tungsten carbide in the cutting process, but also to find new business models that give better opportunities to have better control of the main resources/raw materials. Even if 100% of all tungsten carbide is recycled, will that be enough for future demands on productivity and environmental impact? What will out-compete carbide usage in machining?

Shorter batch sizes and products that are made in one go in fewer machines will impact on the market. Where will tomorrow’s profitability areas be?

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