The How and Why of Tungsten Carbide Inserts, and a Factory Tour

It seems a touch ironic that one of the main consumables in the machining industry is made out of one of the hardest, toughest substances there is. But such is the case for tungsten carbide inserts, the flecks of material that form the business end of most of the tools used to shape metal. And thanks to one of the biggest suppliers of inserts, Sweden’s Sandvik Coromant, we get this fascinating peek at how they’re manufactured.

For anyone into machining, the video below is a must see. For those not in the know, tungsten carbide inserts are the replaceable bits that form the cutting edges of almost every tool used to shape metal. The video shows how powdered tungsten carbide is mixed with other materials and pressed into complex shapes by a metal injection molding process, similar to the one used to make gears that we described recently. The inserts are then sintered in a furnace to bind the metal particles together into a cohesive, strong part. After exhaustive quality inspections, the inserts are ground to their final shape before being shipped. It’s fascinating stuff.

Coincidentally, [John] at NYC CNC just released his own video from his recent jealousy-inducing tour of the Sandvik factory. That video is also well worth watching, especially if you even have a passing interest in automation. The degree to which the plant is automated is staggering – from autonomous forklifts to massive CNC work cells that require no operators, this looks like the very picture of the factory of the future. It rolls some of the Sandvik video in, but the behind-the-scenes stuff is great.

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Building the Terminator’s Arm

The Cyberdyne Systems Series 800 Terminator is a highly capable robot that happens to look an awful lot like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It boasts an advanced metallic endoskeleton, which has been the inspiration for many DIY prop builds over the years. [KenToonz] has decided to take on just such a project and invites viewers along for the ride. (YouTube, embedded below.)

The project is a particularly interesting one, as it involves the recreation of a robotic imitation of a human hand and arm. Thankfully, due to the hard work of dedicated individuals, blueprints of the original movie item are available online. These aren’t fully functional, per se, but give the aspiring builder a strong basis to get the look and feel right, while leaving room for modifications for those who wish to build something that moves and operates in the expected way. [KenToonz] intends to do exactly that, and contemplates the installation of various springs and other mechanisms to enable the joints to extend and retract properly.

[KenToonz] starts from the fingers, working back towards the forearm before beginning to add the various interstitial pieces that make it all work together as an assembly. The machining involved covers everything from small metal pieces of the digits to producing custom springs for the moving parts. We can’t wait to see the finished product once it’s all finished!

We’ve seen some great prop builds before, too – like this tricorder worthy of Mr Spock.

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Sharpies and Glue Sticks Fight the Gummy Metal Machining Blues

“Gummy” might not be an adjective that springs to mind when describing metals, but anyone who has had the flutes of a drill bit or end mill jammed with aluminum will tell you that certain metals do indeed behave in unhelpful ways. But a new research paper seeks to shed light on the gummy metal phenomenon, and may just have machinists stocking up on office supplies.

It’s a bit counterintuitive that harder metals like steel are often easier to cut than softer metals; especially aluminum but also copper, nickel alloys, and some stainless steel alloys. But it happens, and [Srinivasan Chandrasekar] and his colleagues at Purdue University wanted to find out why, and what can be done about it. So the first job was to get up close and personal with the interface between a cutting tool and metal stock, to observe the dynamics of cutting. In a fascinating bit of video, they saw that softer metals tend to fold in sinuous patterns rather than breaking on defined shear planes.

Source: American Physical Society.

Having previously noted that cutting through Dykem, a common machinist’s marking fluid, changes chip formation in soft metals, the researchers tested everything from Sharpies to adhesive tape and even correction fluid, and found that they all helped to reduce the gumming action to some degree. Under their microscope they can clearly see that chips form differently once the cutting edge hits the treated surface, tending to act more brittle and ejecting rather than folding. They also noted a marked decrease in cutting force for the treated metal, and much-improved surface finish to boot.

Will Sharpies and glue sticks enter the book of old machinist’s tricks like gauge-block wringing? Only time will tell. But for now, this is a pretty fascinating bit of research that you might be able to put to the test in your shop. Let us know what you find in the comments.

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Casting Tour-De-Force Results In Swashplate For Scale Helicopter

While quadcopters seem to attract all the attention of the moment, spare some love for the rotary-wing aircraft that started it all: the helicopter. Quads may abstract away most of the aerodynamic problems faced by other rotorcraft systems through using software, but the helicopter has to solve those problems mechanically. And they are non-trivial problems, since the pitch of the rotors blades has to be controlled while the whole rotor disk is tilted relative to its axis.

The device that makes this possible is the swashplate, and its engineering is not for the faint of heart. And yet [MonkeyMonkeey] chose not only to build a swashplate from scratch for a high school project, but since the parts were to be cast from aluminum, he had to teach himself the art of metal casting from the ground up. That includes building at least three separate furnaces, one of which was an electric arc furnace based on an arc welder with carbon fiber rods for electrodes (spoiler alert: bad choice). The learning curves were plentiful and steep, including getting the right sand mix for mold making and metallurgy by trial and error.

With some machining help from his school, [MonkeyMonkeey] finally came up with a good design, and we can’t wait to see what the rest of the ‘copter looks like. As he gets there, we’d say he might want to take a look at this series of videos explaining the physics of helicopter flight, but we suspect he’s well-informed on that topic already.

[via r/DIY]

Retrotechtacular: Constructing A Car Engine

Oxford is a city world-famous for its university, and is a must-see stop on the itinerary of many a tourist to the United Kingdom. It features mediaeval architecture, unspoilt meadows, two idylic rivers, and a car plant. That’s the part the guide books don’t tell you, if you drive a BMW Mini there is every chance that it was built in a shiny new factory on the outskirts of the historic tourist destination.

A 1930s Morris Ten Series II. Humber79 [CC BY-SA 3.0].
A 1930s Morris Ten Series II. Humber79 [CC BY-SA 3.0].
The origins of the Mini factory lie over the road on a site that now houses a science park but was once the location of the Morris Motors plant, at one time Britain’s largest carmaker. In the 1930s they featured in a British Pathé documentary film which we’ve placed below the break, part of a series on industry in which the production of an internal combustion engine was examined in great detail. The music and narration is charmingly of its time, but the film itself is not only a fascinating look inside a factory of over eight decades ago, but also an insight into engine manufacture that remains relevant today even if the engine itself bears little resemblance to the lump in your motor today.

Morris produced a range of run-of-the-mill saloon cars in this period, and their typical power unit was one of the four-cylinder engines from the film. It’s a sidevalve design with a three-bearing crank, and it lacks innovations such as bore liners. The metallurgy and lubrication in these engines was not to the same standard as an engine of today, so a prewar Morris owner would not have expected to see the same longevity you’d expect from your daily.

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Is It A Golden Gun If It’s Made Out Of Brass?

On today’s episode of ‘this is a really neat video that will soon be demonetized by YouTube’ comes this fantastic build from [John]. It is the Golden Gun, or at least it looks like a Golden Gun because it’s made out of melted down brass casings. It’s a masterclass demonstration of melting stuff down and turning a thirteen-pound blob of metal into a two-pound precision machined instrument.

This build began by simply cutting a wooden block, packing it in sand, and melting approximately 1425 shell casings of various calibers in a DIY furnace. The molten brass was then simply poured into the open mold. This is standard yellow brass, with about 70% copper and 30% zinc. There’s a bit of aluminum in there from the primers, and the resulting block isn’t terribly great for machining. [John] says this could be fixed by adding a few percent of lead to the melt. To all the jokesters suggesting he add some unfired bullets to the melt, don’t worry, we already have that covered.

chiseling a hole square, with a chisel.

The machining went as you would expect it would with a large mill, but there are a few things that made this entire video worthwhile. For some of the holes, [John] had to square up the corners. The simplest and easiest way to do this is to break out a file. This is brass, though, and with some steel chisels hanging around the shop your mortise and tenon skills might come in handy. With the very careful application of force, [John] managed to put corners on a circle with a standard wood chisel. A bit later in the build video, a few more sharp corners were created by shoving a broach in the mill and jamming it down into the work.

When it comes to machining builds, this is high art. Yes, it’s the same as building an AR-15 out of a few hundred soda cans, but this one is made out of brass. It looks just great, and that final polish turns the entire project into something that looks like it’s out of a video game. Simply amazing.

If you’re looking for more ways to push your metalwork boundaries, give cast iron a try!

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Mechanisms: Abrasives

In our “Mechanisms” series, we’ve featured the fascinating bits and pieces that go into making our mechanical world work. From simple machines such as screws and levers, from springs to couplings, and even more complex mechanisms like zippers and solenoids, we’ve covered the gamut. But we haven’t talked about one of the very earliest mechanisms, captured from nature by our clever ancestors to do useful work like grinding grain and shaping materials into tools: grit, sand, abrasives.

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