Behind the most wear-resistant cutting tools on the market is dedicated teamwork. Meet the brains behind the surface technologies that make inserts for drilling, turning and milling strong enough to shape any industry.
Sandvik Coromant’s Materials R&D is housed in an industrial estate in Västberga, south of Stockholm. This is where, through creative brainwork, systematic calculations and property characterizations, ideas are transformed into advanced surface technology and the most durable and reliable coating layers are created.
“A great part of our work is to team up and put together the puzzle pieces of coating materials, combined with the right pre- and post-treatment, for an optimal solution,” says R&D engineer Fredrik Josefsson.
Josefsson’s special field is the development of physical vapour deposition (PVD) coatings formed in a process whereby metal is evaporated into a hard cutting-tool surface. His colleague, R&D engineer Raluca Morjan Brenning, specializes in chemical vapour deposition (CVD) coatings whereby the coating is generated by chemical reactions that provide the desired hard-wearing resistance.
“There is actually a lot of work, brain and soul put into every single insert or grade that reaches the market,” Brenning says. “In all product development we work as a team, where we are provoked and challenged to deliver the best of our competence in our respective field.”
She points to the newest P-milling product used for steel, describing the various processes it passed through before it was field-tested, approved and ultimately subjected to a quality test to ensure that it would meet customer expectations in terms of market-leading quality and tool performance.
“It is the combination and optimization of the powder, substrate, pre-treatment, coating, post-treatment, characterization and testing that creates the unique properties of every type of insert or application,” she explains.
Input from fellow researchers is essential. Researchers Warka Slaiwa and Jonny Edman work to determine the optimal pre- and post-treatments for perfect surfaces and edges. Research colleagues Sandeep Singh and Wei Wan perform the materials characterization that aids in understanding the composition and structure, a task often performed with high-tech microscopy.
“Although a typical coating is only one-tenth the thickness of a strand of hair, it contributes largely to the performance of the tool,” says R&D engineer Lars Johnson, who also specializes in PVD. “The demands on a coating differ depending on the use. A coating for milling needs to be tough, while a coating for turning needs to be more wear-resistant. But it is not only the coating that boosts performance, hence the necessity to work in teams. Getting results is actually a combination of your own hard thinking and discussions [with colleagues] and challenging your preconceptions. In our line of work, one of the most important skills is to be flexible and open to new solutions.”
Regular team meetings are important in order to report and discuss findings, says Lars Johnson. Just as important are the informal meetings, he adds. The surface technology team occupies two floors in the same part of the building, which offers plenty of opportunity to test new ideas around the coffee machine and in the lunch room.
Although the team is secretive about the exact makeup of a “perfect” coating, they are enthusiastically vocal on the subject of teamwork. Says engineer Fredrik Josefsson, “What all our grades have in common is that they are the result of clever and dedicated teamwork involving all departments within surface technology.”