Choosing Indexable Carbide Cutters Vs. Solid Carbide

A quick look in any manufacturing publication reveals numerous well-placed ads for indexable carbide cutting tools. It is not surprising that tool-and-die, injection mold making and precision machine shops all over the world are turning to indexable tooling.
Reasons to use indexable carbide cutters

  • Increased tungsten carbide costs
  • Demands for increased productivity
  • Higher quality expectations
  • Newly developed cutter technologies

A little known fact is that China produces most of the tungsten carbide in the world. This puts some industries in a very vulnerable position and is causing management to consider how to reduce their dependence on solid carbide cutting tools.

Another fact is that there is simply a limited amount of tungsten in nature. Many manufacturers, such as Sandvik and Kennametal, have recycling programs in place to make the process easy for busy shop owners to get their cutters refurbished or recycled.

Productivity demands continue to pressure shops to find better and faster methods of removing metal. Machining speeds and feeds continue to increase, causing engineers to develop new methods to meet these demands. Indexable carbide tooling has become the tool of choice in many applications where solid carbide once was the indisputable answer.

Along with increased productivity demands comes higher expectations of increased quality. Tolerances continue to shrink, while surface finishes are getting better and better. Along with this, the geometry is more complicated, with parts performing multi-functions.

To meet all these needs, carbide cutter suppliers have developed a wide range of specialty indexable cutters. There are so many choices available that it is almost bewildering. You can find indexable drills, reamers, spot-facers, turning tools, cut-off tools, plunging endmills, profiling cutters, facing mills, broaches, slotting cutters, ball-end mills, deep hole drills, and on and on.
Cost savings benefits of indexable cutters

Given the rising costs of tungsten carbide, it stands to reason that the less carbide you are using, the more money you can save. This is true only if the performance is the same or better than using solid carbide. With the new generations of indexable carbide cutting tools on the market today, it is a fact that performance meets or exceeds solid carbide in nearly every application.

Consider for a moment a carbide tipped drill. A coated insert will wear very well, lasting much longer than uncoated. This insert is mounted on a relatively cheap carrier and can quickly and accurately be changed over when worn.

A solid carbide drill, on the other hand, works fantastic, until it chips. Once the cutting edge begins chipping it is only a matter of time before the entire tool fails, possibly damaging the expensive workpiece in the process. To replace the broken solid drill is much more expensive than using an indexable drill.

This process is very similar for most cutting applications and can save thousands of dollars every year for the shop. This can be done without sacrificing quality in the least. Not only that, but the worn inserts can be either resharpened or recycled, further saving money.