Exploring the Role of Surface-Adsorbing Media in Cutting of Corrosion-Resistant Metals
Tantalum, niobium, stainless steels, and nickel are corrosion-resistant metals that have become critical in many industrial sectors. Due to the demanding environments and temperatures in which they operate, few materials can serve as substitutes. The advantages of these materials are offset by the difficulties in their machining. Belonging to a group of metals and alloys often referred to as ‘gummy’, their poor machinability or gumminess is manifest as thick chip formation, large cutting forces, and poor finish on cut surface. Hence, machining costs can be prohibitive, and applications limited. The gumminess has been attributed broadly to their high strain-hardening capacity.
To examine why these metals are difficult to machine, we used direct in situ observations of the cutting process with a high-speed imaging system, complemented by force measurements. The observations showed that chip formation occurred by repeated large-amplitude folding of the material – sinuous flow – with vortex-like components and extensive redundant deformation. The folding was particularly severe in Ta and Nb. Although Ta and Nb displayed a higher rate of fold nucleation than the Ni and stainless steel, the flow dynamics underlying chip formation across the metals was the same – sinuous flow nucleated by a plastic (buckling-type) flow instability on the workpiece surface just ahead of the advancing tool. The large strains and energy dissipation associated with sinuous flow is the reason for the poor machinability of these metals.
Prior work with Cu and Al has shown that sinuous flow can be disrupted and replaced by an energetically more favorable (segmented) flow mode, characterized by quasi-periodic fracture, when suitable chemical media are applied to the initial workpiece surface – a mechanochemical effect. The segmented flow is beneficial for machining processes since it involves much smaller forces and plastic strains. It has been hypothesized that the chemical media influence the flow through their adsorption onto the workpiece surface, thereby altering the surface energy and/or surface stress, and effecting a local embrittlement (ductile-to-brittle transition).
We demonstrate similar media (mechanochemical) effects and segmented flow development in cutting of the corrosion-resistant metals, with significant benefits for their machining. These benefits include > 35 percent reduction in the cutting force/energy, and an order of magnitude improvement in cut surface quality (finish, tears and residual strain). Importantly, the experiments with the corrosion-resistant metals provide strong evidence that it is indeed adsorption – not corrosion, as in case of hydrogen embrittlement – that underpins the mechanochemical effect. The experiments used chemical agents well-known for their strong adsorption to metal surfaces, namely green corrosion inhibitors (e.g., plant extracts, propolis) and other natural organic molecules (e.g., dyes, antibacterial drugs, cow’s milk). Lastly, the suitability and application of the mechanochemical effect at industrial cutting speeds is explored in turning experiments with these corrosion-resistant metals. Collectively, our observations, measurements, and analysis show that the gumminess of metals in cutting is due to sinuous flow; the gumminess can be eliminated by use of chemical media; and adsorption is the key to engendering the mechanochemical effect. Implications of the results for industrial processes ranging from machining to particle comminution, and for sustainable manufacturing are discussed.