National Physical Laboratory

Testing hardmetals for extreme conditions

NPL's world-leading expertise in microstructural characterisation and hardmetal property measurements was called upon to solve an issue manufacturers were facing in trying to determine how new materials for industrial tools would perform under extreme conditions.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto
Image courtesy of iStockphoto


NPL has a long-established relationship with UK and European hardmetal manufacturers, and regularly meets with them to discuss the measurement challenges they are facing.

Many tools such as drill bits, rolls and wear parts, are made from hardmetals (composites of tungsten carbide and cobalt), which are specifically developed to withstand huge physical stresses. A great many industries rely on these expensive tools, and keeping them running at a productive rate is vital.

The Challenge

As new hardmetals are developed, it is essential that they are tested so that their behaviour under demanding conditions can be predicted before they are put into service. A consortium was formed to develop a test of how new hardmetal materials would perform under very aggressive physical conditions such as those found in oil and gas exploration and recovery.

The Solution

NPL provided a unique test system, the ETMT, a miniature electrothermalmechanical test system which provides data on physical (thermal expansion, stiffness) and mechanical properties (strength and fatigue) of materials in temperatures up to 800 °C. This data is very valuable to manufacturers as they can incorporate it into their design process. NPL's test system is manufactured under licence by Instron and can be used to characterise the high temperature properties of most materials used in advanced engineering.

The Impact

As a result of this collaboration between NPL and the manufacturers, companies now have the tools to much more accurately predict how a material will perform in certain conditions, which saves money, assists the design process, increases manufacturers' confidence, enables better products, and reduces the risk of the tools failing unexpectedly.

"Most hardmetal tools are conventionally characterised at room temperature, but many tool applications subject the material to higher temperatures and pressures, with a synergistic wear environment; particularly in making products for use in energy related industries, such as Oil and Gas, Transport and Power Generation. This collaborative project with NPL has facilitated improved prediction of relevant material properties for optimum performance in specific circumstances."
Mike Carpenter - Sandvik Hard Materials

For more information, please contact Bryan Roebuck

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Last Updated: 3 Dec 2012
Created: 28 Oct 2010


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