There is no question that diamonds are the hardest known substance on the planet. Because of this diamonds are oftentimes used to cut difficult, hard materials. Unfortunately, diamonds can oxidize when cutting metals, such as iron or nickel. A replacement substance that is commonly used is cubic boron nitride (cBN) – a chemically and mechanically robust chemical compound that can stand up to the high temperatures necessary to work with these types of metals, but is only about half as hard as a diamond. It is the properties of both of these materials that lead scientists to develop a diamond-cBN alloy that can be used as “a universal cutting material.”
Scientists at Sichuan University in Chengdu, China combined a mixture of diamond and cBN powder and dried it in a vacuum furnace at 1300 degress Kelvin for 2 hours. The material was then compressed into 3.5 millimeter pellets under extreme heat and pressure. When the cutting performance of the diamond-cBN alloy was compared to currently available commercial options, it was determined to be more preferable when cutting both granite and hardened steel. While the outcomes of initial tests are promising, more work will need to be done before this product could potentially be commercialized.