Ceramic Industry

Advancing the Abrasive Bond

March 1, 2001
A new abrasive bond system has been shown to successfully improve ceramic grinding results.

With each passing year, ever-greater demands are placed on the components used for high-performance applications in industries such as automotive, aerospace and electronics. Advanced ceramics have long been considered an excellent material for use in manufacturing components for these applications. Ceramics are extremely strong, hard and durable, and they are highly resistant to heat, wear and corrosion.

But ceramics are also very challenging to manufacture in production quantities. The very properties that contribute to long life in the end product make these materials hard to grind. While they are wear-resistant, ceramics are vulnerable to micro-fracture due to mechanical thermal mishandling. In addition, the yields achieved in production operations are frequently very low. In a typical job shop, 10 pieces are ground to yield three, while the other seven are wasted. This low yield drives up costs.

What’s needed is a systems approach for manufacturing these products cost-effectively. Recent research has indicated that improvements in the design of diamond wheels used to finish ceramics can be one key to meeting this objective.

The Expanding Applications

Despite the challenges, it is clear that demand for advanced ceramics continues to grow. Consider just a few examples of proven ceramics applications.

OD/surface grinding on a reciprocating table is the method used to produce wear components and kiln furniture (typically Crystolon alumina and quartz wafer boats) used in wafer fabs and other electronics industry applications. Materials being ground in these and other OD applications include aluminum oxide, aluminum nitride, chemical vapor deposition (CVD) silicon carbide, silicon nitride and tungsten carbide.

Smaller diamond wheels are used for ID grinding to finish inside diameters in such applications as: ceramic cylinders for diesel engines, bearing races, liners for wear products (e.g., kiln furniture), can dies and necking dies. Another area of promise is wear components, such as washers for faucets, and for water pump motors and rotors.

Standard Diamond Wheels

Traditionally, a major impediment to the successful production of ceramic components has been the high cost of machining and grinding these parts. Research has shown that machining accounts for between 20 to 70% of the total cost of manufacturing an advanced ceramic component. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that, like many manufacturing processes, machining is capital- and labor-intensive.

The second reason, of greater concern here, has to do with the use of grinding wheels with diamond abrasives. Diamond abrasive wheels have commonly been the product of choice when grinding ceramic components due to the extreme hardness of this abrasive. Contributing to the high machining costs cited above is the fact that diamond abrasive is expensive. Further, challenges are posed by the bond system used in these products and the way wheels are prepared for grinding.

The bond is the substance that holds the abrasive particles in place. For the wheel to do its work, the bond must wear away at a controlled rate to expose new cutting edges as the working particles dull. In some cases, the bond is able to conduct heat away from the work area.

The type of bond most widely used with diamond wheels is resin. It is made of a tough polymer formed to hold the diamond particles to the rim of the grinding wheel. Resin-bonded wheels remove material quickly. However, standard resin-bond wheels wear too fast under the pressure of ceramics grinding. They also require frequent truing to hold their form.

A stronger bond type is metal. Metal-bond wheels offer longer life than resin-bond products, and can be operated at the higher speeds used in ceramic grinding. This would be an excellent choice for ceramic grinding, except for the fact that conventional metal-bonded wheels require periodic dressing that is difficult and time-consuming. (See sidebar, “Truing and Dressing Wheels,” for more information on truing and dressing.)

Another Look at Bonds

One area that held promise was the development of a new bond that was uniquely designed for the demands of ceramic grinding. This was the focus of a five-year cooperative project between Norton Co. and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The ultimate goal of the project was to improve the reliability and cost-effectiveness of advanced ceramics grinding.

In searching for new grinding solutions such as the one required here, it is best to take a “systems approach.” This method looks at the total interaction of all grinding wheel parameters—including abrasives, bond, pore structure and design—and how they influence the thermal and mechanical conditions in the grinding zone. In this study, critical factors included thermal shock, heat and friction, which can cause fractures in ceramic parts.

Using the systems approach, the joint DOE/Norton effort resulted in the development of a new metal matrix bond.* This metal bond is designed to provide intermediate grinding action between standard resin and metal bonds. Wheels with the new bond require less force than resin wheels, cut more freely, and maintain the long product life typically associated with metal bond products. Not only do they achieve the high wear ratios associated with metal-bond wheels, they also achieve the finer finishes typically associated with resin wheels.

The new bond system has resulted in a wheel that significantly improves G-ratios on such materials as silicon nitride, while attaining high stock removal rates. These wheels provide excellent surface finish, and minimize sub-surface damage because they require less normal grinding force than typical resin-bonded wheels. (A list of materials that have been successfully tested or produced with metal-bond wheels is given in the “Successful Applications of Metal-Bond Wheels” sidebar.)

Figure 1. The maximum material removal rate at 15,750 sfpm.

The New Metal Bond

Typically, users have looked at the cost of the abrasive alone, rather than as part of a system. Looking at the manufacturing process as a whole—the systems approach—quickly shows the productivity improvements that can be achieved with this superabrasive.

In one recent test, the metal-bond product was mounted on a Blanchard surface grinder. The goal was to grind 50 silicon carbide components with a 0.645 diameter. The wheel, which measured 12 x 1⁄4 x 17⁄8 in., was run against a conventional resin-bond wheel at 1200 rpm

The results of the test showed that the metal-bond wheel was able to grind at better than twice the speed of the conventional product, with a cycle time of 10.25 minutes compared to 25 minutes. In addition, the new wheel exhibited wheel wear of 0.002 in., compared to 0.008 in. of wear on the standard product. Once again, the metal bond proved to be longer lasting; the conventional wheel ran for seven weeks, while the metal-bond product ran for between 21 and 28 weeks.

Other tests confirm the productivity improvements of the metal-bond wheels. In another silicon carbide application, a conventional resin wheel took 10 hours to complete the grinding application. The wheel with new metal bond completed the job in two hours—an 80% time savings.

In another production operation, a company grinding an aluminum nitride ceramic component that can’t be made to near-net shape was using three machines, three operators and three wheels to achieve the final form. After introducing the new wheel to the system, this manufacturer now runs a single machine on three shifts, going from roughing to finishing with the one wheel.

In tests at Norton’s Higgins Grinding Technology Center, the metal-bond wheel showed substantial performance advantages over resin and vitrified counterparts. The new wheel reached the maximum material removal rate (MRR) of 4.4 in3/min/in at

80 m/s.

Figure 2. The G-ratio at 15,750 sfpm.
At this speed, the resin wheel could hardly exceed

0.8 in3/min/in, restricted by the G-ratio and surface quality criteria.

Figure 3. Performance comparison with resin and vitrified wheels at 6252 sfpm grinding power. (6252 is the maximum speed for the vitrified wheel. At this speed, the innovative metal-bond grinding wheel drew power higher than the resin wheel but similar to the vitrified wheel.)
The vitrified wheel could operate at only 6252 sfpm with maximum MRR less than 0.8 in3/min/in. At each MRR (14 MRRs from 0.8 to 4.4), the metal-bond wheel maintained extremely small wheel wear, resulting in an estimated G-ratio above 6000. Additionally, at each MRR, the grinding power was constant and consistent, generating better surface quality (Ra < 20 uin and wWt < 70 uin). The metal bond wheel could be successfully operated at wheel speeds up to 15,750 sfpm (80 m/s). Figures 1 through 3 show these performance comparisons.

Grinding Guidelines and Tips

These results are particularly exciting because they can be achieved on conventional grinding machines. However, this new-generation wheel requires special setup for the kind of productivity demonstrated in these tests. Users should follow these steps for optimal results:
  • Make sure the grinding machine is rigid enough and running true to its axial rotation.
  • Check the spindle and flange to make sure they aren’t “running out” (i.e., not running true to axis).
  • Once you know there is a good flange system, mount the wheel; true it to a tolerance of less than .001.
  • Dress the wheel to open the cutting face. A general rule of thumb is that the bond in the dressing stick should be soft (H grade) to allow the stick to erode the wheel’s bond matrix without impacting the diamond grit.
  • On softer bond systems, such as resin and vitrified, use 1-2 grit sizes finer than diamond wheel and in H grade (soft bond matrices wear away faster).

Achieving Greater Yield

Shorter cycle times, lower wheel wear and longer life significantly impact total machining costs. Greater yield from each wheel translates into valuable time saved in wheel changes, set-up time and other labor-intensive preparations. The metal-bond wheel design, with its higher productivity, can also greatly reduce grinding costs by cutting the number of truing and dressing operations required.

While the emphasis here has been on grinding, it is especially important to consider the entire grinding cycle. When ceramic parts fail, they break at the end of the manufacturing cycle; therefore, the loss should be defined as a cost of the entire manufacturing cycle, not just the grinding cycle. It is shortsighted to consider only the cost of abrasives rather than the cost of the entire process.

For long-term success, focus your efforts on yield and throughput, and work as a partner with your abrasives supplier. Viewing your ceramics grinding operation as an entire system is the best way to achieve lower total abrasives costs.

For More Information

For more information about the new metal-bond wheel and the systems approach to grinding, contact Norton Co., One New Bond St., P.O. Box 15008, Worcester, MA 01615-0008; (508) 795-2333; fax (508) 795-5507; or visit http://www.nortonabrasives.com.

*Scepter™, supplied by Norton Co.

SIDEBAR: Successful Applications of Metal-Bond Wheels

Materials on which the new metal-bond wheels have been tested include:
  • Aluminum oxide (Al2O3) 95%—standard kiln furniture
  • Aluminum oxide (Al2O3) 99%+—high density; electronics; silicon wafer substrates
  • Aluminum nitride (AlN)—heat decks in computer fabrication
  • Aluminum titanium carbide (AlTiC)—for read-write heads
  • Silicon nitride (Si3N4)—structural ceramics (e.g., exhaust valves on diesel engines; down-hole apparatus on oil rigs; turbines, turbine seals, rocker arms in aerospace)
  • Sialon – High Al2O3—structural ceramics (same as above)
  • Silicon carbide (SiC)—substrates and kiln furniture in electronics industry
  • CVD SiC—heat decks for processing wafers in wafer fabrication
  • Fused silica (glass)—grinding telescope lenses; kiln furniture
  • Quartz—kiln furniture
  • Sapphire—defense domes; radar domes; watches; infrared POS scanners
  • Zirconia (ZrO2)—diesel engineers; can dies; cutlery
  • Boron carbide (B4C)—armor for tanks, cars; bullet-proof vests
  • Titanium diboride (TiB2)—armor plating for aircraft
  • Tungsten carbide (WC),11% Co—rotary seals for down-hole oil drilling; tools

Figure 1. Truing can be accomplished by mounting the wheel on its spindle and then setting the spindle/wheel combination into a cylindrical grinder.

SIDEBAR: Truing and Dressing Wheels

All grinding wheels, including diamond wheels, must be made to run absolutely true and grind without making chatter marks. This is done through a process called truing. Truing a wheel prior to use ensures that the entire face of the wheel is in contact with the part at all times. To set the face true on a diamond wheel, the wheel must be ground to remove both bond and diamond abrasive. This can be done by using a brake-controlled truing device, or by mounting the wheel on its spindle and then setting the spindle/wheel combination into a cylindrical grinder (see Figure 1).

Figure 2. To "dress" the wheel, bond must be removed from between the diamond cutting points.
As a result of either process, the diamond cutting points and the bond are ground down to the same level.

To restore sharpness and freeness of cut to the wheel, bond must be removed from between the diamond cutting points. This step is called dressing. Usually, silicon carbide dressing sticks are plunged, in a manual or automated process, into the face of the wheel to remove the bond (see Figures 2 and 3).

Figure 3. Silicon carbide dressing sticks are usually plunged into the face of the wheel to remove the bond.
A properly dressed diamond wheel grinds freely with a minimum of grinding power, producing high quality parts with less chatter.

Truing and dressing are necessary parts of any grinding process. However, they are time-consuming. Minimizing the amount of downtime required to true and dress diamond wheels is a key to improving productivity.