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The development of precision tools is now practically inconceivable without coatings. What are the advantages for users? Where is this development heading? We asked Dr. Marcus Morstein, head of Research & Development at Swiss coating experts PLATIT AG, for his views.

In your opinion, what are the special advantages of tool coatings?

The main focus is clearly on increasing productivity. The higher cutting speeds and feed rates that can be achieved with the aid of new coatings make an important contribution to maintaining competitiveness, especially in high-wage countries. The prolonged service lives of coated tools are another positive effect.

Which role do new materials play when they are being used in various fields of application?

Tool coatings also have a special significance in the machining of new materials. In the automotive sector, for example, these materials can reduce weight, lower fuel consumption or increase crash resistance. Additionally, the aerospace industry is finding more and more applications for nickel-based materials, which are relatively difficult to process. In addition to improvements in tool substrates and geometries, coatings also play a key role here.

What kinds of productivity gains do you consider realistic?

If a new generation of coating is applied to an existing substrate, it must boost productivity by between 20 and 30% compared to its predecessor because users are often unwilling to change their production setup for only minor increases. On rare occasions, a new coating combined with a new cutting material can achieve efficiency increases of up to 50%, but then it is possible to speak of a performance revolution.

What future do you see for coatings in the tool industry? Where is development heading?

Their many advantages make coatings an absolutely key technology. Tool manufacturers are likely to increasingly integrate coating technology into their in-house structures, since they can then develop better adapted coatings. These represent unique selling points on the market and frequently offer higher performance than the available standard coatings. In order to enable toolmakers to develop special coatings for their customers, however, equipment manufacturers will also have to open up their platforms – ideally as part of an open-source strategy.

Which role does the development of tools play?

The technological challenge here lies in dealing with new generations of cutting material substrates. Ceramic materials, for example, offer interesting opportunities beyond carbide, but are sometimes not so easy to coat. In any event, the competition between different PVD and CVD coating technologies will ensure that innovation in tool coatings will most certainly not come to a halt!

Dr. Morstein, thank you for this interview!