Cemented carbides (WC-Co) are powder metallurgical products produced by liquid phase sintering. WC-Co is widely used for making a large variety of cutting tools, such as drills and inserts turning applications, due to its great mechanical properties, where the hardness of the WC grains is combined with the toughness of the of the Co binder. WC grain size and grain size distribution are the two most important factors to control the mechanical properties of the products.
This study examined the grain growth dependence of different milling and sintering times. The resulting grain size and grain size distribution were measured using image analysis on scanning electron microscopy images (SEM) and by using electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD). In addition, the correlation between hardness and coercivity, the most common indirect measures of grain size, and different methods of calculating average grain radius were investigated. An attempt was also made to study the contribution of defects to grain growth. This work also includes an overview of various grain growth equations and a numerical implementation of these.
Experimental results show that for shorter sintering times, powders milled for short times (15 min and 1 h) have larger average grain radii. There is a crossover after 6 to 8 h of sintering, where the powders milled for a long time (40 h and 200 h), have larger average radii. The measured hardness values correlate well with the average grain radius calculated from the grain surface area and the coercivity correlates with the established equations. EBSD measurements detected boundaries that could not be detected by image analysis, and that were not Sigma 2 boundaries. It is likely that these boundaries are either low energy boundaries or boundaries between grains that are very closely oriented. Comparing heat-treated powder with the untreated resulted in a lower average grain size after sintering for the heat-treated powder. None of the growth equations investigated in this work could fully describe the experimental grain growth.
Through increased understanding of the grain growth, the growth can be controlled and the end product can have the desired tool properties. The occurrence of abnormal grains in cutting tool applications can cause breakage, which is especially important to avoid in applications such as PCB drills. A correlation between hardness and grain size provides further means for cheap and fast indirect measures of the grain size in production.