Space is hard, but Inconel makes it possible. An alloy composed of 42-70 percent nickel with significant chromium and iron components, Inconel is extremely resistant to oxidation, corrosion, and scaling in high-temperature environments, and will maintain its tensile strength at temperatures that would cause plain steel to become pliable.
Inconel also has a high tolerance for pressure. Combined with its extreme temperature tolerance, this makes Inconel perfect for a variety of punishing operating environments. In fact, for the past 60+ years, all rocket engines of all nations have used and continue to use Inconel and nickel superalloys to deliver the power, strength, and reliability necessary to orbit.
However, the toughness that makes Inconel such a valuable material for high-intensity applications, such as aerospace, also makes it incredibly tough to work with, especially when it comes to cutting. It’s not unheard of for cutting and shaping tools to be broken or deformed when used to shape Inconel. In other cases, the Inconel’s outer layer may harden too quickly in response to machining, resulting in an imperfect shape for the Inconel.
To properly shape, cut, and work with Inconel takes an understanding of its properties and how to compensate for its limitations.
Recent years have seen a tremendous acceleration in space exploration missions. To keep pace with the 21st century “space race,” a leading commercial space company decided to ramp up production volumes for tube processing and welding support for a new launch vehicle platform—the foundational component in the assembly, transport, and launch of rockets.
However, a critical process in their production workflow needed to be optimized in order for the company to increase efficiency and accelerate project timelines: the squaring of difficult-to-machine Inconel tubing. The company realized that its existing strategy and methods for cutting Inconel would not easily scale, nor yield the extreme precision, reliability and consistency needed for the project. So, they turned to Tri Tool.
For over 45 years, Tri Tool has partnered with the world’s most innovative aerospace and space companies to design, develop, and manufacture standard and custom tooling and machining solutions that get the job done right, the first time. We understand that failure is not an option and we are uncompromising in our dedication to our customers’ success. When the private space company contacted Tri Tool, our aerospace fabrication experts immediately recognized the opportunity to develop a proprietary cutting bit specific for this customer’s application.
The new cutting bit technology developed by Tri Tool included proprietary base material, coating, and grind design all MissionBuilt™ according to the customer’s specifications and needs. The cutting bit easily machined the Inconel components and created a smooth machined surface. Tri Tool engineers also ensured backward compatibility with the customer’s existing equipment, enabling the company to move forward without redoing other downstream and upstream production processes.
To test and validate the precision, strength and consistency of the new cutting bit technology, Tri Tool’s research team in partnership with the space company conducted a “head-to-head” comparison with a major competitor’s technology. The results were clear-cut. According to the customer’s most experienced technician, Tri Tool’s proprietary system cut the Inconel “better than anything else.”
With Tri Tool’s proprietary cutting bit, the leading commercial space company is accelerating production times of their launch vehicle platforms and delivering on-schedule. With the resounding success of its innovative design for cutting Inconel, Tri Tool is now making this new technology available for public consumption.
– Joel Zollers, Grinding Room Manager (38 years with Tri Tool)
Our staff and engineers are on the ready. Let Tri Tool get to work.