Tungsten Uses Then and Now, Part 2

November 3, 2016 Joshua Jablons Ph.D.

A Glance Back at Tungsten ca. 2007, Courtesy of ITIA

This week, we pick up where we left off in our look back at an ITIA newsletter article, “A Family’s Day with Tungsten,” and how tungsten uses circa 2007 compare with uses today, as seen through a day in the life of a family.

Tungsten Uses Throughout the School Day

The family’s two children set off to school that morning via train. Its engine contained high-voltage switches with contact zones consisting of copper tungsten parts, which were resistant to spark erosion, thanks to the high melting point of tungsten. Cemented carbide drawing dyes were used to manufacture the train’s overhead contact line, as well as all the wires in the engine. The thin copper sheet parts of the engine and the transformers were die cut using cemented carbide tools. Today, these tungsten uses are still standard.

Studying for a physics test during the train ride, one of the kids read about the use of tungsten in the first wall materials for nuclear fusion reactors — a project, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), that was in the planning stages then and is STILL in the construction stages now. (You can read about the project at www.iter.org.)

Looking out the train windows, the children saw an open pit coal mine, which used huge toothed shovels and other tools and systems relying on cemented tungsten carbide tube fittings. While the economics of coal have not been kind to that industry in the past decade, today such equipment is still being used in different types of mining and still utilizes tungsten carbide components.

When they got to school, the son realized he forgot some of his supplies and asked to borrow a pad of paper and a ballpoint pen from his sister. Of course, today laptops and mobile devices may have taken the place of pad and pen for many students. But in 2007 and now, tungsten coated rolls are used in the manufacture of paper, and cemented carbide knives are used for accurately cutting the sheets of a writing pad. In addition, tungsten in the form of corrosion-resistant cemented carbide still forms the ball of a ballpoint pen — precisely designed to provide just the right surface roughness to carry enough ink and roll on the paper without sliding.

Tungsten at Leisure

After a day that included a CT scan at a hospital followed by a trip to the dentist’s office and a root canal, the mother of the family finally caught a break: She had a date to meet some friends for a round of golf after her appointments were over. She checked her watch — a gift from her husband, it was a highly scratch resistant model made from tungsten carbide, with a mechanical movement and a tungsten heavy alloy part for winding the watch automatically. With luck she may still be wearing that same watch today.

The golf outing gave the mother a chance to practice with her new driver, which had tungsten heavy alloy screws for enhancing performance, so she could improve even more on her 18 handicap. She was glad for the new golf balls her husband gave her for her birthday — containing a tungsten shell in one of the outer layers inside the ball, when hit correctly these balls allowed the golfer to put great spin on her shots. Since it was cold and the ground was hard, she was also grateful for the cemented carbide spikes on her golf shoes. Today, tungsten uses such as these are among many other technological advantages that golfers are always pursuing in their constant quest for perfection!

Meanwhile, after school the daughter of the family and some of her friends went for a jog, wearing weights on their hands and legs to increase the efficiency of their training. Now, as in 2007, such weights are frequently made of tungsten, with its high density providing weightiness in a compact package, and rely on companies such as ours, with expertise in how to cut tungsten.

That afternoon back in 2007, the son met some friends at a youth club, where they played darts using professional-style darts made of tungsten heavy metal, which allowed (and still allows) for a slim design and a stable trajectory when the projectiles are tossed.

Tungsten Uses in General Industry

Throughput the day, the family’s story called out a wide range of other tungsten uses in general industry — examples that are still fully relevant now. These include:

  • Tungsten wires used for charged (corona) wires in laser printers and copiers
  • Cemented tungsten carbide tools used for machining car engine blocks and titanium parts for airplane wing spars and landing gear
  • Polycrystalline diamond on tungsten carbide inserts used to cut carbon-fiber reinforced plastic for airplane parts such as wing shells
  • Heavy-duty road construction machinery equipped with cemented carbide chisels and other tungsten-based components
  • High-performance electric transformer and power station switches made of copper tungsten
  • A wood chipper utilizing cemented carbide knives, which are more wear resistant than steel

Back Home at the End of a “Day with Tungsten”

As the family came together at home toward the end of day, there were still more tungsten uses hiding in plain sight. For instance, mom and daughter hung some new curtains that were fireproof due to embedded sodium metatungstate in the fabric. Dad and son worked on a DIY project — a new bathroom that featured tiles with light-reflecting properties thanks to tungsten oxide and tungsten metal in the glaze. The tools they used included a cemented carbide tile cutter and a drill with cemented carbide bits.

As the mom fixed dinner, making use of a cemented carbide knife sharpener, the dad (an audiophile) tested out a recent purchase — an analog vinyl record player, equipped with a tungsten counterweight for adjusting the tone arm and dampening vibration. After dinner, the family headed out to the movies to see the latest thriller in wide-angle projection, with clarity and brightness from Xenon short arc lamps equipped with Tungsten electrodes.

And while the family ended their day back at home under the glow of tungsten filament lamps — an application that owes its warm and welcoming glow to the resistivity of tungsten but is not so common today compared with CFLs and LEDs — those other tungsten uses are just as relevant today.

Is There Tungsten in Your Future?

Of course, this is all just our take on how tungsten uses have evolved over the past decade. However, we think you’ll agree this comparison shows that tungsten is still one of the most widely used and beneficial refractory metals.

As a company that knows how to cut tungsten and put it to optimal use, we can help you determine if properties such as the high melting point of tungsten make it the right material for your current or planned application — just give us a call! 

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Tungsten Uses Then and Now, Part 1
Tungsten Uses Then and Now, Part 1

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