Machined surfaces could be made much smoother.
Diamond smoothing tools have been proposed for use in conjunction with diamond cutting tools that are used in many finish-machining operations. Diamond machining (including finishing) is often used, for example, in fabrication of precise metal mirrors.
A diamond smoothing tool according to the proposal would have a smooth spherical surface. For a given finish machining operation, the smoothing tool would be mounted next to the cutting tool. The smoothing tool would slide on the machined surface left behind by the cutting tool, plastically deforming the surface material and thereby reducing the roughness of the surface, closing microcracks and otherwise generally reducing or eliminating microscopic surface and subsurface defects, and increasing the microhardness of the surface layer. It has been estimated that if smoothing tools of this type were used in conjunction with cutting tools on sufficiently precise lathes, it would be possible to reduce the roughness of machined surfaces to as little as 3 nm.
A tool according to the proposal would consist of a smoothing insert in a metal holder. The smoothing insert would be made from a diamond/metal functionally graded composite rod preform, which, in turn, would be made by sintering together a bulk single-crystal or polycrystalline diamond, a diamond powder, and a metallic alloy at high pressure. To form the spherical smoothing tip, the diamond end of the preform would be subjected to flat grinding, conical grinding, spherical grinding using diamond wheels, and finally spherical polishing and/or buffing using diamond powders. If the diamond were a single crystal, then it would be crystallographically oriented, relative to the machining motion, to minimize its wear and maximize its hardness.
Spherically polished diamonds could also be useful for purposes other than smoothing in finish machining: They would likely also be suitable for use as heat-resistant, wear-resistant, unlubricated sliding-fit bearing inserts.
This work was done by Oleg Voronov of Diamond Materials, Inc. for Marshall Space Flight Center. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Manufacturing & Prototyping category. MFS-32485-1