Choosing the Right Tool
Choosing the right cutting tool requires an assessment of the task at hand, technician preference, economic justification, and ergonomics. Improving long-term productivity and achieving the best cost per cut for commercial results requires durable, repeatable use. Determining the most capable cutter for the job falls upon crucial design features: material composition, handle properties, head/tip size, bevel, and edge sharpness.
What makes Carbide Cutters the Industry Standard?
Cutting hardened material such as piano wire or nitinol repeatedly and accurately requires a high degree of durability. Device manufacturers use carbide cutting tools because of their long working life of to 20 times longer than traditional tooling materials. Carbide, short for tungsten carbide, contains equal parts tungsten and carbon atoms. It was developed by General Electric in 1925 and is approximately two times stiffer and two times denser than steel. Its extreme hardness and heat resistance expand with heat induction and tempering provide distinct advantages in manufacturing applications. Carbide tooling resists abrasion and withstands much higher temperatures than steel counterparts.
Are Traditional Steel Tools a Thing of the Past?
Steel tools find favor over carbide when each person on manufacturing floor requires a hand cutter in their toolbox, but only for generic cutting tasks which do not warrant the premium cost of carbide tooling. Further, carbide cutters require diligent use can become stiff and crack when pressure or cross-lateral force is applied to open a cutter with a stiff joint. Rapid heat cycles or improper sharpening followed by a stress load or improper usage can result in softened edges, degraded cutting properties, and sometimes damage beyond repair. Steel provides an economic solution for easy replacement with minimal need for maintenance. Most carbide tool manufacturers carry lifetime product warranties, but when tools are misused these warranties may not be honored.
Touch, feedback, comfort, dexterity: these are traits which make tools effective in the field. Manufacturers develop tools with various shapes, grip construction, handle width, and handle length for production needs and user preferences. Traditional “C” shaped handles aid free movement, visibility, and enable quick arm movement. Ergonomic dual curve cutters expand production capability by reducing fatigue which helps technicians focus on precision and output with maximized comfort. Short handles and snug fit to the palm maximize free use of fingers for placement and movement of the component receiving service. Long handles provide the most cutting power and help dissipate cutting shock more evenly. Sometimes, the sole factor in determining optimal shape and handle size is determined based upon operator preference. Alternatively, some environments require tool features for safely handling products during rework or assembly. PCB and electronics manufacturers require ESD-safe cutting tools which dissipate static discharge and limit the risks of destroying sensitive electronics. High-volume facilities with large inputs of manual labor invest in the most suitable grips and cutter whether it requires rapid shearing or versatile cuts. Comfortable, soft grips reduce the risks associated with developing carpal tunnel syndrome for technicians.
Adjustment points engineered into the cutting head pivot and adjustable leaf springs between handles further enable smooth pressure delivery for reduced shock and easy cutting. Preset tool adjustments shorten cutting action, quicken cuts, and reduce overall exertion and fatigue. The cost structure of cutting tools rises with additional features because of more specialized construction, but these features find worthwhile production boots in production use.
Flush Cut Designs Find Favor in Medical and Electronics Manufacturing
The most common type of hand cutter found in medical and electronics manufacturing is the flush cut design, also known as diagonal, beveled, or angled. In commercial use, this type of cutter receives praise for overcoming materials like piano wire, tungsten, platinum, most stainless steel including MP35N-V, and even Nitinol with a spikeless, fine finish. Selecting the proper cutting type facilitates repeatable cuts with minimal energy transfer and repeatable results. Semi flush edge design (commonly referred to as beveled) is the most durable, and longest lasting of flush designs but also requires the most grip pressure. More aggressive angled cutters, such as flush and super/max/ultra flush cutters, require less grip pressure and yield the cleanest cuts because they provide the sharpest blades. Producing delicate devices requires flush cutters because the shock and impact of the cutting process can damage sensitive components. Adversely, they also dull more quickly and require servicing or replacement in shorter cycles.
Determining the Proper Head/Tip Type
The terms ‘head’ and ‘tip’ are often used interchangeable and refers to shape, circumference, thickness, and geometries of the cutting head. Peak productivity and the best cost per cut requires specialized tooling, and sometimes requires custom order honing and engineering for perfect fit and function. Manufacturers of the world’s smallest components rely on cutters with uniquely designed heads and tips for work within closely spaced components. The four most commonly used head shapes are oval, oval slim, tapered, and slim tapered. Oval head types offer the longest life span and are the most durable of all cutting heads. Wide jaws and a thick cross point ensure a contact point with strength which is more resistant to dulling, but also requires higher grip pressure. Slim designs provide an intermediate functionality of both ease of cutting, accessibility and durability. Micro tips provide ultimate access to tight spaces, but also increase breakage due to smaller cross sections near the tip.
Hand Tools Are Not One-Sized-Fit-All
Determining how to choose the proper cutter for the job requires assessing the economic and production floor value on a case by case basis. The variables of workflow, application, material use, and requirements for safety and ergonomic use by specific industry don’t cater to one-sized-fits-all features and specifications. The market for niche hand cutting tools is vast, and so is the option for cost-effective customized honing and tapering. Take a moment to browse offerings from multiple manufacturers and get familiar with standard and specialized features. If in doubt, contact a PAC product expert for help discovering your ideal production tool.