Science and nature have come together in the most incredible way, and both try to claim super abrasives for themselves. Both diamond and Cubic Boron Nitride (c-BN) can be found in nature and made in a lab. Until recently, it was believed that c-BN was only a manmade mineral, but it was found in nature 10 years ago during an expedition. They share similar properties and can be used in industrial applications to cut some of the hardest materials on earth.
What are Super Abrasives?
These so-called super abrasives are super hard elements that have the necessary properties needed to cut and grind dense, high tempered metals and natural materials. They’re primarily used for precision cutting and grinding. Their properties allow them to cut and grind at lower temperatures, which lowers thermal damage to the cut piece. Since they’re always harder than the material they cut, the removal rate is much higher. This allows them to last longer than conventional abrasive materials.
Diamond is a naturally occurring mineral that is the hardest known material on earth. While it was first mined from the ground, synthetic diamonds have been made in labs since the 1950s. Beyond its use as a precious jewel for decoration, the diamond has many industrial uses. Diamond, as a cutting tool, is used to cut non-metallic materials like granite, gorilla glass, concrete, and ceramic tiles. Used in a CNC milling machine, a diamond-tipped contour tool can cut the slots and grooves in the gorilla glass on smartphones. Diamond’s properties make it ideal to cut and grind with precision for a close tolerance.
Cubic Boron Nitride, or c-BN
Cubic Boron Nitride was first made by the same team that made synthetic diamonds. It is made much the same way as diamond, through a process called sintering. c-BN has similar properties to diamond but with superior chemical and thermal stability, which makes it more suitable to cut super-hardened steel and metals. c-BN shares the same crystalline structure as diamond, but instead of carbon atoms, it’s made up of alternately-bonded atoms of boron and nitrogen. There is a debate about which of the super abrasives is harder and stronger because they share such similar properties. It was previously believed that c-BN did not exist in nature and it was 100% manmade. In 2009, a team of geologists found it in the Southern Tibetan mountains, proving this belief wrong.