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Thread: Materials Science and Knives question

  1. #1
    Spyderco Forum Registered User SpyderEdgeForever's Avatar
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    Materials Science and Knives question

    As some of you here can tell, I am interested in new materials for human use and for the use of knives. I have a question I would like anyone who is interested to answer: What are the main issues related to getting new materials into widespread use? Example: I am constantly reading about novel new amazing materials with fantastic properties such as carbon and other materials harder, stronger, lighter, tougher, and more corrosion-resistant than steel. Back in the 2005-2006 period I read about a titanium-aluminum laminate that is stronger than steel and they fired a tungsten bolt at it, at 900 miles per hour, and it did not penetrate much.

    Why is it that it takes so long for newly discovered materials to go from laboratory samples and theoretical designs, to commercially available materials, and, knives and tools and armor and construction materials made from it? Is it the money/cost issue, or simply lack of sufficient human will to orchestrate it and have it done, or other factors?

    Second question: As far as knives goes, is this a factor? There are materials that are hard and strong, even stronger and harder than steel, but, do not hold an edge well, or no? I know there are things like tungsten carbide and other carbides, oxides, and nitrides, that are harder than steel and would make perfect edged tools, but, because they are also brittle and not tough and elastic/flexible, they do not YET outdo steel. What would be needed to take advantage of all of these properties would be the ability to build them with atomic-molecular level control, and, make composites from them. Then you can get BOTH the hardness and strength AND the toughness and flexibility.

    I read a paper by a Leslie Rubenstein in which she discussed the possibility of bonding tungsten carbide and related materials with carbon nanotubes. She said if that was done properly, it would make a material that had the super-hardness and strength of the carbide, with the flexibility and toughness of the nanotubes and polymers. This would be something straight out of science fiction but made real.



  2. #2
    Spyderco Forum Registered User yablanowitz's Avatar
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    Between "theoretically possible" and "actually possible" is a chasm that must be filled with money to get from one side to the other. There is another between "actually possible" and "economically feasible" that is often even larger. There are very few entities willing and able to fill those chasms with money that they may not get back for many years, if ever.
    I don't believe in safe queens, only in pre-need replacements.

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    Spyderco Forum Registered User Evil D's Avatar
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    Three things:

    1. Cost

    2. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. This ties directly into 1, because if something is cheaper and works well enough for a given application, what's the incentive for the new more expensive material to be used?

    3. Application. This is the sum of 1 and 2. If you can get the job done with the cheaper material that has always worked just fine, then you don't need anything else for a given application. Also, some applications demand special material (H1 for example) so that's where you see new material coming into play that wasn't around 20 years ago, but until there's an application that overrides 1 and 2, you won't see that new product.

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    Spyderco Forum Registered User SpyderNut's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by yablanowitz View Post
    Between "theoretically possible" and "actually possible" is a chasm that must be filled with money to get from one side to the other. There is another between "actually possible" and "economically feasible" that is often even larger. There are very few entities willing and able to fill those chasms with money that they may not get back for many years, if ever.
    Bingo.
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  5. #5
    Spyderco Forum Registered User
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    Expense mostly. There is a small portion of the population that will spend money on a good knife. The portion is even smaller when the exotic material drives up the price even more. There is also a lot of marketing involved in promoting these new materials that is somewhat misleading, IMO. Saying something is stronger than steel is a very vague statement. Kevlar is stronger than steel by about 10x, or so it was promoted years ago. The trouble is it's only true of the weakest grades of structural steel, and only in tension. SM100 was promoted as the new material to replace steel. That is until it got around that it's only half as strong as 440C.

  6. #6
    Spyderco Forum Registered User phillipsted's Avatar
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    I also wouldn't rule out the issue of intellectual property rights. The guy who invented the titanium/aluminum laminate may be still shopping around for someone to license the idea at the right price. The patents for other materials may have been bought and are being held "captive" in a particular vertical market or application.

    IP rights serve to both protect inventors while simultaneously strangling invention - or so it seems sometimes...

    TedP

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