The hidden monopoly among cutting tools.

Author:Stover, Mark
Position:First in a series

Let's look at what is arguably considered the most critical natural resource that keeps the world economy in motion: petroleum. When you consider all the anxiety that surrounds the world's supply of petroleum, the Middle East and, more specifically, the Persian Gulf region comes to mind. A bit more thought and you focus in on Saudi Arabia. Yotz then quickly recall that yes, Saudi Arabia is the world's largest and most dominant supplier of crude oil, and it has by far the leading position in proven oil reserves. More than once in your lifetime, you've probably experienced how the Saudi's can, at will, move the worldwide price of a barrel of crude oil. This is directly because it is the world's largest supplier of crude oil, with basically 25 percent of all proven conventional oil reserves. Wow, a 25 percent market share in the lifeblood of the world economy. The nearest competitor to Saudi Arabia is Iran--with approximately 10 percent of the worldwide proven reserves.

What if you were to learn that there is a country that controls roughly 80 percent of the known worldwide reserves needed for all of your carbide cutting tools? In an average production shop, somewhere north of 70 percent of all metal-cutting removal is done with carbide tooling including mainly solid carbide round tool and indexable insert style tools. It could be concluded that 70 percent of your metal cutting productivity and processes are potentially subject to the whims of just one country. And factoring in they control 80 percent of the worldwide reserves of raw material for tungsten carbide--it is possible to conclude that the power this country has over the carbide market is many times higher than the power Saudi Arabia exerts over the worldwide market for crude oil'?

Did I mention that the country that controls the carbide raw material is China?

Yes, that's right, China controls more than 80 percent of the worldwide active production reserves for ammonium paratungstate. APT is the base raw material that is processed into tungsten metal powder (W), which is then processed (by the addition of carbon) into tungsten carbide (WC), which is the main constituent for all varieties of cemented tungsten carbide powders. These powders are then pressed and sintered into carbide indexable inserts as well as the solid carbide rod that end mills and drills are ground from. Tungsten carbide is also present (although to a much lower percentage) in most industrial grades of high-speed...

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