Case Studies


Machining Inconel - Nuclear R&D, getting to the core of the problem

The problem

Machining Inconel helped a nuclear energy research and development company when it approached the engineering world with a problem.

A group of scientists were beginning to develop an intricate and essential part for the future nuclear fusion reactor for ITER, but they could not find a company with the expertise to manufacture the part and provide constant consultation and design recommendations throughout the research and development process.

Nuclear Fusion

Heat and light radiated from the sun is generated by nuclear fusion reactions. The fusion process involves bringing hydrogen atoms together, Deuterium and Tritium, and converting them into a Helium atom and a neutron. In the reaction the total weight of the reaction products gets lighter, than the reaction ingredients, the difference in the mass, from before and after, is the resulting amount of energy released from the process.

For instance, the fusion reaction with 1g of the fuel composed of Deuterium and Tritium will produce the energy equivalent of burning 8 tonnes of petroleum. Deuterium is abundant in ordinary water, whereas Tritium is produced by uniting the fusion neutron with lithium a plentiful metal. Hence fusion has the possibility to be an unlimited supply of energy.


Scientists from all over the globe have joined forces for ITER to achieve an ambitious goal; to utilise the energy generated by the fusion of atoms, thus potentially satisfying mankind’s insatiable appetite for energy.

ITER is an intercontinental undertaking with the aim to build a feasible and functioning fusion reactor. The project has been a dream of this multination colaboration to create the ultimate source of energy, from a limitless supply of materials in an environmentally friendly way.

The project is expected to be in the construction stage for 10 years. The ITER website is quoted as saying “ITER is a large-scale scientific experiment intended to prove the viability of fusion as an energy source, and to collect the data necessary for the design and subsequent operation of the first electricity-producing fusion power plant.”

The ITER Agreement is an international collaboration of countries representing over half of the world’s population, including the European Union, China, Russia and the United States.

The material

The part in question had to withstand the extreme environments within a nuclear reactor, the scientist chose the design to be machined using Inconel.

Inconel is a perfect material for the nuclear industry; Inconel alloys are corrosion and oxidation resistant and therefore are well suited for use in extreme environments. When heat is applied to Inconel it forms a protective oxide layer through passivation. Inconel retains strength over a wide temperature range, an advantage for high temperature applications.

Steps to machining Inconel

  • Choosing your grade of Inconel. More info click
  • Ensure your tools are made from a harder metal, e.g. Tungsten Carbide
  • Speed is your enemy, you must maintain a constant feed speed

The solution

The R&D Company required the engineers and machinery to deal with such a complex part from such a difficult metal to machine.

The company searched for specialists throughout the UK and were recommended, by several of their peers, to approach WES Hardmetal Engineering in Cornwall.

Founded in 1979, Hardmetal Engineering is one of the leading engineering companies in Europe working specifically with hard metals. They specialise in producing a wide range of bespoke compact products in a variety of different materials for a broad spectrum of industries. They are experts in close tolerance working (normally within 4 microns) on Kovar, Tantalum, Titanium, Tool Steel, Inconel, Copper Tungsten, Tungsten Carbide and sintered materials.

Hardmetal Engineering have made a global name for themselves manufacturing products and bespoke designs that have a variety of applications within the Nuclear Energy Sector, both Nuclear Fission and Fusion extensively use hard and exotic materials, that Hardmetal are experts in machining. Hardmetal Engineering also employs a full material traceability structure for all their products.

Hardmetal Engineering understood that significant research, development and testing are required on any nuclear product application and was able to provide support from inception and product design to prototype parts made by machining Inconel.

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