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Wear 260 (2006) 333338

Minimal quantity lubrication in turning: Effect on tool wear

A. Attanasio , M. Gelfi, C. Giardini, C. Remino
Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Brescia, Via Branze 38, 25123 Brescia, Italy
Received 28 September 2004; received in revised form 15 April 2005; accepted 16 April 2005
Available online 15 July 2005

Industries and researchers are trying to reduce the use of coolant lubricant fluids in metal cutting to obtain safety, environmental and
economical benefits. The aim of this research is to determine if the minimal quantity lubrication (MQL) technique in turning gives some
advantages in terms of tool wear reduction. This paper reports the results obtained from turning tests and SEM analysis of tools, at two feed
rates and two cutting lengths, using MQL on the rake and flank of the tool. The results obtained show that when MQL is applied to the tool
rake, tool life is generally no different from dry conditions, but MQL applied to the tool flank can increase tool life.
2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Lubrication; Minimal quantity lubrication; SEM analysis; Tool life test

1. Introduction
1.1. Lubrication in cutting
During cutting operations one of the most important problems is tool wear, caused by the normal load generated by the
interaction between tool and workpiece and by the relative
motion between tool and chip and workpiece and tool [1].
Tool wear, which results in tool substitution, is one of the most
important economical penalties to take into account during
cutting, so it is very important to improve tool life, minimizing the wear and optimizing all the cutting parameters and
factors: depth of cut, cutting velocity, feed rate, cutting fluids and cutting fluids application. In cutting operations fluids
play an important role. They must mainly guarantee lubrication and cooling, secondly protect workpiece and tool from
corrosion and promote the chip evacuation.
As far as lubrication is concerned, the load applied and the
working conditions, which characterize the cut, suggest that
it is impossible continuously to lubricate the cutting area by
fluid film lubrication. So, to guarantee lubrication, it is necessary to use lubricant with additives that chemically react

Corresponding author. Tel.: +39 030 3715584; fax: +39 030 3702448.
E-mail address: aldo.attanasio@ing.unibs.it (A. Attanasio).

0043-1648/$ see front matter 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

with the workpiece and tool material to generate chemical

compounds that allow the lubrication of the cutting surface.
Moreover, the workpiece cooling is necessary to remove the
heat generated during the chip formation and by the friction
between tool and workpiece. To reach the cutting surface is
not easy, in fact the high cutting pressure in the contact area
and the small space between chip and tool do not allow the
cutting fluid to access this zone. In order to obtain a good
cooling action, the cutting area is generally flooded by lubricant. Finally, the cutting fluid flow can be used to avoid the
chip remaining in the cutting zone, so reducing the possibility
of damaging the workpiece. Many application methods can
be used. Each application method is selected depending on
the advantages that it can give.
The main types of application are:
Hand application: this type of application is used only
in small batch production, because, using this lubrication
method, it is not easy continuously to apply the cutting
fluids and sufficiently to cool the workpiece. It guarantees
a low level of lubrication, cooling and chip removal [1].
Flooding: this application is the most common one. It
guarantees a very good level of lubrication, cooling and
chip removing. Applying this method of lubrication, it is
also possible to orientate the nozzle to the clearance tool

A. Attanasio et al. / Wear 260 (2006) 333338


surface, reducing the flank wear, especially when the cutting speed is slow.
Minimal quantity lubrication (MQL): in MQL a very small
lubricant flow (ml/h instead of l/min) is used. In this case,
the lubricant is directly sprayed on the cutting area. It guarantees a good level of lubrication, but the cooling action
is very small and the chip removal mechanism is obtained
by the air flow used to spread the lubricant.
In this work, the attention has been focused on minimal
quantity lubrication and its influence on tool wear.
1.2. Minimal quantity lubrication
Minimal quantity lubrication [2,3] is a recent technique
introduced in machining (in particular, in drilling) to obtain
safe, environmental and economic benefits, reducing the use
of coolant lubricant fluids in metal cutting. As reported by
some authors [4,5], metal-working fluids cost ranges from 7
to 17% of the total machining cost, while the tool cost ranges
from 2 to 4%. Therefore, using MQL technique, a remarkable reduction of machining costs can be obtained reducing
the quantity of lubricant used in machining. In MQL, a very
small lubricant flow (ml/h instead of l/min) is used. First of all
it is necessary to mix air and lubricant to obtain the mixture to
be spread on the cutting surface. Two different mixing methods can be used: mixing inside nozzle and mixing outside
nozzle. Using the mixing inside nozzle equipment, pressurized air and lubricant are mixed into the nozzle by a mixing
device, as shown in Fig. 1a. The lubrication is obtained by
the lubricant, while a minimal cooling action is achieved by
the pressurized air that reaches the cutting surface. Several
advantages derive applying this method. Mist and dangerous
vapours are reduced and the mixture setting is very easy to
control. In the mixing outside nozzle method (Fig. 1b) the
mixture is obtained in a mixing device positioned in a specific tank. Also, in this case lubrication between workpiece
and tools can be achieved.

As already seen, MQL provides a cooling action that often

is negligible. But is it necessary to cool workpieces and tools?
Nowadays there are several cutting operations where cooling is undesirable, because the induced thermal shock could
cause tool failure. An example is the finish machining of
hardened steel [6] using cubic bore nitride (CBN) or polycrystalline diamond (PCD) tools, where dry cutting is mainly
performed. In these cases, MQL is said to provide several
advantages in terms of tool wear reduction.
Other MQL advantages (depending on the low lubricant
quantity) are:
chip, workpiece and tool holder have a low residue of lubricant: their cleaning is easier and cheapest;
during machining the working area is not flooded so, if
necessary, the cutting operation can be readily observed.
On the other hand, the main limit of the MQL method is
its inability to cool the cutting surface. This means that MQL
is not able to furnish advantages, if it is applied in a cutting
operation where cooling action is strongly required, like in
grinding [7]. In these cases it is very important correctly to
define the conditions that allow the MQL technique to be
applied with real benefits.
The aim of the present research is to determine if MQL
furnishes some advantages, in terms of tool wear reduction, in
comparison with dry cutting. In the present paper, experimental results, turning normalized 100Cr6 steel using commercial
triple coated carbide tips, are reported. To obtain a complete analysis of the influence of lubrication in turning, the
tool flank wear was studied under MQL and dry cutting. A
SEM analysis of tools was also performed, to understand the
mechanism influencing the tool wear when MQL technique
is applied. The cutting parameters taken into account were:
the cutting velocity, the cutting feed, the cutting depth, the
cutting length and the lubrication type. All the statistical correlations among the variables considered have been obtained
and evaluated to find the parameters that affect the MQL
efficiency. The purpose is to understand the factors that influence machining when using the MQL technique. The results
obtained confirm that in turning the minimal quantity lubrication technique can furnish advantages in terms of tool life
when properly applied.

2. Experimental tests

Fig. 1. Mixing methods: (a) inside and (b) outside nozzles.

The aim of the performed experiments was to compare the

MQL and dry cutting technique in turning 100Cr6 normalized
steel pieces. To evaluate the performances of this technique,
tool life tests have been performed, analyzing the tool wear
[8]. The wear was directly measured on the tool flank, observing the flank surface by an optical microscope mounted on a
CMM machine. This type of test requires the turning operation to be stopped to allow the measurement of tool wear.
The measured parameter was VBmax (Fig. 2a) and the tool
was assumed to be replaced when VBmax reaches 0.3 mm.

A. Attanasio et al. / Wear 260 (2006) 333338


Table 2
Parameters used during the tests


Cutting speed (m/min)

Depth of cut (mm)
Oil flow (mg/h)
Air pressure (bar)
Entering angle (%)
Workpiece material

Ester oil with EP additive (COUPEX EP46)
Sandvik Coromant CNMG 12 04 04 PM4025
Normalized 100Cr6 steel (200220 HB)

2.2. Process parameters

Fig. 2. (a) VB wear parameter and (b) triple coated tip.

2.1. Experimental setup

The tool used during the test was a commercial tool, consisting of a tool holder with a negative rake angle ( = 6 )
and a triple coated carbide tip (TiN outer layer, Al2 O3 intermediate layer and TiCN inner layer), as shown in Fig. 2b.
To ensure constant mechanical and tribological properties
among all tips, they came from the same batch. The workpieces were made of normalized 100Cr6 steel, having a diameter of 92 mm and a length of 250 mm. Also, the workpieces
came from the same batch to guarantee a work material with
properties as constant as possible. The hardness [200220
HB], measured using a commercial durometer, did not show
significant variations along a transverse section. This fact was
also confirmed by the microstructure analysis performed on
workpieces. This showed uniform structure composed of ferritic and pearlitic grains from the periphery to the core. In
order to remove the external layer of material strain hardened by the previous forming operation, 1 mm of material
was removed from each bar by turning (with a tool tip different from the test tools) before the test.
The experimental system was composed of a CNC lathe
(AB OSAI), a mixer lubricator, an optical microscope to measure the flank wear and finally a SEM microscope to examine
the wear surface of the tool tips. The mixer lubricator was an
inside nozzle mixing device (Fig. 1a). To ensure the exact
direction of the jet during each test, the nozzle position was
regularly checked by replacing the tool with a paper target
reproducing the tool contour. Adjustments were made, if necessary, to keep the oil mark on the target in a constant position.

The experimental test consisted of a finish turning operation on 100Cr6 workpieces. The guidelines of the ISO 3685
standard [9] were applied, that fix how to conduct this type
of test in terms of workpiece geometry, tool material, tool
holder type selection, cutting velocity definition, tool failure criterion and procedure to measure the tool wear. The
variables evaluated during the experiments were feed rate,
cutting length for each cut and lubrication. Their chosen

Table 1
Machining variables and their values


Feed rate (mm/rev)

Cutting length (mm)


MQL of flank

MQL of rake

Fig. 3. Nozzle positioning: (a) rake MQL and (b) flank MQL.

A. Attanasio et al. / Wear 260 (2006) 333338

Table 3
Tool life results

Feed rate

Cutting length

Mean tool life

time (min)

Standard deviation

Mean removed
volume (mm3 )

Standard deviation
(mm3 )


















MQL of rake


MQL of flank


values are shown in Table 1. Table 2 shows all the parameters held constant, including the cutting speed and depth of
cut of 300 m/min and 1 mm, respectively. These parameters
have been set following the guidelines provided by the tool
maker, to guarantee the best working conditions. Moreover, it
was verified that using these parameter values the produced
chips were fragmented, to avoid nozzle deviation from the
right position caused by the impacting chips. As required for
the MQL technique, the lubricant was a high performance
oil. This commercial product is a mixture of extreme pressure (EP) additives, ester, sulphonates, organic salts (Ca and
other) and other compounds. It has been chosen because it
is also very suitable for cutting operations lubricated by pulverisation or jet spraying.
The total number of parameter combinations in Table 1
is 12. For each of these combinations four tests have been

conducted. Fig. 3 shows how the nozzle has been positioned

to lubricate the rake tool surface (Fig. 3a) and the flank tool
surface (Fig. 3b).
The choice of using two different cutting lengths has been
made to evaluate the efficiency of MQL when performing
a high repetition of short cuts (50 mm) instead of a smaller
number of long cuts (200 mm), in order to test if transient
periods (start and end of cut) influence wear.

3. Results
3.1. Tool life results
The results reported in Table 3 were obtained as mean values of the results of four tests conducted for each parameters

Fig. 4. Mean removed volume: (a) feed rate 0.2 mm/rev, cutting length 200 mm; (b) feed rate 0.2 mm/rev, cutting length 50 mm; (c) feed rate 0.26 mm/rev,
cutting length 200 mm; (d) feed rate 0.26 mm/rev, cutting length 50 mm.

A. Attanasio et al. / Wear 260 (2006) 333338


combination. In particular, Table 3 shows the values of the

mean tool life time, the corresponding removed material volume and their standard deviations.
To compare the performances of different lubrication techniques, the mean removed volumes have been plotted with
their standard deviations in Fig. 4. Comparing dry, rake MQL
and flank MQL results shows removed volumes with flank
MQL are consistently equal to or greater than in the other
conditions. This behaviour is confirmed in Fig. 5 that reports
the influence of feed rate on tool wear, for fixed cutting length.
A rise in feed rate always causes a reduction in tool life time,
but the flank MQL mean life lines lie consistently above the
Figs. 4 and 5 also show that dry cutting and rake face MQL
generally have the same behaviour. It is possible to suppose
that when MQL is applied on the rake surface the lubricant
does not reach the cutting surface. Under this condition it is
impossible to reduce the tool wear. As for the influence of
cutting length, Fig. 5 shows that the mean tool life in flank
MQL conditions increases with cut length, whereas in dry
and rake MQL conditions, cutting length does not influence
3.2. SEM analysis
A SEM analysis was performed in order to investigate how
the tool tips wear and if the MQL technique is able to lubricate
the contacting surfaces. Fig. 6 shows that the tool tips wear
as reported in the literature [1]. On the rake surface (Fig. 6a)
crater wear, the outer chip notch and the inner chip notch are
seen. In the crater area energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS)
microanalysis has found traces of work material (Fe and Cr).

Fig. 5. Influence of feed rate on tool life time: (a) cutting length 200 mm
and (b) cutting length 50 mm.

Fig. 6. SEM analysis (flank MQL): (a) rake surface and (b) flank surface.

A. Attanasio et al. / Wear 260 (2006) 333338

Table 4
EDS microanalysis from flank MQL conditions




















are summarized here. Lubricating the rake surface of a tip by

the MQL technique does not produce evident wear reduction.
Tool life time of a tip used in dry cutting conditions is similar
to that of a tip lubricated by MQL on the rake. Lubricating the flank surface of a tip by the MQL technique reduces
the tool wear and increases the tool life. Traces of lubricant
compounds have been found on the worn surfaces only when
MQL has been applied on the flank surface.
In conclusion, MQL gives some advantages during the
turning operation, but it presents some limits due to the difficulty of lubricant reaching the cutting surface.

Fig. 7. EDS analysed tip (flank MQL).

On the flank (Fig. 6b) the flank wear zone and the primary
groove can be recognised. This wear geometry characterizes
all tips used during the tests.
Fig. 7 shows the flank wear of a tip used in flank MQL
conditions, identifying sites 1, 2 and 3 at which EDS microanalysis was carried out. Table 4 reports all the elements
found at those sites. In particular, at site 3, elements indicating
compounds from the lubricant are found: sulphur (0.68 wt%)
and calcium (1.07 wt%). Similar results have been obtained
for all the tips used with flank MQL. By contrast, EDS microanalysis of tips used in rake MQL conditions does not show
any presence of these chemical compounds on the worn surfaces. This means that, when MQL is applied on the rake
surface, lubricant does not reach the cutting area.

4. Conclusions
MQL is a technique that could reduce many cutting problems coming from high consumptions of lubricant, like high
machining costs or environmental and worker health problems. Therefore, it is important to know all advantages and
limits of this technique. The present work shows how MQL
can be advantageous when cutting normalized 100Cr6 steel.
The results from experimental tests and EDS microanalysis

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