Tungsten is the main constituent of hard metals and approximately 80% of global tungsten ore production comes from China. In 2011 the British Geological Survey placed tungsten at number one on the list of elements ranked by unreliability of supplies. Something had to be done.
Approximately 80% of global tungsten ore production comes from China. Only 60% of tungsten mines are located in China but, in recent years, mining activities in other countries have been discontinued due to low prices. Despite massive tungsten ore resources available in North America and Bolivia, for instance, it is virtually impossible to turn to other suppliers. In 2011 it appeared that some western mining companies were considering re-opening a few mining sites outside China. However, it took a few years before significant volumes were available on the market.
The only significant new supplier that has entered the market recently is the Nui Phao project in Vietnam. Other companies producing quantities outside China include several on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), United Kingdom (Devon), South Korea, Canada and Mt. Carbine in Australia. Russia was the other main tungsten-producing country but tungsten output in Russia was decimated following the break-up of the former Soviet Union in 1991.
Tungsten is the main constituent of hard metals, which are key materials for the production of cutting edges for tools used in the wood and furniture industry. In October 2011, the British Geological Survey placed tungsten at number one in the list of elements ranked by unreliability of supplies. According to mid-2009 Metal Bulletin, the price of ammonium paratungstate, APT, (the most important element for the majority of tungsten products) was around US$200 per metric ton, while at the peak of the crisis in May 2011 it reached US$480. In May 2015 it had settled back to US$250.
During the “tungsten crisis” tool manufacturers in Germany and Italy looked to alternate solutions to providing longer life to existing cutting tools and tool coating was developed. As an instance, the Leitz coated product is branded Marathon and tests conducted in 1998 by Supplier’s Phil Ashley with the CSIRO revealed that a Marathon coated drill bit outperformed a standard dowel bit of the same type by two to one, effectively doubling its service life. Toolmakers are also looking to increase the recycling share substantially from the current 35%. A greater use of diamond-tipped tools is another alternative. However, diamond has limits in solid wood machining due to the different cutting geometries required, high hardness and low toughness.