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The application of a permanent marker, glue or tape makes gummy metals such as aluminum, stainless steels, copper and tantalum much easier to cut for industrial applications. (Purdue University image/Erin Easterling)

Permanent markers, glue sticks and packing tape may offer a surprisingly low-tech solution to a long-standing nuisance in the manufacturing industry: Making soft and ductile, or so-called "gummy" metals, like those used for orthopedic implants or surgical tools, easier to cut.

What makes inks and adhesives effective isn't their chemical content, but their stickiness to the surface of any gummy metal such as nickel, aluminum, stainless steels or copper, researchers say. These adhesives help achieve a smoother, cleaner and faster cut than current machining processes, impacting applications ranging from the manufacturing of orthopedic implants and surgical instruments to aerospace components.

If a significant improvement can be made to the “machinability” of gummy metals or alloys – which is how well they cut, drill or grind – then there is potential to lower the cost of products, improve their performance or enable new and improved designs.

Marking with ink or attaching any adhesive on the metal's surface dramatically reduced the force of cutting without the whole metal falling apart, leaving a clean cut in seconds. The quality of the machined surface also greatly improved.

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