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Tungsten carbide, or more correctly cemented tungsten carbide, is strictly a "cermet" (ceramic metal combination), where particles of ceramic and tungsten carbide are bonded together in a metal matrix. Originally produced as a cutting tool material, a market which it now dominates, tungsten carbide is widely used where hardness and high-wear resistance is required. Variation in the binder percentage and the size of the carbide particles allow fine control over the properties of the material, hardness reducing, and toughness increasing. The binder material also contributes to the overall properties of the material.
By far the most common form of tungsten carbide, cobalt binder material is made in a range of compositions with up to 25% binder. Balls are generally made of material with 6% binder content. It is susceptible to corrosion of the cobalt binder, particularly in contact with water, and although this rarely results in structural failure it can cause severe degradation of the ball surface.
Nickel binder tungsten carbide is far less common than cobalt binder material, it’s not made in same range of composition, and it tends to be slightly softer. However, it offers significantly better resistance to corrosion. It is particularly useful in valve and pump applications, and it performs well in more aggressive chemical environments.