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The Ballpoint Pen: A Chemistry’s Review

My item of choice is a ballpoint pen. This item is of interest to me because for decades, we have come to rely on it as a writing material. Although we are now living in the computer age, the ballpoint pen is still popular. The ballpoint pen is a simple and cheap product made up of various components. It would be interesting to study the individual ingredients that make up a ballpoint pen and the chemical process used to make components of this item.

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One of the components used in the manufacture of ballpoint pens is a textured tungsten carbide ball. Tungsten carbide balls exist in a chemically inert state and in this state they are useful in the manufacture of ballpoint pens. The manufacturing process of tungsten carbide ball involves mixing of tungsten metal with carbide ball and carbon black. Thereafter the mixture is heated to allow tungsten and carbon to bond (Andersson & Bergstrom 123). It is then subjected to extreme pressure and heat in a process known as sintering and a metal powder is formed.

Brass is the main component used in the making of points of most ballpoint pens. Brass may also find use in the manufacture of other parts of a ballpoint pen including the spring, the ink cartridge, and the body. The manufacturing process of brass involves heating of the correct amounts of copper alloy and zinc scrap in a furnace to produce molten motor which is then cooled on slabs before hot rolling (Brady, Clauser an& Vaccari 87). The cooled motor is subjected to breakdown rolling, cooled, and a scalper is used to remove oxides from the brass. The final processes are annealing and cold rolling. Annealing relives the brass of its hardness to become ductile. The annealed brass is then subjected to cold rolling to reduce its thickness further. If need be, the brass may be subjected to a finishing roller to produce a final product with a smooth finished surface.

Another component of the ballpoint pen is writing ink. The four basic components of writing ink include pigments, solvents, resins, and additives. The formulation of these components into ink occurs in two main steps (Lay-Keow, Lafontaine and Brazeau 6). The first step is the manufacture of varnish. This is the clear liquid that acts as an ink base. The solvent, resins as well as additives are heated at high temperatures to yield the varnish (Carraher and Seymour 19). The next step is pigment dispersal whereby the varnish is mixed with the pigment. Lumps of pigment have to be ground, after which it has to be speared evenly throughout the ink.

Before plastic became popular, aluminum was the main raw material used in the manufacture of the pen body. Once the aluminum ore has been mined, it is crushed and a sodium hydroxide solution added, before grinding the mixture into a fine powder. Water is added to the mixture after which it is subjected to high pressure and temperatures of over 500 degrees Fahrenheit. A holding tank facilitates settling of non-aluminum solids, while sodium hydroxide helps to dissolve aluminum particles. The remaining impurities are captured by pumping the solution through a filtration system (Russell 42). The increase in size of crystals attracts aluminum particles. The solution is then passed through a kiln to facilitate the evaporation of excess water, so that only pure aluminum crystals remain. The crystals have to be cooled and smelted.

The ballpoint pen consists of various components, each of which has been manufactured through different processes. This essay has attempted to examine the chemical processes involved in the manufacture of the various components of a ballpoint pen.

Reference List

Andersson, Karin & Bergstrom, Lennart. (2000). Oxidation and dissolution of tungsten Carbide powder in water. International journal of refractory metal & hard materials, 18:121-129.

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Brady, George., Clauser, Henry and Vaccari, John. Brass. In Materials Handbook, 14th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997. Print.

Carraher, Charles, and Seymour. Raymond. Polymer Chemistry. New York: Marcel Dekker, 1992. Print.

Lay-Keow , Ng., Lafontaine, Pierre and Brazeau, Luc. Ballpoint Pen Inks: Characterization by Positive and Negative Ion-Electrospray Ionization Mass Spectrometry for the Forensic Examination of Writing Inks. J Forensic Sci, 47.6(2002): 1-10.

Russell, Allen. Aluminum. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997. Print.

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