Keywords:heat treatment process,Cold and cryogenic treating,Case harde
what is heat treatment process?
Heat treatment process can usually be divided into the following:
Main article: Annealing (metallurgy)
Annealing is a rather generalized term. Annealing consists of heating a metal to a specific temperature and then cooling at a rate that will produce a refined microstructure. The rate of cooling is generally slow. Annealing is most often used to soften a metal for cold working, to improve machinability, or to enhance properties like electrical conductivity.
In ferrous alloys, annealing is usually accomplished by heating the metal beyond the upper critical temperature and then cooling very slowly, resulting in the formation of pearlite. In both pure metals and many alloys that can not be heat treated, annealing is used to remove the hardness caused by cold working. The metal is heated to a temperature where recrystallization can occur, thereby repairing the defects caused by plastic deformation. In these metals, the rate of cooling will usually have little effect. Most non-ferrous alloys that are heat-treatable are also annealed to relieve the hardness of cold working. These may be slowly cooled to allow full precipitation of the constituents and produce a refined microstructure.
Ferrous alloys are usually either "full annealed" or "process annealed." Full annealing requires very slow cooling rates, in order to form coarse pearlite. In process annealing, the cooling rate may be faster; up to, and including normalizing. The main goal of process annealing is to produce a uniform microstructure. Non-ferrous alloys are often subjected to a variety of annealing techniques, including "recrystallization annealing," "partial annealing," "full annealing," and "final annealing." Not all annealing techniques involve recrystallization, such as stress relieving.
Normalizing is a technique used to provide uniformity in grain size and composition throughout an alloy. The term is often used for ferrous alloys that have been austenitized and then cooled in open air.Normalizing not only produces pearlite, but also bainite and sometimes martensite, which gives harder and stronger steel, but with less ductility for the same composition than full annealing.
Stress relieving is a technique to remove or reduce the internal stresses created in a metal. These stresses may be caused in a number of ways, ranging from cold working to non-uniform cooling. Stress relieving is usually accomplished by heating a metal below the lower critical temperature and then cooling uniformly.
Main article: Precipitation hardening
Some metals are classified as precipitation hardening metals. When a precipitation hardening alloy is quenched, its alloying elements will be trapped in solution, resulting in a soft metal. Aging a "solutionized" metal will allow the alloying elements to diffuse through the microstructure and form intermetallic particles. These intermetallic particles will nucleate and fall out of solution and act as a reinforcing phase, thereby increasing the strength of the alloy. Alloys may age "naturally" meaning that the precipitates form at room temperature, or they may age "artificially" when precipitates only form at elevated temperatures. In some applications, naturally aging alloys may be stored in a freezer to prevent hardening until after further operations - assembly of rivets, for example, may be easier with a softer part.
Examples of precipitation hardening alloys include 2000 series, 6000 series, and 7000 series aluminium alloy, as well as some superalloys and some stainless steels. Steels that harden by aging are typically referred to as maraging steels, from a combination of the term "martensite aging."
Main article: Quenching
Quenching is a process of cooling a metal at a rapid rate. This is most often done to produce a martensite transformation. In ferrous alloys, this will often produce a harder metal, while non-ferrous alloys will usually become softer than normal.
To harden by quenching, a metal (usually steel or cast iron) must be heated above the upper critical temperature and then quickly cooled. Depending on the alloy and other considerations (such as concern for maximum hardness vs. cracking and distortion), cooling may be done with forced air or other gases, (such as nitrogen). Liquids may be used, due to their better thermal conductivity, such as oil, water, a polymer dissolved in water, or a brine. Upon being rapidly cooled, a portion of austenite (dependent on alloy composition) will transform to martensite, a hard, brittle crystalline structure. The quenched hardness of a metal depends on its chemical composition and quenching method. Cooling speeds, from fastest to slowest, go from brine, fresh water, polymer (i.e. mixtures of water + glycol polymers), oil, and forced air. However, quenching a certain steel too fast can result in cracking, which is why high-tensile steels such as AISI 4140 should be quenched in oil, tool steels such as ISO 1.2767 or H13 hot work tool steel should be quenched in forced air, and low alloy or medium-tensile steels such as XK1320 or AISI 1040 should be quenched in brine.
However, most non-ferrous metals, like alloys of copper, aluminum, or nickel, and some high alloy steels such as austenitic stainless steel (304, 316), produce an opposite effect when these are quenched: they soften. Austenitic stainless steels must be quenched to become fully corrosion resistant, as they work-harden significantly.
Main article: Tempering (metallurgy)
Untempered martensitic steel, while very hard, is too brittle to be useful for most applications. A method for alleviating this problem is called tempering. Most applications require that quenched parts be tempered. Tempering consists of heating steel below the lower critical temperature, (often from 400 to 1105 ˚F or 205 to 595 ˚C, depending on the desired results), to impart some toughness. Higher tempering temperatures, (may be up to 1,300 ˚F or 700 ˚C, depending on the alloy and application), are sometimes used to impart further ductility, although some yield strength is lost.
Tempering may also be performed on normalized steels. Other methods of tempering consist of quenching to a specific temperature, which is above the martensite start temperature, and then holding it there until pure bainite can form or internal stresses can be relieved. These include austempering and martempering.
Tempering colors of steel
Steel that has been freshly ground or polished will form oxide layers when heated. At a very specific temperature, the iron oxide will form a layer with a very specific thickness, causing thin-film interference. This causes colors to appear on the surface of the steel. As temperature is increased, the iron oxide layer grows in thickness, changing the color. These colors, called tempering colors, have been used for centuries to gauge the temperature of the metal. At around 350˚F (176˚C) the steel will start to take on a very light, yellowish hue. At 400˚F (204˚C), the steel will become a noticeable light-straw color, and at 440˚F (226˚C), the color will become dark-straw. At 500˚F (260˚C), steel will turn brown, while at 540˚F (282˚C) it will turn purple. At 590˚F (310˚C) the steel turns a very deep blue, but at 640˚F (337˚C) it becomes a rather light blue.
The tempering colors can be used to judge the final properties of the tempered steel. Very hard tool steel is often tempered in the light to dark straw range, whereas spring steel is often tempered to the blue. However, the final hardness of the tempered steel will vary, depending on the composition of the steel. The oxide film will also increase in thickness over time. Therefore, steel that has been held at 400˚F for a very long time may turn brown or purple, even though the temperature never exceeded that needed to produce a light straw color. Other factors affecting the final outcome are oil films on the surface and the type of heat source used.
Selective heat treating
Main article: Differential heat treatment
Many heat treating methods have been developed to alter the properties of only a portion of an object. These tend to consist of either cooling different areas of an alloy at different rates, by quickly heating in a localized area and then quenching, by thermochemical diffusion, or by tempering different areas of an object at different temperatures, such as in differential tempering.
Main article: Differential hardening
A differentially hardened katana. The bright, wavy line following the hamon, called the nioi, separates the martensitic edge from the pearlitic back. The inset shows a close-up of the nioi, which is made up of individual martensite grains (niye) surrounded by pearlite. The wood-grain appearance comes from layers of different composition.
Some techniques allow different areas of a single object to receive different heat treatments. This is called differential hardening. It is common in high quality knives and swords. The Chinese jian is one of the earliest known examples of this, and the Japanese katana may be the most widely known. The Nepalese Khukuri is another example. This technique uses an insulating layer, like layers of clay, to cover the areas that are to remain soft. The areas to be hardened are left exposed, allowing only certain parts of the steel to fully harden when quenched.
Main article: Surface hardening
Flame hardening is used to harden only a portion of a metal. Unlike differential hardening, where the entire piece is heated and then cooled at different rates, in flame hardening, only a portion of the metal is heated before quenching. This is usually easier than differential hardening, but often produces an extremely brittle zone between the heated metal and the unheated metal, as cooling at the edge of this heat affected zone is extremely rapid.
Main article: Induction hardening
Induction hardening is a surface hardening technique in which the surface of the metal is heated very quickly, using a no-contact method of induction heating. The alloy is then quenched, producing a martensite transformation at the surface while leaving the underlying metal unchanged. This creates a very hard, wear resistant surface while maintaining the proper toughness in the majority of the object. Crankshaft journals are a good example of an induction hardened surface.
Main article: Case hardening
Case hardening is a thermochemical diffusion process in which an alloying element, most commonly carbon or nitrogen, diffuses into the surface of a monolithic metal. The resulting interstitial solid solution is harder than the base material, which improves wear resistance without sacrificing toughness.
Laser surface engineering is a surface treatment with high versatility, selectivity and novel properties. Since the cooling rate is very high in laser treatment, metastable even metallic glass can be obtained by this method.
Cold and cryogenic treating
Main article: Cryogenic treatment
Although quenching steel causes the austenite to transform into martensite, all of the austenite usually does not transform. Some austenite crystals will remain unchanged even after quenching below the martensite finish (Mf) temperature. Further transformation of the austenite into martensite can be induced by slowly cooling the metal to extremely low temperatures. Cold treating generally consists of cooling the steel to around -115 ˚F (-81 ˚C), but does not eliminate all of the austenite. Cryogenic treating usually consists of cooling to much lower temperatures, often in the range of -315 ˚F (-192 ˚C), to transform most of the austenite into martensite.
Cold and cryogenic treatments are typically done immediately after quenching, before any tempering, and will increase the hardness, wear resistance, and reduce the internal stresses in the metal but, because it is really an extension of the quenching process, it may increase the chances of cracking during the procedure. The process is often used for tools, bearings, or other items that require good wear resistance. However, it is usually only effective in high-carbon or high-alloy steels in which more than 10% austenite is retained after quenching.
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