Diffusion Treatment

Heat treatment of steels is the heating and cooling of metals to change their physical and mechanical properties, without letting it change its shape. Heat treatment could be said to be a method for strengthening materials but could also be used to alter some mechanical properties such as improving formability, machining, etc. The most common application is metallurgical but heat treatment of metals can also be used in the manufacture of glass, aluminum, steel and many more materials.

Unlike chemical treatments, heat treatment procedures do not alter the chemical composition at the surface but simply modify the metallurgical structure of the parent material. Principal heat treatment procedures which induce favourable residual stress layers are induction hardening and flame hardening, although many other processes can also be considered within this category such as flame cutting, welding, quenching and even hot rolling or forging. In the two latter cases, however, chemical composition effects are included since carbon is removed from the surface by oxidation. This ``decarburising`` process produces surface layers with physical properties generally lower than those of the core and it is thus considered as a weakening process.

Heat treatment is a controlled process used to alter the microstructure of metals and alloys such as steel and aluminium to impart properties which benefit the working life of a component, for example increased surface hardness, temperature resistance, ductility and strength. Heat treatment processes include case hardening, tempering, solution and aging treatment, Specialty Stainless Steel Processes (S3P), annealing and normalising.


Returning to the more conventional heat treatment processes of flame and induction hardening, these again have a major effect at the surface where temperature gradients are the most severe. They produce both surface hardening and high compressive residual stresses with associated fatigue life improvements of up to 100%. There is some evidence of weakening at the case to core transition region but the process remains valuable for components with sharp stress gradients around their profile or in the presence of surface notches.


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Heat treatment is defined as a combination of heating and cooling operations, timed and applied to a metal or alloy in the solid state in a way that will produce desirable properties. The process of heat treatment involves the use of heating or cooling, usually to extreme temperatures to achieve the desired result. It is a very important manufacturing processes that can not only help the manufacturing process but can also improve product, its performance, and its characteristics in many ways.


Hardening involves heating of steel, keeping it at an appropriate temperature until all pearlite is transformed into austenite, and then quenching it rapidly in water or oil. The temperature at which austentizing rapidly takes place depends upon the carbon content in the steel used. The heating time should be increased ensuring that the core will also be fully transformed into austenite. The microstructure of a hardened steel part is ferrite, martensite, or cementite.

Tempering involves heating steel that has been quenched and hardened for an adequate period of time so that the metal can be equilibrated. The hardness and strength obtained depend upon the temperature at which tempering is carried out. Higher temperatures will result into high ductility, but low strength and hardness. Low tempering temperatures will produce low ductility, but high strength and hardness. In practice, appropriate tempering temperatures are selected that will produce the desired level of hardness and strength. This operation is performed on all carbon steels that have been hardened, in order to reduce their brittleness, so that they can be used effectively in desired applications.

Annealing involves treating steel up to a high temperature, and then cooling it very slowly to room temperature, so that the resulting microstructure will possess high ductility and toughness, but low hardness. Annealing is performed by heating a component to the appropriate temperature, soaking it at that temperature, and then shutting off the furnace while the piece is in it. Steel is annealed before being processed by cold forming, to reduce the requirements of load and energy, and to enable the metal to undergo large strains without failure.

Normalizing involves heating steel, and then keeping it at that temperature for a period of time, and then cooling it in air. The resulting microstructure is a mixture of ferrite and cementite which has a higher strength and hardness, but lower ductility. Normalizing is performed on structures and structural components that will be subjected to machining, because it improves the machinability of carbon steels.

Carburization is a heat treatment process in which steel or iron is heated to a temperature, below the melting point, in the presence of a liquid, solid, or gaseous material which decomposes so as to release carbon when heated to the temperature used.

Surface Hardening
In many engineering applications, it is necessary to have the surface of the component hard enough to resist wear and erosion, while maintaining ductility and toughness, to withstand impact and shock loading. This is known as surface hardening. This can be achieved by local austentitizing and quenching, and diffusion of hardening elements like carbon or nitrogen into the surface. Processes involved for this purpose are known as flame hardening, induction hardening, nitriding and carbonitriding.


• More durable product.
• Steel becomes tougher, stronger.
• Easier to weld.
• Becomes more flexible.
• Increases its wear-resistance.
• Increase in overall lifetime of the part.
• Localized areas can be heat treated
• Very short surface heat-up times
• Steel can be pre-heat treated to obtain prior core hardness values
• Very minimal surface decarburization
• Very minimal surface oxidation
• Slight deformation (bending); this can occur due to internal residual machining stresses
• Straightening can be carried out on a deformed bar/shaft; however, care must be exercised
• Increased fatigue strength
• Can be incorporated into cell manufacture
• Low operating costs
• Fast localized heating reduces the processing time to seconds. Reduced heat and quench times.
• Compact machines can be located close to related operations to avoid handling and reduce part inventories.
• Set-up changes for different parts are quick and easy.
• Machines either pace the operator, or are completely automated.
• Scrap is reduced or eliminated by the use of precise controls.
• Use of costly alloy steels is reduced or eliminated.
• Carburizing costs are eliminated.
• Warm-up time is eliminated, since power is on only during the heating cycle.
• Need for skilled labor is eliminated.
• Man-hours are reduced with high production rates.
• Working conditions are improved.
• Maintenance costs are reduced.
• Less floor space is needed.
• Localized heating and hardening minimize distortion.
• Surface hardening retains original ductility of core.
• The hardened area is accurately controlled in respect to case depth, width, location and hardness.
• Compared with carburizing, induction hardening eliminates copper masking, packing, straightening and extra machining operations.


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