Today manufacturers of industrial parts frequently depend upon heat treatment as a valuable process in metals fabrication environments. By applying heating and cooling, metallurgists change the physical properties of steels and other metal alloys. A variety of different processes help produce specific desired changes.
For instance, manufacturing firms apply well-established processes such as case hardening or induction hardening to help metal components resist wear more effectively. Carburizing or nitriding during finishing enhances resistance to scratches and other surface abrasions, often increasing the anticipated lifespan of metal components. Other processes, such as metals annealing and normalizing, soften metals and increase ductility. These softening processes may offer better protection against brittleness and fracturing.
Annealing causes many metals to become less likely to fracture because it reduces brittleness while promoting softness. In lieu of annealing, metal parts fabricators reportedly sometimes rely upon normalizing (in the case of steel and ferrous metals) and/or stress relieving techniques.
Softening metals after casting, forging or cold rolling assists metal parts manufacturers. Softer, more ductile metals allow easier manipulation during the final states of finishing or parts assembly. These materials typically also display greater toughness than brittle metals.
Manufacturers employ a process called stress relieving in an effort to minimize internal stresses within metals which may contribute to fracturing. Like other forms of annealing, it relies upon heat treating.
During stress relieving, a manufacturer re-heats a work piece to a temperature below the critical point. By maintaining the work piece at this uniform “soaking” temperature for a specific period of time, typically two hours, the manufacturer subsequently slowly cools the part in the air (or in some cases, in the furnace). This gradual cooling after heating provides an opportunity for entrapped gas bubbles within the hot metal dissipate, which may offer better protection against accidental fracturing. Stress relief techniques ultimately alleviate some of the potential internal stresses within industrial metal parts.
Manufacturers do not necessarily require specialized facilities or equipment to perform stress relieving techniques. Controlling the temperature to supply an extended period of “soaking” time does prove essential, however. Metal fabricators seek to maintain the part at a predetermined optimal constant temperature a number of degrees below the critical re-crystallization point. This temperature used for soaking varies from one metal alloy to another, based upon the critical melting point of the materials involved. By ensuring the part re-heats for a sustained period of time at a constant “soaking” temperature well below the critical point, manufacturers help maintain the hardness of the metal while reducing the risk of future dimensional distortions during final finishing.
In some cases, manufacturers conduct stress relieving techniques inside a furnace with the assistance of specific types of inert gases. The gas (or gases) help safeguard the surface of the metal from undergoing oxidation. Some companies even utilize specialized vacuum furnaces for this purpose. Obviously, in both of these circumstances, manufacturers expend additional resources to perform stress relief techniques. This process under these circumstances costs more than normalizing, for instance.
The use of stress relief techniques contributes to the production of many commercially available copper, brass and steel components today. Some manufacturers perform this process prior to nitro-carburizing, a process intended to give the surface of treated metals a harder, scuff-resistant property. Taking the extra step of soaking the metal work piece at a constant high temperature below the critical point may help to reduce problems caused by dimensional distortions during the final finishing phase when a company performs nitro-carburizing.
Additionally, work pieces subjected to stress relief procedures may not crack or fracture as frequently during the machining process, a situation which may contribute to cost-effectiveness. Including stress relief techniques during preliminary finishing promotes a reduction in tension in metal parts intended for subsequent welding and assembly.(1) The use of stress relieving varies widely. In complex modern high tech production and assembly environments, some stress relief applications involve specialized materials and production environments.
Key Advantages of Stress Relieving
Today manufacturers frequently rely upon this specialized technology. Reheating at a sustained high “soaking temperature” for a designated period of time and then gradually re-cooling the metal during annealing and stress relieving contribute to enhanced softening and ductility.
By using stress relieving, in many cases manufacturers also seek to reduce the potential for part fracturing and failure during final finishing. Stress relief ideally prepares a metal work piece to sustain some forms of “rough” finishing much better. For example, performing this process prior to nitro-carburizing the metal, a form of hardening, may enhance the maintenance of dimensional stability. Work pieces won’t distort or warp as extensively after undergoing stress relieving prior to final finishing.
When performed in advance of final finishing, stress relieving also serves to extend the useful lifespan of some metal parts or tools. Sustained heat soaking and subsequent gradual cooling eliminate some internal stresses which might otherwise contribute to the formation of fracture lines within the work piece on a microscopic level. Taking the extra precaution of conducting stress relief serves to reduce those problems. In that sense, the stress relieving process may ultimately promote enhanced durability and resistance to wear.
Automation in industrial environments today promotes the use of stress relieving processes in some settings. This situation reduces the labor required. Utilizing stress relieving procedures ultimately may decrease the number of parts failing during machining.
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