As we’re all aware, the “economic downturn” has had a profound impact on the thermal-processing industry over the past several years. Has the economy fully recovered? While that has yet to be proven conclusively, some industries (alternative-energy, medical, natural gas, aerospace and automotive) have experienced improvement or growth, be it large or small. As a result, some technology areas unique to thermal processing are showing promise. The following industries utilize these technologies, which have the potential to help your business recover going forward in 2011.
This industry is booming, mainly because it includes wind energy and nuclear. The U.S. wind industry installed nearly 10,000 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity in 2009. Despite a slow start in 2010, the future remains bright. The House of Representatives passed The American Clean Energy and Security Act, which contains a requirement for 20% renewable electricity by 2020. In addition, the American Wind Energy Association is attempting to increase the annual funding for wind-energy research and development at the Department of Energy (DOE) and other federal agencies to $217 million over the course of the next three to five years.
As far as technologies to watch for the wind market, induction hardening is being used to harden pieces of equipment essential to the industry such as ring gears, slewing rings and bearing races. The process transforms the surface material’s metallurgical structure through a well-controlled sequence of induction heating and rapid cooling.
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, nuclear energy currently provides 20% of the country’s electricity and is its top source of emission-free electricity. The industry, worldwide, is set to grow. The International Atomic Energy Agency anticipates 70 new nuclear plants in the next 15 years. The news is good domestically, too. The House of Representatives recently approved the Nuclear Energy Research and Development Act of 2010, which authorizes the DOE to fund advanced research and development programs on various aspects of nuclear energy.
Fuel-pellet sintering is a process with potential for the nuclear industry. Sintering of fuel pellets significantly increases their density. The process takes place by solid-state diffusion in the temperature range of 3060-3270°F for a period of up to five hours. Walking-beam and pusher-style furnaces are common, being electrically heated with high-purity alumina refractory brickwork in the high-temperature zones. Pellets are placed in molybdenum boats (trays).