Some of this year’s technologies are fully commercialized, but several are in the developmental stages and promise to have an impact on the thermal-processing community when they come to the market.
VacuumSmall size, design flexibility and energy efficiency (85%) highlight this vacuum furnace from Induction Atmospheres. Designed and used primarily for the ultra-critical aerospace industry, this furnace is ideal for a lean-manufacturing environment or a cellular setup.
Utilizing induction-heating technology, parts can be heated to 1900°F (1040°C) in less than eight minutes. Cooldown of the full-chamber load from 2000°F to 1200°F can occur in less than six minutes, and 400°F can be achieved in less than 20 minutes. In addition to attaining required metallurgical properties, the rapid heat-up and cooldown is designed to minimize cycle time.
Electron BeamIf you require small lot sizes of near-net-shape parts with hybrid chemistries, electron-beam free-form fabrication (EBFFF) might be for you. The EBFFF technology from Sciaky Inc. can deposit 15-40 pounds of metal/hour in the form of a CAD-designed part.
The process works by depositing metal layer by layer using metal wire or metal powder as its feedstock. Any part can be made this way with short lead times, and it is less costly than forgings or castings. Due to the near-net shape of the produced parts, machining costs can be reduced by as much as 80%.
Powder MetalsCost-reduction innovations are making this technology viable for many new applications.
Alloy design is bringing down the cost of sinter-hardened powder-metal (P-M) parts. P-M processing is very energy intensive, and sinter hardening was developed as a way to use less energy by combining the sintering and the hardening operations. Alloys were developed specifically for sinter hardening. Unfortunately, these alloys have costly additives, such as Moly and Nickel, to improve the hardenability.
With improvements in cooling and a wide range of part sizes being processed, Hoeganaes has developed a new pre-alloyed steel powder (Ancorsteel 721 SH) that provides better compressibility than the more traditional 737 SH. The lower alloy content of 721 SH means that it is less costly and results in lower retained austenite than 737 SH, and at higher cooling rates, properties match or exceed those of the sister alloy.
Machining P-M parts after sinter hardening is time consuming and costly. A new process development by Lovejoy Sintered Solutions has the ability to machine a part before it enters the sintering furnace. This will significantly improve tool life and facilitate scrap-powder recycling.
High-Temperature MaterialsAs with the P-M example, new alloys are often designed to improve mechanical properties or maintain them using a less-costly alloy mix. Such is the case with the new alloy Carpenter 286-LNi, which is designed to be a lower-cost alternative to Pyromet Alloy A-286. In spite of a nickel content 6% lower than A-286, testing indicates that Carpenter 286-LNi shows no decline in heat resistance or creep strength. It can be used for applications demanding high strength and good corrosion resistance at temperatures up to 1300°F (704°C).
InductionA new induction technology changes the way we think about attaining different heat-treating patterns in a single workpiece. Statitron IFP (Independent Control of Frequency and Power) Inverter, an Inductoheat-patented technology, allows a wide band of frequencies (5-50kHz) to be utilized while changing or maintaining power levels during the induction-heating process. The power of a single-module system is 75 kW. By adding modules, it is possible to get output powers of 150 kW, 300 kW, etc.
The IFP inverter expands heat-treat equipment capabilities by programming power and/or frequency changes on the fly. This flexibility maximizes heating efficiency while heating different part sizes and/or optimizes hardening and tempering of complex-shaped parts requiring different case depths at various part locations. For systems requiring a second power supply for tempering, the frequency and power can be changed from hardening to tempering parameters without moving the part to another inverter.
Nanotechnology for Surface CoatingsIn the last seven years, the U.S. government has invested $8.3 billion in nanotechnology. A total of 20 national-lab research projects are under way to bring this technology to market. Two of these having the most interest to our industry involve wear-resistant nanocoatings. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is working on a project to create a metal-matrix coating from iron-based glassy powders. Nanosized complex metal-boron carbides will be added to the metal-matrix coating. The intent is to extend the life and maintenance cycle of any iron-based part that can benefit from improved wear resistance.
Los Alamos National Laboratory is working on a project to apply an advanced nanosynthesis process to manufacture superhard and ultratough nanocomposites with nanofiber reinforcement. Drill bits and a wide range of products will benefit from the ability to resist thermal degradation and impact fracture.
DiecastingA new vacuum-process system is producing better-quality diecastings with fewer rejects due to the reduction of air inclusions. This specific system developed by Pfeiffer Vacuum, Vacu2, enables the diecast system to evacuate air from the shot sleeve and mold cavity in two stages. As a result of improved productivity and cost reductions, this process should expand the casting applications that benefit from the use of a vacuum.
Magnetic-Field ProcessingORNL is partnering with manufacturers such as Ajax TOCCO, Caterpillar and Eaton on two magnetic-field projects. The first is a heat-free heat-treating method that uses high magnetic fields to enhance reaction kinetics and shift the phase boundaries targeted by heat treatment. The result will be time and energy savings as heat-treatment steps are eliminated.
The second project – led by Eaton – involves utilizing the high magnetic fields already discussed coupled with induction-heating technologies to post-process lower-cost forging feedstock and harden the forge die. The goal is to extend tool lifetimes and enable precision forging in a wide range of industries.
Waste Heat RecoveryTwo recent innovations accomplish a similar goal of capturing lost heat. These technologies, in their present form, probably have less to do with industrial heating than some of our other new technologies. Given that all of us deal in heat-intensive operations, however, these technologies may have an application in their present form or as the technology develops.
The first is called the Green Machine, and it is the “first commercially viable generator to make electricity from low-temperature, residual industrial heat that has, until now, gone to waste.” Using patented heat- and pressure-recovery technology, ElectraTherm uses a twin-screw expander to generate fuel-free, emissions-free electricity.
Similarly, GTI was awarded a Chicago Innovation Award for their Transport Membrane Condenser (TMC) advanced heat-recovery technology. This system captures waste heat and water vapor from exhaust/flue gas for reuse, which can increase operating efficiency and reduce energy costs.