Case studies provide valuable insights into the heat-treat process. They expand our knowledge about the investigative methods needed to overcome specific problems. Such is the case when trying to determine if a material or quenching problem existed on a group of SAE 8822 carburized gears. Let’s learn more.

Fig. 1. Hardness profile test results for bar stock and forgings

The Problem

A manufacturer of AGMA Class-3 gears wanted to switch raw material from bar stock to forgings. During qualification trials, normal inspection practices using a test piece (an actual gear segment) produced from bar stock passed case depth and hardness (surface and core) requirements. However, validation testing on an actual part (produced from a forging) was found to have a variation in hardness in the root of the gear teeth. It was necessary to determine the root cause of the problem and to try to design a salvage cycle for the parts already produced.

Fig. 2. Example of forging root hardness at three test locations

The Investigation

The investigation into the cause of the root-hardness variation in these gears began by gathering information about the raw material as well as the heat-treatment practices. Testing followed on both gears made from bar stock and from forgings (Fig. 1). Both parts had been carburized to a targeted effective case depth of 0.070 inch (flank) and 0.035 inch minimum (root).

The material certification sheets for the bar stock and forgings indicated that although the chemistry was within specification limits for an SAE 8822 material, the forgings had lower hardenability values (J4 and J8 positions). A comparison of the carburizing profiles by microhardness methods supported this finding, as the bar stock responded very differently than the forgings.

Several “dips” in hardness were consistently observed in the forgings (between the fourth and sixth indentations and between the ninth and 11th position) and are considered abnormal. Typically, this is an indicator of a significant change in the microstructure. However, the effective case depth (50 HRC) of both samples appeared to be essentially the same. This suggested additional testing be conducted in the root area of the forged gears (Fig. 2).

These results indicated that the effective case depth (50 HRC) of the forging is very dependent on the location sampled. It should be noted that the selection of the test location was random and done on a polished (not etched) sample. The additional test locations were adjacent to the original selected test zone. Focusing in on a depth of 0.030-0.040 inch (Fig. 3) provided more evidence.

Fig. 3. Hardness of the forging at three root locations

First Bainite Test

In order to help determine the severity of the problem, parts were water quenched in order to obtain maximum case hardness in accordance with SAE J1975 (Case Hardenability of Carburized Steels). “Distance to the first appearance of bainite” (DFB) is defined as the location on water quenching where the hardness just begins to drop off.

Fig. 4. Case hardenability data and corresponding bainite profile for three steels[1]

DFB in the Carburized Case
For the greatest resistance to impact, data suggest that the as-quenched microstructure must be substantially free from bainite or pearlite.[2] The presence of very small amounts of bainite in the case has also been reported to reduce fatigue resistance.[3]

A detailed study of the occurrence of bainite in carburized end-quench hardenability specimens[4] involved some 81 alloys carburized at 925°C (1700°F), cooled to 845°C (1550°F) and end-quenched. Case and hardness profiles were determined at a depth corresponding to 0.90% carbon. The amount of bainite as a function of distance from the quenched end of the bar was determined (Fig. 4). It should be noted that one cannot detect the presence of small amounts of bainite from hardness data alone.

Multiple regression analysis developed an empirical relationship for predicting DFB from composition (Equations 1a, 1b). The regression equations appear below, and they are valid at the 0.9% C level in the case for steels containing 0.5-1.1% Mn, 0-1.5% Ni, 0-1.0% Cr, and 0-0.5% Mo. Alloy contents are entered in weight percent:

(1a) DFB (in millimeters from the quenched end) = 54.79(Mo2) + 6.4(Cr2) – 76.1(MnNi) + 118.8 (MnMoNi) + 106.1 (MnMoCr) +15.5(MnNiCr) + 52.9(MoNiCr) + 1.18

(1b) DFB (in sixteenths of an inch from the quenched end) = 35.4(Mo2) + 4.0(Cr2) – 49.7(MnNi) + 74.8 (MnMoNi) + 66.9(MnMoCr) + 9.8(MnNiCr) + 33.3(MoNiCr) + 0.7

Alloy interactions influence the presence of bainite in the carburized case and come into play when modifying a carburizing-steel composition. The regression equations provide a convenient method of predicting the effect of changes in composition on DFB. They can also aid in the establishment of a minimum alloy content to assure a bainite-free microstructure in the carburized case.

Test Results

Testing also revealed that the flank achieved a consistent effective case depth of 0.070-0.080 inch, while the root varied from 0.030-0.036 inch. The first bainite test (Table 1) indicated a quenching problem with the forgings.

Fig. 5. Root effective case depth 8822 and 43B17 material – oil quenched

Alternative Material Investigation
Oil-quenching tests were performed on similar gear components manufactured from SAE 43B17 to view the impact of a material change on hardenability response (Fig. 5). This investigation was triggered by the discovery that some of the 8822 forgings had boron additions. The profiles found are very similar in slope, but the point of first bainite has been moved to about 0.045-inch depth in the 43B17 material.

By comparing oil and water quenching, the increased hardenability of 43B17 (Fig. 6) is not as drastic (as when water quenched) but does increase the reliability of the heat treatment and was a good alternative material choice to consider moving forward. First bainite in a boron steel can depend on carbon content, which must be taken into consideration.[5,6]

Fig. 6. Comparison of carburized 8822 (water vs.oil quenched) and 43B17 oil quenched

The Final Solution

While the carburizing furnace in question was capable of running up to 20 gears in a load, this investigation determined that after reheating, the gears should be independently quenched one at a time. This allowed the quench to be optimized for both the part and fixture in use and produced case-depth results without the abnormal “dip” observed. A recommendation was also made that future parts be produced from 43B17 forgings since boron additions improved hardenability. IH