Happy New Year! A recently released book argues that emerging technologies hold the power to elevate humankind. The focus of the book has nothing to do with thermal processing, so I won’t promote it here. But its thesis is hard to argue. Many (not all) emerging technologies in our industry will help us to do things better, quicker or more efficiently. Improved efficiencies might help us to save money or might allow our companies to hire new people. Now that would be a good thing in this economy.

The next new thing is always difficult to put a finger on. Government believes they are able to pick the next new thing, but often even they (in all of their wisdom?) get it wrong. Here are a few things with ties to our industry that just might impact us in the months and years ahead.

A good place to look for new ideas is research for defense or space applications. The technology is typically cutting-edge. The Defense Sciences Office (DSO) of DARPA is one place doing this type of work. The DSO Materials program “seeks to advance material science on many technology fronts.” One of these fronts is to “innovate processing methods that dramatically reduce the cost of producing titanium metal and its alloys.” They state their objective as follows: “This focus area includes new materials concepts for lowering the weight and increasing the performance of aircraft, ground vehicles and spacecraft structures.”

The goal of DARPA’s Titanium Initiative (DTI) is to reduce production costs of titanium – a material with excellent corrosion resistance and good ballistic properties – to improve its usability for defense applications. The initiative research seeks to produce titanium ore at less than $4 per pound in unmelted billet form. They are also trying to develop a “meltless consolidation technique” to provide low-cost billet, rod, sheet and plate products that match the properties of traditional wrought titanium material.

In the Multifunctional Materials and Material Systems area, projects include revolutionary new armor systems utilizing unique high-strength steel and polymer composite hybrid configurations for military vehicles. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the usage of this type of material for weight reduction in commercial vehicles. Reducing vehicle weight is a key fuel-saving measure in automotive design.

The goal of DARPA’s Advanced Structural Fiber (ASF) program is to develop and produce a fiber with at least a 50% increase in strength and stiffness. It’s not hard to see that research of this type might make some heat treatments obsolete in the future.

DARPA’s Structural Amorphous Metals (SAM) program is developing a new class of bulk metallic alloys that exhibit unique combinations of mechanical properties. Amorphous metals are noncrystalline with a “glassy” microstructure in the solid phase. Work on amorphous-composite hybrid materials with the stiffness of beryllium and twice the strength will be demonstrated in space applications. Bulk amorphous alloys that exceed the strength, fatigue and corrosion properties of titanium will be demonstrated in turbine applications.

ASM Vision 2020 Heat-Treat Technology Roadmap
Revisiting some of the goals of Vision 2020 helps us to see where technology developments have come in our industry and where future technology might be needed. Energy efficiency continues to be an area of development and interest. Advanced materials (as discussed above) will continue to drive our industry to proactively meet the thermal-processing needs of new materials.

Heat-treat modeling has been the topic of a few recent articles in Industrial Heating. The goal of outcome prediction for certain processes is already reality. As mentioned in our April Anniversary article, sensor development along with control technologies, particularly wireless, has been a key industry development of the past decade. You can use the Mobile Tag at the end of the article to take a quick tour of thermal processing’s past 100 years or so.

Alternative Energy
Alternative energy offers our industry the potential for growth and development. Since much of it is tied to government funding, be cautious of putting too many of your eggs in this basket. Even wind-turbines, currently providing heat-treating work for many, will be changing in the future as permanent-magnet generators with a direct-drive design replace many of the gears and bearings used in most of today’s turbines. The photo on this page shows a 2.3-MW example of one of these next-generation wind turbines.

2012 promises to offer opportunities and challenges as every year before it has. Being ready to quickly and efficiently adapt to the changes will keep our industry, and your company, on technology’s cutting edge.IH