Heat-treating processes can be energy-intensive. Whether we are talking about energy in terms of cost reduction, supply reliability or anything else, the answer either involves using less per ton of product or getting more for the dollar spent. All of which is a matter of management, and energy management involves as much knowledge and foresight as any other aspect of management.
Energy-supply reliability is by no means long-term assured in any country or region for a whole raft of political, environmental and technological reasons. Energy can certainly be an easy target to identify as a cost-reduction item but a target that is not easy to hit. Most respondents to a survey carried out at the beginning of IFHTSE’s Global 21 Project seemed to have no hesitation in citing energy and the environment as the main external drivers for the future of heat treatment and surface engineering. Respondents usually found the issues involved to be much more difficult to address constructively than equally important scientific and technical advances.
It is likely that most companies are really interested in the use of clean practices, reduced waste and the development of environmentally benign processes. A great deal of progress has been made in this direction and, of course, more can and will be done – sometimes against resistance. It is very unhelpful that insufficient public recognition is given to the successes and the impressive scientific and technical knowledge and expertise that have been deployed over, say, the last 30 years in cleaner heat treatment and surface engineering. It is even more unfortunate that there is an ocean of uninformed criticism and even disinformation to contend with.
Many aspects are intertwined. Yes, some science and technology advances can be aimed at energy efficiency. And, yes, specific process developments can be introduced on a purely energy-saving basis – provided the answer does not imply complete capital reinvestment. But, equally, heat-treated and surface-engineered components have a critical role to play in the progress of energy generation and distribution, whether it is in better tools for getting hard stuff out of the ground or making gearboxes that will run for 25 years without service.
Thus, there are two energy tracks. One is reducing the impact of the energy-cost element in heat-treatment and surface-engineering processes themselves. Moreover, since these processes represent absolutely critical stages in the design and manufacture of engineering components and systems, all advances in this field contribute to the better performance of industry specifically and its products in general. Two: New challenges for components and systems are posed by the design and manufacture of not only conventional power-generation systems but also in the development of alternative systems and sources, perhaps most obviously the need for enhanced reliability and extremely low maintenance (e.g., in wind-power and tidal generators).
Getting people together for vital exchange of ideas and experience in this field is not entirely straightforward. IFHTSE actually began to make contributions to energy and environmental studies 40 years ago. The Technical Committee “Safety and protection of the environment” was formed in 1973 and encouraged submissions of themed papers to appropriate conferences until its dissolution in 1982. From 1982 to 1992, the Technical Committee “Energy saving in heat treatment” encouraged input to many conferences, and its work eventually led to the IFHTSE 4th Seminar held in Beijing in 1993, which was the first event with a specifically designed energy-focused program.
Since then, we have held a 2010 “pilot” conference in Brasov, Romania, aimed at bringing the two tracks outlined above together. This led to a second conference in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2012, which attracted a Thai government overview of policies for energy in industry. We are currently planning the next event in this series in Beijing this coming October. The themes will include:
• Energy management in heat-treatment and surface-engineering processes (especially energy reduction through plant, equipment and process change)
• Heat treatment and surface engineering in the manufacture of clean mechanical energy generation and supply systems
This conference will, we intend, provide some detail in a very broad picture. It will include economic-policy aspects (industry can do better with an encouraging political background) as well as energy-oriented input from industry, especially design and construction of industrial heat-treatment equipment, process modification for shorter times and lower temperatures, wear and wear protection, and process modeling. IH