Since the 1980s, the automotive, mechanical equipment, aerospace and aviation, rail transit, wind power and nuclear power industries in China have developed at a rapid pace. The necessary assemblies and basic parts are also developing quickly. As a result, the demand for heat treating is growing to keep pace.
Meanwhile, the existing heat-treat equipment in China is comparatively backward and badly in need of transformation and upgrade. Motivated by energy conservation, consumption reduction, environmental protection and cost reduction, the way forward for heat treatment in China is to focus on commercial heat treating with professionalization and catenation. The market share of in-house heat treating will reduce, and commercial heat treating will increase.
There are three key problems in manufacturing basic parts in China: short life, bad reliability and heavy structure. Heat treatment and surface technology are suitable solutions to these problems.
In total, there are more than 10,000 heat-treat facilities in China. About 3,000 of these are commercial heat-treat facilities, most of which are private enterprises. Most of the 300 largest are in the Yangtze River Delta (e.g., Shanghai, Zhejiang province, Jiangsu province) and Pearl River Delta (e.g., Guangdong province). The market and services of these facilities are regionalization. That is to say, their customers are also in the same area or same province.
In the long run, the developing trend is professionalization and catenation. A good example is Bodycote, a very famous global heat-treat company. Many countries and regions have Bodycote facilities. Many good and large customers of heat treating are already professionalized and catenated (e.g., automotive and aerospace). These customers have factories in South China, East China, Central China, Southwest and Northwest China. If their heat treaters can offer them standard service with high quality and consistent productivity, it will be a win-win situation.
More professional commercial heat-treat companies will also need more advanced equipment and materials. During China’s 12th Five-Year Plan (from 2011-2015), the demand for controlled atmosphere continuous furnaces will be 150 sets each year. For sealed multipurpose furnaces as well as vacuum heat-treatment furnaces, 300 sets of each will be needed each year. The demand for ceramic fiber will be 30,000 tons each year, and quench-oil demand will be 50,000 tons each year.
Additionally, the development of advanced processes – step isothermal quenching, intensive quenching, gas nitrocarburzing, ion nitriding, sealed multipurpose furnaces, high-pressure gas-quenching (HPGQ) vacuum furnaces, etc. – will be given priority.
I believe that there will be more and more professionalized and catenated heat treaters and well-known companies in China in the coming years.
I look forward to, and welcome, that future.