In 1991, I wrote a paper for the heat-treatment and surface-engineering conference, which was held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The paper was accepted for a poster session and published in part two of the conference proceedings.

It was 18 years ago since that paper was published, and I would like the opportunity to review the predictions that were made in that paper.

The paper focused on how heat-treatment processing and procedural methods will progress for the future. Some of those predictions are now a reality. The general thrust of the paper was to identify the basic technology for metallurgical processing for the future.

The fundamental prediction was that vacuum-processing technology would emerge as a method not only for through-hardening heat treatment but also for surface treatments and in combination with gaseous quenching.

Industry demands both quality and repeatability of metallurgical processing. During the past two decades, the technology of vacuum has progressed into:
  • General heat treatment
  • Surface treatments
  • Joining techniques
  • Advancements in the development of thin-film hard coatings
  • New aspects of steel melting technology
In a paper presented at a conference by T.L. Elliott of Senior Heat-treatments Ltd., he quoted from the Oxford English dictionary that the definition of quality is “the degree of excellence of a thing.” He further quoted Lord Sieff, who was once the chairman of Marks & Spencer’s, Britain’s most famous High Street market store, as saying “the largest growing market in the world today is for goods of high quality and good value, not just cheapness.”

I believe most of that statement can apply to heat-treatment services if the word “inexpensive” is substituted for “cheapness.” The demand for quality and reproducibility of metallurgical processing needs to be coupled with inexpensive processing.

During the past 15 years, we have seen a commercialization of low-pressure carburizing, pulsed-plasma nitriding and the integration of blended gas-quench mediums using combinations of nitrogen/helium or, in some instances, nitrogen/hydrogen.

We have also seen some major advances in process control by PC/PLC combinations and electronic control systems in order to ensure: data acquisition, process control, storage of process cycles, sequential events control and process automation.

These advancements using the PC/PLC combinations have also moved into the area of atmosphere heat treatment using integral-quench furnaces and precision-controlled atmospheres, aluminum processing furnaces and furnaces for brazing and other joining techniques.

Next time, we will conclude by looking at what is ahead for our industry.