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Design of Heat Treatment Cycles: A Case Study for Salt Bath Har

Although heat treatment operations have strong bearing on the final product quality, H
trial and error methods. The present work describes an engineering approach to the de

Industry accepted heat treatment processing cycles might sometimes lead to longer pr
efficiency, and higher energy consumption. This article elaborates on important engine
austenitising temperature and soaking time, selection of appropriate salt, rectification o
was successfully applied to an industrial scale heat treating operation for the productio

Accurate Engineering Company Ltd. is leading Indian manufacturer of precision measur

facilities in Pune, India, the company offers a comprehensive range of measuring equip
measuring fixtures, and three coordinate measuring instruments.

The heat treatment operation is an important step in the manufacturing of these precis
product with stringent dimensional control as well as high wear-resistance. The commo
equipment are:

salt bath hardening operation, where the components are heated in a salt bath fu

cryogenic treatment for stabilization of martensitic microstructure, and

tempering operation for obtaining a desirable combination of strength, hardness

Accurate Engineering recently procured a large amount of steel from Germany at a ver
used by one of the leading German slip gauge manufacturers. Although, the compositio
At the Accurate heat treatment shop, attempts were made to develop the heat treatme
from 30 to 45 HRC were observed during these trials, well below the required hardness

During the past two decades, the process engineering group of Tata Research Developm
projects on model based optimization of various metallurgical operations. The Frank Gr
this steel to obtain uniform hardness of HRC 60 after quenching and tempering operati

Approach to Design of the Heat Treatment Cycle

Hardening of steel is achieved by transforming the ferrite+pearlite p
austenite phase to martensite phase by cooling. Under standard pro
There will always be a minimal amount of retained austenite in the s
complete hardness, improve toughness and minimize distortion duri

As depicted in Fig. 1(a), the transformation to austenite requires he

hypereutectoid steel (with %C > 0.8). During the subsequent quenc
Fig. 1 Schematic of
transformation to softer phases like pearlite and bainite. This is sche
hardening operation.
(Left) Heating to the
temperature shown
as shaded regime,
and (Right) high
cooling rate for

The important metallurgical issues in designing a hardening cycle for tool steels are:

Selection of austenising temperature,

Adequate soaking time for thermal homogenization of the component,

Selection of appropriate quenching media to obtain required cooling rate,

Cooling the component to the room temperature,

Tempering temperature and time.

However, several other practical aspects, such as selection of salt and its neutrality ma
These issues are elaborated in the following section.

Steel Grade
Identification of the steel grade is the most important parameter for
Frank grade steel are tabulated in Table I. The composition falls in th
is a shallow hardening tool steel and in rods above 0.5 inch in diame
soft and tough core. These characteristics make it desirable for man
and is readily formable by forging. W2 grade responds uniformly to

Selection of Salt for Process

When selecting a salt for a given application, the following issues m

The required heating temperature of the steel part must lie wi

The melting point should be low to avoid prolonged heat-up ti

The salt must be compatible with quenching media; and

The ease with which the salt is washed from the workpiece after heat treatment

At present, Accurate uses a proprietary MNC-661 heat treatment salt, supplied by Mata
that its melting point is 1220 F (660 C) and recommended working range is 1508 to 15
as high as 1832 F (1000 C). Using a salt above its recommended working temperature
oxidation and decarburization in the workpiece. Therefore, a suitable alternative had to

Barium chloride-based salts are widely used for salt bath heat treatment of tool steels.
salts are given in Table II. For the Frank Grade steel, Salt #2 with 70% BaCl2 and 20%

Salt Bath Temperature & Soaking Time

Proper control of salt bath temperature in the austenitizing range is
lower temperatures will prevent the complete transformation of pea

The time-temperature-transformation diagram for this grade is give

(732 to 743 C), so the recommended austenitizing temperature (ba
1555 F (775 to 845 C). For complex shapes and larger parts, it is re
prior to hardening.

enable the
time of

As a best practice, uniformity surveys should be c

treatment temperature. These surveys are usuall
as illustrated in Fig. 3. The soaking time in a salt
complete phase transformation to austenite. Long
soaking time in the salt bath furnace is 20 to 25
approximately 10 to 30 minutes for the parts in t

Neutral salts used
oxides and
the case of salt
based salts (Salt#
graphite rod for

for austenitizing steel become contaminated with
dissolved metals renders the bath oxidizing and d
bath furnaces with immersed electrodes, daily re
1,2,3 in Table II) rectification should be done by
one hour for every 4 hours of operation.

Fig. 2 TTT diagram of

AISI W2 grade steel.

Fig. 3 Suggested
locations for
uniformity survey.

Tempering modifies the properties of quenched h
and toughness. In general, two or more shorter t
retained austenite and for tempering the freshly
suggested double tempering process for the Fran
hardened tool steels like this steel should be tem
temperature, to prevent or minimize cracking.

Based on the items discussed above, the followin

Fig. 5 Schematic of
hardness test
Fig. 4 Typical cooling locations.
curve for a
Fig. 6 Average and
quenchant with three standard deviation of
different stages of
central points and
corner for as-heat
treated, 0.1 mm and
0.3 mm ground

Salt Bath Temperature of 1508

Holding Time of 15 minutes

Quenching in Water

Tempering at 392 F (200 C) for 45 minutes

Fifteen samples measuring 55 mm x 35 mm x 10 mm were heat treated. The Rockwell

as at depths of 0.1 mm and 0.3 mm. The location where each hardness measurement
measurements on the fifteen samples are summarized in Fig. 6.

The mean hardness and standard deviation of the center point and the corners are plot
the as-heat treated sample had an average hardness value of 44.8 HRC with a standar
variation is not acceptable in the final product. In the 0.1 mm depth sample, the avera
deviation to 9.8. The hardness value further improved to an average of 60.6 with a sta
hardness value is highly desirable for the slip gauges. It must be noted that the hardne

The low hardness and wide variability of the as-heat treated samples was primarily due
mm to 0.3 mm suggests decarburization in the product. It is believed that the decarbu
used at Accurate Engineering.

It is interesting to note that in all the three cases, the center points showed a lower ha
be the result of a higher tendency of vapor blanket formation in the sample center as c
vapor blanket during the first state of quenching and could improve hardness uniformit

The summary of recommendations as determined by the process analysis and the expe

Salt mixture of 70% BaCl2 + 30% NaCl should be used at an austenitizing tempe

Rectification of the above salt must be done every four hours of operation with 1
in the bath for 1 hour.

Uniformity survey of the bath temperature should be conducted before loading th

The workpiece should be cleaned from scale before heating in the salt bath furna

The workpiece should be quickly transferred from the salt bath to the quench wa

Quenching water should be agitated in order to achieve hardness uniformity.

When the part can be held by hand, it should be quickly transferred to the tempe

The tempering cycle should be repeated to achieve better dimensional stability.

The parts should be cleaned in a solution of 10% NaOH by weight in water follow


By using the suggested heat treatment cycle determined for the Frank Grade steel, the
was observed and attributed to the use of salt bath at higher than recommended temp