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Objectives of Heat Treatments

Heat Treatment is the controlled heating and cooling of metals to alter their physical and mechanical
properties without changing the product shape. Heat treatment is sometimes done inadvertently due to
manufacturing processes that either heat or cool the metal such as welding or forming.
Heat Treatment is often associated with increasing the strength of material, but it can also be used to
alter certain manufacturability objectives such as improve machining, improve formability, restore ductility
after a cold working operation. Thus it is a very enabling manufacturing process that can not only help other
manufacturing process, but can also improve product performance by increasing strength or other desirable
Steels are particularly suitable for heat treatment, since they respond well to heat treatment and the
commercial use of steels exceeds that of any other material. Steels are heat treated for one of the following
1. Softening
2. Hardening
3. Material Modification
Common Heat Treatments
Softening: Softening is done to reduce strength or hardness, remove residual stresses, improve toughnesss,
restore ductility, refine grain size or change the electromagnetic properties of the steel. Restoring ductility or
removing residual stresses is a necessary operation when a large amount of cold working is to be performed,
such as in a cold-rolling operation or wiredrawing. Annealing full Process, spheroidizing, normalizing and
tempering austempering, martempering are the principal ways by which steel is softened.
Hardening: Hardening of steels is done to increase the strength and wear properties. One of the prerequisites for hardening is sufficient carbon and alloy content. If there is sufficient Carbon content then the
steel can be directly hardened. Otherwise the surface of the part has to be Carbon enriched using some
diffusion treatment hardening techniques.
Material Modification: Heat treatment is used to modify properties of materials in addition to hardening and
softening. These processes modify the behavior of the steels in a beneficial manner to maximize service life,
e.g., stress relieving, or strength properties, e.g., cryogenic treatment, or some other desirable properties, e.g.,
spring aging.

Full Annealing: Full annealing is the process of slowly raising the temperature about 50 C(122 F) above
the Austenitic temp. line A3 or line ACM in the case of Hypoeutectoid steels (steels with < 0.77% C)
and 50 C(122 F) into the Austenite-Cementite region in the case of Hypereutectoid steels (steels
with > 0.77% C).

It is held at this temperature for sufficient time for all the material to transform into Austenite or
Austenite-Cementite as the case may be. It is then slowly cooled at the rate of about 20 C/hr (60 F/hr) in a
furnace to about 50 C (122 F) into the Ferrite-Cementite range. At this point, it can be cooled in room
temperature air with natural convection.
The grain structure has coarse Pearlite with ferrite or Cementite (depending on whether hypo or hyper
eutectoid). The steel becomes soft and ductile.

Normalizing: Normalizing is the process of raising the temperature to over 60 C (140 F), above line A3 or
line ACM fully into the Austenite range. It is held at this temperature to fully convert the structure into
Austenite, and then removed form the furnace and cooled at room temperature under natural convection. This
results in a grain structure of fine Pearlite with excess of Ferrite or Cementite. The resulting material is soft;
the degree of softness depends on the actual ambient conditions of cooling. This process is considerably
cheaper than full annealing since there is not the added cost of controlled furnace cooling.
The main difference between full annealing and normalizing is that fully annealed parts are uniform
in softness (and machinablilty) throughout the entire part; since the entire part is exposed to the controlled
furnace cooling. In the case of the normalized part, depending on the part geometry, the cooling is nonuniform resulting in non-uniform material properties across the part. This may not be desirable if further
machining is desired, since it makes the machining job somewhat unpredictable. In such a case it is better to
do full annealing.
Process Annealing: Process Annealing is used to treat work-hardened parts made out of low-Carbon steels
(< 0.25% Carbon). This allows the parts to be soft enough to undergo further cold working without
fracturing. Process annealing is done by raising the temperature to just below the Ferrite-Austenite region,
line A1on the diagram. This temperature is about 727 C (1341 F) so heating it to about 700 C (1292 F)
should suffice. This is held long enough to allow recrystallization of the ferrite phase, and then cooled in still
air. Since the material stays in the same phase through out the process, the only change that occurs is the size,
shape and distribution of the grain structure. This process is cheaper than either full annealing or normalizing
since the material is not heated to a very high temperature or cooled in a furnace.
Stress Relief Annealing: Stress Relief Anneal is used to reduce residual stresses in large castings, welded
parts and cold-formed parts. Such parts tend to have stresses due to thermal cycling or work hardening. Parts

are heated to temperatures of upto 600 - 650 C (1112 - 1202 F), and held for an extended time (about 1 hour
or more) and then slowly cooled in still air.
Spheroidization: Spheroidization is an annealing process used for high carbon steels (Carbon > 0.6%) that
will be machined or cold formed subsequently. This is done by one of the following ways:
1. Heat the part to a temperature just below the Ferrite-Austenite line, line A1 or below the AusteniteCementite line, essentially below the 727 C (1340 F) line. Hold the temperature for a prolonged time
and follow by fairly slow cooling. Or
2. Cycle multiple times between temperatures slightly above and slightly below the 727 C (1340 F) line,
say for example between 700 and 750 C (1292 - 1382 F), and slow cool. Or
3. For tool and alloy steels heat to 750 to 800 C (1382-1472 F) and hold for several hours followed by
slow cooling.

All these methods result in a structure in which all the Cementite is in the form of small globules
(spheroids) dispersed throughout the ferrite matrix. This structure allows for improved machining in
continuous cutting operations such as lathes and screw machines. Spheroidization also improves resistance to
Tempering is a process done subsequent to quench hardening. Quench-hardened parts are often too
brittle. This brittleness is caused by a predominance of Martensite. This brittleness is removed by tempering.
Tempering results in a desired combination of hardness, ductility, toughness, strength, and structural stability.
Tempering is not to be confused with tempers on rolled stock-these tempers are an indication of the degree of
cold work performed.

The mechanism of tempering depends on the steel and the tempering temperature. The prevalent
Martensite is a somewhat unstable structure. When heated, the Carbon atoms diffuse from Martensite to form
a carbide precipitate and the concurrent formation of Ferrite and Cementite, which is the stable form. Tool
steels for example, lose about 2 to 4 points of hardness on the Rockwell C scale. Even though a little strength
is sacrificed, toughness (as measured by impact strength) is increased substantially. Springs and such parts
need to be much tougher these are tempered to a much lower hardness.
Tempering is done immediately after quench hardening. When the steel cools to about 40 C (104 F)
after quenching, it is ready to be tempered. The part is reheated to a temperature of 150 to 400 C (302 to 752
F). In this region a softer and tougher structure Troostite is formed. Alternatively, the steel can be heated to a
temperature of 400 to 700 C (752 to 1292 F) that results in a softer structure known as Sorbite. This has less
strength than Troostite but more ductility and toughness.

The heating for tempering is best done by immersing the parts in oil, for tempering upto 350 C (662
F) and then heating the oil with the parts to the appropriate temperature. Heating in a bath also ensures that
the entire part has the same temperature and will undergo the same tempering. For temperatures above 350
C (662 F) it is best to use a bath of nitrate salts. The salt baths can be heated upto 625 C (1157 F).
Regardless of the bath, gradual heating is important to avoid cracking the steel. After reaching the desired
temperature, the parts are held at that temperature for about 2 hours, then removed from the bath and cooled
in still air.
Austempering: Austempering is a quenching technique. The part is not quenched through the Martensite
transformation. Instead the material is quenched above the temperature when Martensite forms MS, around
315 C (600 F). It is held till at this temperature till the entire part reaches this temperature. As the part is
held longer at this temperature, the Austenite transforms into Bainite. Bainite is tough enough so that further
tempering is not necessary, and the tendency to crack is severely reduced.

Martempering: Martempering is similar to Austempering except that the part is slowly cooled through the
martensite transformation. The structure is martensite, which needs to tempered just as much as martensite

that is formed through rapid quenching. The biggest advantage of Austempering over rapid quenching is that
there is less distortion and tendency to crack.

The Carbon content in the steel determines whether it can be directly hardened. If the Carbon content
is low (less than 0.25% for example) then an alternate means exists to increase the Carbon content of the
surface. The part then can be heat-treated by either quenching in liquid or cooling in still air depending on the
properties desired. Note that this method will only allow hardening on the surface, but not in the core,
because the high carbon content is only on the surface. This is sometimes very desirable because it allows for
a hard surface with good wear properties (as on gear teeth), but has a tough core that will perform well under
impact loading.
Carburizing is a process of adding Carbon to the surface. This is done by exposing the part to a
Carbon rich atmosphere at an elevated temperature and allows diffusion to transfer the Carbon atoms into
steel. This diffusion will work only if the steel has low carbon content, because diffusion works on the
differential of concentration principle. If, for eg. the steel had high C content to begin with, and is heated in a
carbon free furnace, such as air, the carbon will tend to diffuse out of the steel causing Decarburization.
Pack Carburizing: Parts are packed in a high carbon medium such as carbon powder or cast iron
shavings and heated in a furnace for 12 to 72 hours at 900 C (1652 F). At this temperature CO gas is
produced which is a strong reducing agent. The reduction reaction occurs on the surface of the steel releasing
Carbon, which is then diffused into the surface due to the high temperature. When enough Carbon is
absorbed inside the part (based on experience and theoretical calculations based on diffusion theory), the
parts are removed and can be subject to the normal hardening methods. The Carbon on the surface is 0.7% to
1.2% depending on process conditions. The hardness achieved is 60 - 65 RC. The depth of the case ranges
from about 0.1 mm (0.004 in) upto 1.5 mm (0.060 in). Some of the problems with pack carburizing is that the
process is difficult to control as far as temperature uniformity is concerned, and the heating is inefficient.
Gas Carburizing: Gas Carburizing is conceptually the same as pack carburizing, except that Carbon
Monoxide (CO) gas is supplied to a heated furnace and the reduction reaction of deposition of carbon takes
place on the surface of the part. This processes overcomes most of the problems of pack carburizing. The
temperature diffusion is as good as it can be with a furnace. The only concern is to safely contain the CO gas.
A variation of gas carburizing is when alcohol is dripped into the furnace and it volatilizes readily to provide
the reducing reaction for the deposition of the carbon.
Liquid Carburizing: The steel parts are immersed in a molten carbon rich bath. In the past, such baths
have cyanide (CN) as the main component. However, safety concerns have led to non-toxic baths that
achieve the same result.
Nitriding is a process of diffusing Nitrogen into the surface of steel. The Nitrogen forms Nitrides with
elements such as Aluminum, Chromium, Molybdenum, and Vanadium. The parts are heat-treated and
tempered before nitriding. The parts are then cleaned and heated in a furnace in an atmosphere of dissociated
Ammonia (containing N and H) for 10 to 40 hours at 500-625 C (932 - 1157 F). Nitrogen diffuses into the
steel and forms nitride alloys, and goes to a depth of upto 0.65 mm (0.025 in). The case is very hard and
distortion is low. No further heat treatment is required; in fact, further heat treatment can crack the hard case.
Since the case is thin, surface grinding is not recommended. This can restrict the use of nitriding to surfaces
that require a very smooth finish.
Carbonitriding process is most suitable for low carbon and low carbon alloy steels. In this process,
both Carbon and Nitrogen are diffused into the surface. The parts are heated in an atmosphere of hydrocarbon

(such as methane or propane) mixed with Ammonia (NH3). The process is a mix of Carburizing and
Carburizing involves high temperatures (around 900 C, 1652 F) and Nitriding involves much lower
temperatures (around 600 C, 1112 F). Carbonitriding is done at temperatures of 760 - 870 C (1400 - 1598
F), which is higher than the transformation temperatures of steel that is the region of the face-centered
It is then quenched in a natural gas (Oxygen free) atmosphere. This quench is less drastic than water
or oil-thus less distortion. However this process is not suitable for high precision parts due to the distortions
that are inherent. The hardness achieved is similar to carburizing (60 - 65 RC) but not as high as Nitriding
(70 RC). The case depth is from 0.1 to 0.75 mm (0.004 to 0.030 in). The case is rich in Nitrides as well as
Martensite. Tempering is necessary to reduce the brittleness.
Hardness is a function of the Carbon content of the steel. Hardening of a steel requires a change in
structure from the body-centered cubic structure found at room temperature to the face-centered cubic
structure found in the Austenitic region. The steel is heated to Autenitic region. When suddenly quenched, the
Martensite is formed. This is a very strong and brittle structure. When slowly quenched it would form
Austenite and Pearlite which is a partly hard and partly soft structure. When the cooling rate is extremely
slow then it would be mostly Pearlite which is extremely soft.

Hardenability, which is a measure of the depth of full hardness achieved, is related to the type and amount of
alloying elements. Different alloys, which have the same amount of Carbon content, will achieve the same
amount of maximum hardness; however, the depth of full hardness will vary with the different alloys. The
reason to alloy steels is not to increase their strength, but increase their hardenability the ease with which
full hardness can be achieved throughout the material.
Usually when hot steel is quenched, most of the cooling happens at the surface, as does the hardening.
This propagates into the depth of the material. Alloying helps in the hardening and by determining the right
alloy one can achieve the desired properties for the particular application.
Such alloying also helps in reducing the need for a rapid quench cooling thereby eliminate
distortions and potential cracking. In addition, thick sections can be hardened fully.
Quench Media
Quenching is the act of rapidly cooling the hot steel to harden the steel.

Water: Quenching can be done by plunging the hot steel in water. The water adjacent to the hot steel
vaporizes, and there is no direct contact of the water with the steel. This slows down cooling until the bubbles
break and allow water contact with the hot steel. As the water contacts and boils, a great amount of heat is
removed from the steel. With good agitation, bubbles can be prevented from sticking to the steel, and thereby
prevent soft spots. Water is a good rapid quenching medium, provided good agitation is done. However,
water is corrosive with steel, and the rapid cooling can sometimes cause distortion or cracking.
Salt Water: Salt water is a more rapid quench medium than plain water because the bubbles are broken easily
and allow for rapid cooling of the part. However, salt water is even more corrosive than plain water, and
hence must be rinsed off immediately.
Oil: Oil is used when a slower cooling rate is desired. Since oil has a very high boiling point, the transition
from start of Martensite formation to the finish is slow and this reduces the likelihood of cracking. Oil
quenching results in fumes, spills, and sometimes a fire hazard.
Polymer quench: Polymer quenches that will produce a cooling rate in between water and oil. The cooling
rate can be altered by varying the components in the mixture-as these are composed of water and some glycol
polymers. Polymer quenches are capable of producing repeatable results with less corrosion than water and
less of a fire hazard than oil. But, these repeatable results are possible only with constant monitoring of the
Cryogenic Quench: Cryogenics or deep freezing is done to make sure there is no retained Austenite during
quenching. The amount of Martensite formed at quenching is a function of the lowest temperature
encountered. At any given temperature of quenching there is a certain amount of Martensite and the balance
is untransformed Austenite. This untransformed Austenite is very brittle and can cause loss of strength or
hardness, dimensional instability, or cracking.
Quenches are usually done to room temperature. Most medium carbon steels and low alloy steels
undergo transformation to 100% Martensite at room temperature. However, high carbon and high alloy steels
have retained Austenite at room temperature. To eliminate retained Austenite, the quench temperature has to
be lowered. This is the reason to use cryogenic quenching.
Carbon steels that have minimum carbon content of 0.4%, or alloy steels with a lower carbon content
(hardenable stainless steels with only 0.1% Carbon), can be selectively hardenened in specific regions by
applying heat and quench only to those regions. Parts that benefit by flame hardening include gear teeth,
bushings etc. These techniques are best suited for medium carbon steels with a carbon content ranging from
0.4 to 0.6%.
Common Selective Hardening Processes
Flame Hardening: A high intensity oxy-acetylene flame is applied to the selective region. The temperature is
raised high enough to be in the region of Austenite transformation. The "right" temperature is determined by
the operator based on experience by watching the color of the steel. The overall heat transfer is limited by the
torch and thus the interior never reaches the high temperature. The heated region is quenched to achieve the
desired hardness. Tempering can be done to eliminate brittleness. The depth of hardening can be increased
by increasing the heating time. As much as 6.3 mm (0.25 in) of depth can be achieved. In addition, large
parts, which will not normally fit in a furnace, can be heat-treated.
Induction Hardening: In Induction hardening, the steel part is placed inside a electrical coil which has
alternating current through it. This energizes the steel part and heats it up. Depending on the frequency and
amperage, the rate of heating as well as the depth of heating can be controlled. Hence, this is well suited for
surface heat treatment. The details of heat treatment are similar to flame hardening.
Laser Beam Hardening: Laser beam hardening is another variation of flame hardening. A phosphate coating
is applied over the steel to facilitate absorption of the laser energy. The selected areas of the part are exposed
to laser energy. This causes the selected areas to heat. By varying the power of the laser, the depth of heat
absorption can be controlled. The parts are then quenched and tempered. This process is very precise in

applying heat selectively to the areas that need to be heat-treated. Further, this process can be run at high
speeds, produces very little distortion.
Electron Beam Hardening: Electron Beam Hardening is similar to laser beam hardening. The heat source is
a beam of high-energy electrons. The beam is manipulated using electromagnetic coils. The process can be
highly automated, but needs to be performed under vacuum conditions since the electron beams dissipate
easily in air. As in laser beam hardening, the surface can be hardened very precisely both in depth and in

Cryogenic Treatment
Cryogenics, or deep freezing is done to make sure there is no retained Austenite during quenching.
When steel is at the hardening temperature, there is a solid solution of Carbon and Iron, known as Austenite.
The amount of Martensite formed at quenching is a function of the lowest temperature encountered. At any
given temperature of quenching there is a certain amount of Martensite and the balance is untransformed
Austenite. This untransformed austenite is very brittle and can cause loss of strength or hardness,
dimensional instability, or cracking.

Quenches are usually done to room temperature. Most medium carbon steels and low alloy steels
undergo transformation to 100 % Martensite at room temperature. However, high carbon and high alloy
steels have retained Austenite at room temperature. To eliminate retained Austenite, the temperature has to be
In Cryogenic treatment the material is subject to deep freeze temperatures of as low as -185C (301F), but usually -75C (-103F) is sufficient. The Austenite is unstable at this temperature, and the whole
structures becomes Martensite. This is the reason to use Cryogenic treatment.
Spring Ageing
A wound spring can lose its spring tension due to anelastic behavior, which causes the spring to
unwind or change its shape over time.
To avoid this springs are placed in an oven at 315 - 375 C (600 - 707 F) for 2 hours for spring aging.
This will allow the spring to change shape or unwind. This unwinding or changing shape can be
accommodated during the design of the spring and be compensated. Once the springs are treated to spring
aging, they do not usually change shape.
Stress Relieving
Machining induces stresses in parts. The bigger and more complex the part, the more the stresses.
These stresses can cause distortions in the part long term. If the parts are clamped in service, then cracking
could occur. Also hole locations can change causing them to go out of tolerance. For these reasons, stress
relieving is often necessary.

Typically, the parts that benefit from stress relieving are large and complex weldments, castings with
a lot of machining, parts with tight dimensional tolerances and machined parts that have had a lot of stock
removal performed.
Stress relieving is done by subjecting the parts to a temperature of about 75 C (165 F) below the
transformation temperature,line A1 on the diagram, which is about 727 C (1340 F) of steelthus stress
relieving is done at about 650 C (1202 F) for about one hour or till the whole part reaches the temperature.
This removes more than 90% of the internal stresses. Alloy steels are stress relieved at higher temperatures.
After removing from the furnace, the parts are air cooled in still air.