Heat Treatment Verification

Steel gets its properties from its basic lattice structure, forming process, and heat-induced microstructural changes. Successful heat treatment, being diffusion-based, equilibrium phase transformation, or rigorously time and temperature-controlled phase transformation, is mandatory for most engineering components in demanding applications.

Why is heat treatment verification important?

Heat treatment is placed somewhere middle of the component manufacturing process. Unsuccessful heat treatment makes all the processes before and after heat treatment useless. To avoid rework and scrap, the quality of the heat treatment should be verified before other processes are performed such as grinding.

How do different heat treatment processes affect material properties?

Hardening and tempering

Hardenability is a measure of steel’s ability to form martensite (or bainite) on quenching. The unit for hardenability is length in depth where a certain hardness can be achieved when the surface is cooled. Hardness and hardenability are not to be confused. Hardness is measure of material’s ability to resist indentation.

Hardenability depends on carbon equivalent in steel. Alloying reduces the demands on cooling rate for formation of martensite. As-quenched martensite generally has severe tensile residual stresses and is hard and brittle. Martensite can form in laths, thin plates, or lenticular shape. Tempering relieves residual stresses and makes martensite morphology more favorable for mechanical applications. Reduced harness is trade-off for increased ductility.

Nitriding and carburizing

Increased hardness is improved by introducing interstitial solute atoms in steel structures in atmosphere rich in carbon or nitrogen at elevated temperature and pressure. Acquired hardness and thickness of hardened layer are controlled properties. Residual stresses are introduced during changes in lattice dimensions of the hardened layer.

Annealing and stress-relieving heat treatments

Annealing processes are high temperature applications to relieve stresses, normalize microstructure and grain size after forming, controlling grain size via recrystallisation, reducing segregation, and homogenization of properties.

Residual stress state and texture are reduced by keeping components in elevated temperatures thus allowing diffusion-based processes to take place and relieve work applied to the microstructure in forms of dislocations, stacking faults, twinning and grain boundaries. Hardness is reduced by releasing the amount stresses worked into the structure.

Grain size control

Engineering materials are seldom single crystals and grain size has significant effect on strength and ductility of materials. Grain size grows and recrystallisation occurs in temperatures higher than stress relieving.

Common heat treatment problems:

  • Insufficient hardening
  • Tempering issues
  • Cooling issues

Heat treatment verification methods

Xstress G3 measuring a crankshaft

X-ray diffraction

The X-ray diffraction method enables measuring the absolute residual stress value and retained austenite content. Destructive hardness depth profiles can be measured with the X-ray diffraction method.

X-rays have high energy and short wavelength when compared to visible light making them ideal for probing the interplanar distances in crystalline materials.

RoboScan hypoid measurement

Barkhausen noise analysis

Hardness and stress directly affect the intensity of the Barkhausen noise signal. With the Barkhausen noise method, it is effortless to verify success of heat treatment process and separate correctly heated parts from non-heated.

Barkhausen noise analysis is a non-destructive method involving the measurement of a noise-like signal induced in a ferromagnetic material by an applied magnetic field.

xstress G2R x-ray diffractometer

Stresstech provides turnkey solutions for heat treatment verification and retained austenite measurements

With Stresstech products, heat treatment verification and retained austenite measurement can be done effortlessly in production lines, laboratories, and even in the field.

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