Cryogenic Treating improves the entire tool or part, rather than just the surface. Longer part life, residual stress relief, and less down time with cryogenic processing for replacing broken or worn parts are among the reported benefits.
The technology of cryogenic processing is earning respect as a technique for increasing the durability and dimensional stability of manufactured parts. Originally developed by NASA, and once used primarily to extend the life of industrial tooling, the cryogenic treatment process now holds exciting possibilities for manufacturers of products. Cryogenic processing is gaining the attention of product manufacturers in diverse sectors because of its ability to dramatically enhance the abrasive wear resistance of a wide range of parts and products as well as tooling.
Research has shown that wear resistance of tool steels can be significantly improved by cooling to cryogenic temperatures in the range of -300 to -320 degrees Fahrenheit. In contrast to various surface treatments, cryogenic treatment is a one-time process that affects the material throughout its entire structure.
The controlled cryogenic process starts with the loading of a well-insulated chamber with the materials to be processed. A microprocessor is programmed according to the size, weight and configuration of the parts being treated. Liquid nitrogen is used as a cooling medium to lower the temperature within the chamber to -315 degrees F at a critically controlled rate.
Once the temperature reaches -315 degrees F the cryogenic process enters the "soak phase" which maintains this temperature for a period of time to allow for transformation on a molecular level. The final step in the process is the warm up phase which again is performed at a precise rate to room temperature or as high as 300 degrees F.
This process is very hard to mold into a normal quality assurance system as the results of the cryogenic process can only be identified after use and does not have other measurable parameters other than the proper cycle as recorded by instrumentation.
As a result, the advantages of what began as Space Age technology many years ago are still largely unknown to the manufacturing industry. Although the benefits of cryogenic treatment can be supported by numerous anecdotal examples, they require the precise measurement to prove their effectiveness. This is something too few companies have been willing or able to undertake.
The fact that many companies keep their cryogenic processing techniques "close to the vest" to maintain a competitive advantage only adds to the mystery. To those who are unfamiliar with cryogenic treatment, the process can therefore seem "more like magic than something measurable" and that, in itself, makes the engineering community back away.
This is beginning to change, however. Intrigued by reports of as much as 300 percent improvement in wear resistance, manufacturing engineers are starting to see the benefits of using cryogenic processing to treat not just tooling, but also a broad range of parts, components, and products.
We feel the industry is still shy about using cryogenic processing. For example, we cryogenically treat a machine shop's cutting tools exclusively, and they claim twice the life out of cutters than they received previously. This means they spend half as much on cutting tools as they did before. Any machine shop should jump at the chance to improve the bottom line using cryogenic processing, but most shops will not take the time to quantitatively measure such results.
Thermal-Vac provides cryogenic services to manufacturers in the sporting goods, automotive, and aerospace industries. The company has applied cryogenic treatment to baseball bats, golf clubs, gun barrels, and tennis rackets, as well as automotive disc brake rotors and satellite mirrors. The main draw for the manufacturers would be our full service capabilities in the thermal processing and material joining areas. We are able to thermally process or metallurgical bond materials in vacuum furnaces, atmosphere furnaces, induction heaters, molten salt baths, and by torch heating, using temperatures ranging from plus 4,200 degrees Fahrenheit to minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit.
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