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Introduction

FLAME HARDENING is a heat-treating process in which a thin surface shell of a steel part is heated
rapidly to a temperature above the critical point of the steel. After the grain structure of the shell has
become austenitic (austenitized), the part is quickly quenched, transforming the austenite to martensite
while leaving the core of the part in its original state. In contrast, slow cooling causes transformation, as the
temperature passes through the corresponding ranges, to pearlite, bainite, and martensite, with the final
structure being a combination of the three. The result is a relatively soft and ductile steel. To achieve
hardness, therefore, the steel must be cooled rapidly so that it bypasses the first two transformation
phases and transforms directly from austenite to martensite.
Flame hardening employs direct impingement of a high-temperature flame or high-velocity
combustion product gases. The part is then cooled at a rate that will produce the desired levels of hardness
and other properties. The hightemperature flame is obtained by combustion of a mixture of fuel gas with
oxygen or air; flame heads are used for burning the mixture. Depths of hardening from about 0.8 to 6.4 mm (
1/32 to 1/4 in.) or more can be obtained, depending on the fuels used, the design of the flame head, the
duration of heating, the hardenability of the work material, and the quenching medium and method of
quenching used. The process can be used for the through hardening of work 75 mm (3 in.) or less in cross
section, depending on the hardenability of the steel.
Hardening by flame differs from true case hardening because the hardenability necessary to attain
high levels of hardness is already contained in the steel, and hardening is obtained by localized heating.
Although flame hardening is mainly used to develop high levels of hardness for wear resistance, the process
also improves bending and torsional strength and fatigue life. One of the major advantages of flame
hardening is the ability to satisfy stringent engineering requirements with carbon steels.

Scope and Application
Flame hardening is applied to a wide diversity of workpieces and ferrous materials for one or more
reasons. This process is used because:
o Parts are so large that conventional furnace heating and quenching are impracticable or uneconomical.
Typical examples include large gears, machineways, dies, and rolls
o Only a small segment, section, or area of a part requires heat treatment, or because heat treating all
over would be detrimental to the function of the part. Typical examples include the ends of valve stems
and pushrods and the wearing surfaces of cams and levers
o The dimensional accuracy of a part is impracticable or difficult to attain or control by furnace heating
and quenching. A typical example is a large gear of complex design for which flame hardening of the
teeth would not disturb the dimensions of the gear
o The use of flame hardening permits a part to be made from a less costly material, thereby effecting an
overall cost saving in comparison with other technically acceptable methods. The process gives
inexpensive steels the wear properties of alloyed steels, and parts can be hardened without scaling or
decarburization, thereby eliminating costly cleaning operations. For example, a large steel part might be
made at a lower cost if produced from a flame-hardened plain carbon steel rather than from a
carburized low-carbon alloy steel

For a detailed discussion of materials suitable for flame hardening and for a comparison of flame
hardening with other methods used to attain similar results, see the sections "Selection of Process" and
"Selection of Material" near the end of this article.


Methods of Flame Hardening
The versatility of flame-hardening equipment and the wide range of heating conditions obtainable
with gas burners often permit flame hardening to be done by a variety of methods, of which the principal
ones are:
o Spot, or stationary
o Progressive
o Spinning
o Combination progressive-spinning
The selection of the appropriate method depends on the shape, size, and composition of the workpiece; the
area to be hardened; the depth of case required; and the number of pieces to be hardened. In many
instances, more than one method will provide the desired result; the choice will then depend on comparative
costs.

The spot (stationary) method, shown in Fig. 1(a), consists of locally heating selected areas with a suitable
flame head and subsequently quenching. The heating head may be of either single-orifice or multiple-orifice
design, depending on the extent of the area to be hardened. The heat input must be balanced to obtain a
uniform temperature over the entire selected area. After being heated, the parts are usually immersion
quenched; however, in some mechanized operations, a spray quench may be used.



Fig. 1 Spot (stationary) and progressive methods of flame hardening. (a) Spot (stationary) method of flame
hardening a rocker arm and the internal lobes of a cam; quench not shown. (b) Progressive hardening method

Basically, the spot method requires no elaborate equipment, except, perhaps, fixtures and timing devices to
ensure the uniform processing of each piece. However, the operation may be automated by indexing the
heated parts into either a spray quench or a suitable quench bath.

The progressive method, shown in Fig. 1(b), is used to harden large areas that are beyond the scope of the
spot method. The size and shape of the workpiece, as well as the volume of oxygen and fuel gas required to
heat the specified area, are factors in the selection of this method. In progressive hardening, the flame
head is usually of the multiple-orifice type, and quenching facilities may be either integrated with the flame
head or separate from it. The flame head progressively heats a narrow band that is subsequently quenched
as the head and quench traverse the workpiece.

The equipment needed for flame hardening by the progressive method consists of one or more flame heads
and a quenching means mounted on a movable carriage that runs on a track at a regulated speed (flame-
cutting machines are adaptable to this type of flame hardening). Workpieces mounted on a turntable or in a
lathe can be hardened readily by the progressive method; either the flame head or the workpiece may move.
There is no practical limit on the length of parts that can be hardened by this method, because it is easy to
lengthen the track over which the flame head travels. Single passes as wide as 1.5 m (60 in.) can be made;
wider areas must be hardened in more than one pass.
When more than one pass is required to cover a flat surface, or when cylindrical surfaces are hardened
progressively, such surfaces will exhibit soft bands because of overlapping or underlapping of the heated
zones. These soft bands can be minimized, however, by closely controlling the extent of the overlapping.
Wherever overlapping occurs, the possibility of severe thermal upset and cracking should be anticipated.
Tests should be conducted to determine whether overlapping will cause cracking or other harmful effects.
Simple curved surfaces may be hardened progressively by means of contoured flame heads, and some
irregular surfaces may be traversed by the use of tracer template methods.
The rate of travel of the flame head over the surface is mainly governed by the heating capacity of the
head, the depth of case required, the composition and shape of the work, and the type of quench used.
Speeds ranging from 0.8 to 5 mm/s (2 to 12 in./min) are typical with oxyacetylene heating heads. Ordinarily,
water at ambient temperatures is used as a quenchant, although air is sometimes used when a less-severe
quench is indicated; under special conditions (particularly for quenching alloy steels), warm or hot water or a
polymer-base synthetic quenchant may be employed.

The spinning method (Fig. 2) is applied to round or semiround parts such as wheels, cams, or gears. In its
simplest form, the method uses a mechanism for rotating or spinning the workpiece, in either a horizontal or
a vertical plane, while the surface is being heated by the flame head. One or more water-cooled heating
heads equal in width to the surface to be heated are employed. The speed of rotation is relatively
unimportant, provided uniform heating is obtained. After the surface has been heated to the desired
temperature, the flame is extinguished or withdrawn and the work is quenched by immersion or spray or a
combination of both.


Fig. 2 Spinning methods of flame hardening. In methods shown at left and at center, the part rotates. In
method at right, the flame head rotates. Quench not shown

The spinning method is particularly adaptable to extensive mechanization and automation. This makes it
possible, for example, for all the cams on a camshaft to be hardened at the same time.
Today, fully automatic flame-heating equipment is available that can treat round components up to 1.5 m (60
in.) in diameter and up to 2 Mg (2.2 tons) in weight. Much of it has been designed to treat gear wheels of all
types.
Commercial machines have been built that can provide automatic control of timing, temperature, and
quenching, as well as accurate control of gas flow, so that close metallurgical specifications can be met
consistently. Frequently, when production is sufficient, the spinning method can be set up so that either
parts are loaded manually and unloaded automatically or they are loaded and unloaded automatically.
This method has been extended to components of irregular cross section and mass distribution. Typical are
large drivewheels for tracked vehicles, cams and camshafts for marine diesel engines, and crane traveling
wheels. Speed, deep hardness penetration, localized hardness zone, and uniformity of hardness pattern are
the main advantages.