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Steam Treatment of Ferrous P/M parts

Steam treating, also known as steam oxidizing, is a low-temperature (510 ~ 570 °C, 1 to 2 h)
heat treatment process in which P/M steel parts are exposed to superheated steam to form a
layer of black iron oxide identified as magnetite, in the surface porosity, according to
the chemical reaction:
3Fe + 4H2O (steam) ↔ Fe3O4 + 4H2 (gas).
The steam reacts with the iron surface converting it to an adherent, protective bluegrey
iron oxide (Fe3O4). Because the steam can penetrate the porosity, the oxide layer can be
0.020 to 0.050 in. deep depending on the processing conditions.
Steam treating cannot truly be described as a heat treatment because no structural
changes occur in the matrix. In the process, magnetite (Fe 3O4) is formed at the
interconnecting surface porosity, filling the porosity with a second phase. Magnetite has a
hardness equivalent to 50 HRC. The process itself is straightforward; the primary variables
are temperature, time, and steam pressure. Caution must be exercised to prevent the
formation of hydroxides and lower oxide such as ferrous oxide (FeO) and ferric oxide (Fe 2O3),
which is red rust. Also, adhesion of the surface oxide layer is an important variable to control.
Adhesion is strongly influenced by process time at temperature.
Spalling or flaking of the surface oxide layer can occur if the process temperature
exceeds 570 °C and process times exceed 4 h. The maximum thickness of the surface oxide
layer should not exceed 7 µm. Beyond this thickness, flaking can occur due to an increase in
surface tensile stress.
The process can be conducted in batch, pressurized furnaces, or continuous belt
furnaces.
Steam treating enhances the product by:

· Increasing wear resistance

· Increasing surface hardness

· Improving corrosion resistance

· Increasing compressive yield strength

· Providing low-pressure leak tightness

Formation of this oxide layer unfortunately reduces tensile strength and ductility 10 to 20%,
depending on the material system and processing conditions.

Heat parts in air until the center of the load has stabilized at the set temperature. which minimizes the improvement in apparent hardness attributed to steam treating. Introduce superheated steam at a line pressure of 35 to 105 kPa (5 to 15 psi) and allow furnace to purge for at least 15 min. In steam-treated P/M steels. . 3. 2. On completion of the treatment. Load clean sintered parts in loosely packed baskets and place fixture into a furnace preheated to 315 °C. 4. Its ability to increase the wear resistance of the substrate material depends on the available porosity for oxidation. Caution should be used when opening the furnace door after the steam cycle. the amount of oxide formed is decreased. Equipment must be properly sealed to prevent air contamination. It is recommended that a nitrogen purge be applied prior to unloading. 6. and discoloration can occur. Preclean parts to remove any oil or lubricants that may have been absorbed into the porosity from prior machining. 5. As indicated above. Care must be taken when steam treating high-carbon P/M steels because these internal stresses can initiate microcracking and cause severe loss of ductility. This process. When parts reach this temperature. increase compressive yield strength. or erratic oxide formation. the steam can be shut off and the parts unloaded. depending on steel composition.The recommended procedure for steam treating is: 1. Sintered density is an important consideration when applying steam treating for improved strength and hardness. reduce furnace temperature to 315 °C (600 °F). can impart improved surface properties and. hydrogen is produced during this process and can ignite. The best recommendation for preventing such an incident is to specify a maximum carbon content of 0. sizing. Increase furnace temperature to desired steam treatment temperature and hold for no longer than 4 h at heat. As density is increased. the ductility is significantly reduced due to the internal stresses created by the formation of the iron oxide. or finishing operations. when correctly applied.5% for P/M parts that are to be steam treated.

200× References: 1.Micrograph of steam-treated structure of alloy FC-0205 (6.75 g/cm3). Unetched. ASM Volume 7. Powder Metal Technologies and Applications .