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FLAME HARDENING

Introduction:

Flame hardening is a surface hardening process to harden the specific surface areas of

a steel component to withstand abrasion and wear with reasonable toughness of the

unhardened core improving fatigue, bending & torsional strengths. It involves heating the

component surface to the austenising temperature with combustible gas flame followed by

quenching and low temperature tempering. The objective of this hardening method is to

provide a hard martensitic layer on specific surface areas of the work piece, improving the

mechanical properties, without affecting the remainder of the part. The hardened depth in this

process could be 0.8 mm to 7 mm or more depending upon the gas mixture for heating, the

design of the flame head heating duration, quenching medium, method of quenching and

hardenability of the steel.

The heating medium for flame hardening is a mixture of oxygen (or air) and a

combustible gas mainly acetylene, natural gas, propane or propylene. Out of the above, oxy-

acetylene gas mixture has high flame temperature with a thin layer of 3 mm at the surface of

the component is rapidly heated to a temperature above the critical and then quenched by the

double action of a water spay upon the surface and the conduction of the heat into the cold

base metal. Along the surface layer, the normal pearlitic structure of the steel is first

converted to austenite in passing through the critical temperature range, but rapid quenching

prevents the reverse process and the steel layer is held in a martensitic state which is the

hardest state possible for steel, offering a surface protection without affecting the main body.

The remainder of the part retains its original toughness. For deeper case depths, air fuel gas

mixtures or oxy-fuel gas other than acetylene are commonly used as these provide lower

flame temperatures. It is the rate of heating, the cost of gas and case depth that determines the
right gas mixture. Because the parts to be hardened may be round, flat or irregularly shaped,

the mechanical arrangement and the movement of the flame varies in accordance with the

shape of the part being treated. In general, slower the rate of flame travel, the greater the heat

penetration and the hardening depth. Here, the burner design is very important with burners

made of copper or brass are shaped to conform to the component curvature to be treated into

drilled parts or inserted tips to direct flame on the localized regions to be hardened. The flame

heads may be fitted with screw in or inserted variety orifices for gas flow with designs that

consider ideal proportions among pre-heat, fuel gas orifices and mixing chamber dimensions

to provide more stable out coming flame that gives high resistance to backfire, flame pops

and flashback.

For temperature measurement, various devices such as digital infrared pyrometers are

available in the market. After heating the component surface by flame to the requisite

temperature, the part is quenched. The quenchants for spray quenching can be water, brine

solution, polymer or air and caustic or brine solution, water, oil or polymer for immersion

quenching. It is the type of steel, the hardness, the depth of hardness and the product

geometry that determines the right type of quenchant. The design and the positioning of the

quenching jet has a profound influence on the effectiveness of the flame hardening. For

drastic and effective immersion quenching, the hot work piece should be brought to the

quenching medium immediately. One can incorporate quenching jets in the heating tip itself

with no interference of quenching jets with the heating operation.

The components after flame hardening necessitate tempering treatment to relieve the

stresses generated during hardening. For large components with hardening depth of 5mm or

more, the residual heat present after quenching is sufficient enough to take care of stresses

generated during hardening by self-tempering. In majority of the components, the heat

diffused from the Heat affected Zone is not desirable as it results in crack formation.
However, tempering treatment at 150 C- 200 C depending on the grade of steel is necessary

which can be carried out either in oil bath or flame heating again followed by air cooling.

Holes, keyways, thin sections, reliefs and changes in section in the heat affected zone

increase the risk of distortion and/or cracking and if possible these details should be

machined after flame hardening.

The versatility of flame hardening makes it a natural for applications which must

provide surface protection for parts that may be curved or straight, light or heavy, or cannot

be economically hardened by other methods whether the parts are large, small or intricate. It

finds suitability for such applications where only the surface or selective areas require heat

treatment thus, maintaining good dimensional stability while the treated areas have their

properties selectively improved. The applications include shafts, shaft journals, gears, cams,

cast bed ways, crane wheels, punches, rails, rope drums, sheaves, dies, wear pods, splines,

sprockets, machine components, chuck jaws, connecting rods, pins, bushes, guides, rollers,

blades, piston rods, injector screws, crushers and a variety of tooling.

Operating Variables for Effective Flame Hardening:

The various operating variables that necessitate proper control for effective flame

hardening of steels include

1. Grade of steel and its prior micro structure

2. Skill of the operator

3. Gas mixture used for combustible flame

4. Velocity of the flame

5. Distance between the flame and the component surface

6. Speed of the flame head and the component surface

7. Type of quenchant and the angle of quench


Flame hardening compared with other methods of surface hardening:

Fig-1: Heating operations for case hardening and flame hardening.

The heat treatment for case hardening requires furnaces in which the entire work

piece is heated. During the subsequent quenching therefore a change of the grain structure

also takes place inside the work piece. In flame hardening, however, only the outer layer is

heated and only in such place as wear occurs. Consequently the heating time and fuel

consumption are considerably reduced. Fig. 1 shows the comparative duration and sequences

of operations for case- and flame hardening. The heavy lines denote the basic operations, the

dotted lines the optional or advisable ones. The latter ones consist for case hardening of

hardening the carburized layer, for flame hardening of the previous heat treatment of the

entire work piece for a higher core strength. For heavy duty in both cases tempering is

advisable.

Material requirements:

A basic requirement of flame hardening is that the substrate be capable of quench

hardening.in other words, the substrate must be ferrous material with adequate carbon or

carbon and alloy content to allow conversion to martensite when austenized and quenched.

With conventional furnace hardening procedures, carbon steel require at least the quench rate

can be so rapid that steels with carbon as low as o.35 percent may respond to form martensite

(or at least bainite). Fig-2 shows the range of hardness that can be attained in flame hardening
carbon steels. Alloying can increase the hardenability of steels so that it is possible to achieve

a hardness of 55 HRC with carbon contents significantly lower than 0.6 percent.

This process is applies primarily to carbon steels, a few alloy steels cast irons with a

pearlitic matrix, and some tool steels. As is the case with laser and electron beam hardening,

the high alloys are not usually applied because of the sluggishness of these steels in

austenizing. The carbon in these alloys is often tied up in carbide phases. In furnace

hardening, this carbon is put into the solution in the matrix by soaking at the austenitizing

temperature. When in the solution, the carbon is available to provide matrix hardening. In

flame hardening, it is possible to soak at the austenitizing temperature to restore carbon to

matrix, but it is common practice to avoid these kinds of steels (high alloy steels). Hardening

is often not successful. A second problem with high alloy steels is the propensity for quench

cracking. High alloy steels are intended to have deep hardening. When applied to flame

hardening, these steels may harden deeper than anticipated, causing high stresses from the

hardening size change; this can lead to quench cracking.

Treatment of Steels prior to Flame Hardening

The input steel products of carbon steel should be subjected to normalizing treatment

to get fine grain structure. For more then 0.55% C steels, normalizing followed by tempering

should be carried out. For alloy steel products, annealed structures are desired. The products

must be free from scale, rust, decarburisation, lap, fold, seams, crack, oil, dust and be

ultrasonically sound before subjecting to flame hardening operation.

The steel components after heavy machining need to be stress relieved at about 550C

-600C for about 1-2 hrs followed by air cooling to release stresses generated in machining

and help in avoiding distortion or cracking during flame hardening especially in high carbon

steels and alloy steels.


Processes of Flame Hardening:

These processes are broadly classified as Stationary, Progressive, Spin, and combined

progressive-spin flame hardening. The method chosen depends on the steel grade, component

geometry and the specified surface areas to be hardened.

Stationary or Spot Hardening: In this method, both the flame and the component are

held stationary. The flame is directed to the spot that needs to be heated and hardened. Here,

localized heating of the component surface is carried out by welding torch held with hand or

flame head with single or multiple orifices to the austenising temperature with sweep

movements of the flame head for ensuring uniform temperature. After this, the component is

taken to the quench or quench is brought with quenching carried our in water or oil

depending on the chemical composition of the steel as shown in fig.2 (a &b).It is particularly

adopted for shaft ends, large gears, bolt heads, special steel casting configurations and large

parts.

Progressive Hardening: This process involves the use of a flame head usually of

multiple orifice with or without integrated quench capability that traverse the surface of the

component to be hardened. Here, the flame head and quench head is mobile and moves

across the surface of the component to be hardened. The surface to be hardened is scanned,

heated progressively with flame head mounted on a moving carriage running on a track

followed by immediate quenching at a uniform speed with speeds ranging from 0.8-5 mm/sec

depending on the desired depth of hardness. Generally the quenching is carried out by water

spray integrated with the flame head leading to uniform heating and spray quenching to

produce flame hardened surface free from soft spots. This method is particularly suited for

hardening guide ways, lathe beds, knives and flats as shown in fig.3.

Spin Hardening: In this method, the component is surrounded by the stationary flame

heads and heated to the desired hardening temperature while being spun rapidly. After
reaching the temperature, it is lowered into, or sprayed with, the appropriate quenching

media. The process is shown in fig.4 finding suitable for hardening gears below 100 mm

diameter, hubs, shafts, wheels and sprockets.

Combined Progressive Spin Hardening: This technique combines both progressive

and spinning methods to provide uniform heating and quenching of a rotating part. The

process involves progressive heating along the axis of the spinning component with spinning

at 75-300 mm per minute followed by quenching by water jet tangentially upon rotation of

the component. Here, flame head and quench jet are both fixed to a carriage that traverse

along the component as shown in fig.5. The process is generally adopted for hardening rolls

and shafts.

(a) (b)
Fig.2 (a) and (b): Stationary Flame Hardening Of Gear Followed By Quenching In Oil

Fig.3 :Progressive Hardening Of Guide Ways


Fig.4: Spin Hardening Of Gear Teeth On Worm Shaft Fig.5: Combined Progressive-spin Hardening Of Large Diameter Shaft

Advantages:

Low capital costs. The heating times are relatively short. The distortion is low. The

minimum hardness depths that can be obtained are more limited downwards than with

induction hardening. Within limits, selective hardening of specific areas of the component is

possible. The hardening plant and equipment can be installed in a production line. Low space

requirements and simple operation. The installation is always ready for operation. The

hardening machines can be partly automated.

Disadvantages:

Due to variations in the burner gas pressure and mixture the heating flame

temperature is not always constant causing the hardening depth to vary. The hardening of

bores is difficult and can only be carried out on large diameters. For hardening different

components different burners have to be used. When hardening heat treatable steels, a

tempering zone (soft zone) occurs between the core and the hardened outer layer.

Conclusions:

Flame hardening process incurs benefits such as application for a wide variety of

steels with no restriction on size and shape of the component, selective hardening of surface

areas in a component with wide depth of hardness, facilitates use of cheaper carbon steels

over alloy steels with similar properties, faster than carburizing & nitriding treatments and
highly economical for large component hardening compared to conventional heat treatment.

The major drawbacks include process standardization for a component to be hardened

depending upon the facilities available, difficulty in control of case fo depth and of course,

high safety precautions to handle the explosive gases.

References:

Surface Engineering for Wear Resistance by Kenneth G. Budinski; Prentice Hall, 1988 p.
120-137.

Introduction to Physical Metallurgy by Sidney H Avner, Second Edition, Tata McGraw-Hill


Edition, 1997, p. 332-335.

J. Schneider, Madhu S. Chatterjee, Revised from S. Lampman, Introduction to Surface


Hardening of Steels, Heat Treating, ASM Handbook, Volume 4A, Steel Heat Treating
Fundamentals and Process, 2013, p. 259-267.

M.S. Rosengren, Flame Hardening-Principles, applications, and Equipment; Welding Journal,


1948, p.718-726.

Web Source: http://www.detroitflame.com/Applications.htm .


Objective Questions On Flame Hardening

1. Flame hardening hardness is due to


a) Martensitic and lower bainitic structure
b) Martensite and pearlitic structure
c) Martensite
d) Bainite
2. Carbon content required for flame hardening is
a) 0.3-0.6%
b) 0.02-0.3%
c) 0.02-0.15%
d) >0.6%

3. Maximum case depth obtained in flame hardening is


a) >10mm
b) <1mm
c) 5-10mm
d) Upto 3mm
4. During flame hardening since the heating and cooling is very fast

a) Core remain unaffected


b) Core gets affected
c) Case and Core both gets affected
d) None of these
5. Problem associated with flame hardening
a) Little scaling
b) Decarburizing
c) Distortion
d) All of the above
6. In spinning method which of the following is followed
a) Workpiece is rotated while burner remain stationary
b) Workpiece is stationary while burner is rotating
c) Workpiece is rotated along with burner
d) None of the above
7. In progressive-spinning method
a) Burner moves over the rotating workpiece
b) Workpiece moves over rotating burner
c) Burner movies over stationary workpiece
d) Burner is stationary over workpiece

8. Flame hardening is used for heating large components like


a) Crank shaft
b) Axle, large gear
c) Cam, bending roller
d) Any complicated cross section
e) All of the above

9. Depth of hardened layer depends upon


a) Distance between flame gas and component surface
b) Gas pressure and ratio
c) Rate of travel of flame head or component
d) Type volume and application of quench
e) a, b, d only
f) all of the above
10. After hardening, reheating of the parts is carried out in furnace or oil bath at

a) 180-200
b) >200
c) <180
d) 120-180

Subjective Type Questions On Flame Hardening

1. Define flame hardening along with its applications.

2. How flame hardening is different from other case hardening treatments?

3. Differentiate flame hardening from induction hardening.

4. Describe the different methods involved in flame hardening.

5. Explain the working principle and heat treatment schedule of flame hardening.

6. Why should we use flame hardening? What are the material requirement in it?

7. Write down any four advantages and disadvantages of flame hardening.

8. What are the parameters involved in flame hardening? How the parameters affecting case
depth of the material?

9. What are the pre and post heat treatment procedures for flame hardening?

10. Sketch the diagram of flame hardening process and write down the basic elements in any
flame hardening system.