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Heat Treatment of Metals

Heat Treatment
• Why do we heat treat?
– To relieve stresses (i.e. from cold working)
– To increase softness, ductility and toughness
– and/or to produce a specific microstructure
• Why is it important to understand thermal
processing in metal alloys?
– Because it can produce mechanical properties required
for specific applications.
– Because the mechanical properties of an alloy that has
been heat treated can be altered significantly if it is re-
heated (i.e. welding).

Annealing Processes
• Annealing refers to a heat treatment with the
following stages:
1. Heat to the desired temperature.
2. Hold or “soak” at that temperature.
• to allow for any necessary transformation reactions to occur.
3. Cool, usually to room temperature.

• Heating and cooling time is important

– Poor control can lead to temperature gradients
throughout part.
– temperature gradients can induce internal stresses that
may lead to to warping and cracking.

Annealing of Ferrous Alloys

• Several different annealing procedures for steels
• Normalizing
– Cooled in air.
– Gives a good combination of strength and ductility
• Full Annealing
– Used for low or medium carbon steels that will be machined or
plastically deformed.
– Furnace turned off, both steel and furnace cool together.
– Result: Course Pearlite, Soft and ductile.
• Spheroidizing
– Used for medium and high carbon steels that have coarse pearlite
that may still be too hard to machine or deform.
– Heated just below eutectoid (700°C) for 15 – 25 hours.
– Coalescence of Fe3C to form spheroid particles

Heat Treatment of Steel – Quench
and Temper
1. Austenitize
– Heat to a temperature
region where 100% 727°C
Austenite is formed
– Hold to allow complete

2. Quench (normally use

water or oil)
3. Temper
– Reheat to 200 - 550°C Time
– Decrease hardness, regain
ductility (i.e. martensite). 5

Tempering of Martensite

• Heat for 1 hour 200-550 oC

• During tempering, two things occur:
– BCT (α´) phase transforms to BCC (α) phase (i.e. a =c)
– A very fine distribution of Fe3C particles (precipitates)
are formed in an α matrix
• If we hold at temperature for too long the steel
will become “soft” and very ductile, equivalent to
spheroidized steel

Tempering of Martensite

Microstructure Changes

Property Changes 7


24.6 µm 2 µm

• Quench • Tempered
– 564°C
– small particles cementite
– matrix is α ferrite

Effect of Carbon Content on Hardness

Precipitation Hardening

• Small uniformly dispersed second phase particles within

the original matrix phase can enhance strength and
• This can be achieved by an appropriate heat treatment.
• Precipitation hardening is also called “Age hardening”
because the strength develops over time
• Major strengthening mechanism for alloys of Al, Fe, Ni,
• Need appreciable solid solubility of one alloying
component (several %) in the other.
• Also require a large decrease in solid solubility at T ↓, e.g.
Cu in Al

Precipitation Hardening

• Precipitation hardening
will only occur in alloys
that: 1.
1. show appreciable solid
solubility of one
alloying component
(several %) in the
2. show a solubility limit
that rapidly decreases
in concentration of one
major component with
temperature reduction 11

Heat Treatment of Precipitation

Hardened Alloys
1. Solution Treatment
– to form a single phase
solid solution.
2. Quench
– to obtain
supersaturated solid
solution at room temp.
3. “Age”
– to form a fine
distribution of


Microstructural Changes During Ageing
• Aged at T2
• Formation of very small β
– 1 – 10 nm
• The character of β
precipitates and strength
and hardness depend on
– T2
– Time at T2
• Some alloys age at room
temperature over a period
of time (Natural Ageing)
• Some need elevated
temperature (Artificial
Ageing) 13

Microstructural Changes During Ageing

• Yield Strength
increases as zones or
precipitates form
• Strength reaches a
peak value
• And then decreases


Precipitation Hardening in Al-Cu

• Precipitation
hardening most
widely studied in
Al-Cu alloys
• α phase is a
substitutional solid
solution of Cu in
• θ phase is an
compound CuAl2

Precipitation Hardening in Al-Cu

• Solution treat
at 550 oC
• Water quench
• Age at 120-
260 oC


Mechanism of Hardening during
Artificial Ageing
(Stages for Al-Cu system)

Supersaturated α A transition, θ”, The equilibrium θ phase, within the

solid solution precipitate phase α matrix phase (max strength)
(Actual particle sizes are much
Interface is coherent larger than shown here
1 atom in ppt for each
atom in matrix incoherent

Strengthening Curve

Overaged Coarsening of preciptates


Ageing Curves
(2014 Al Alloy, 4 different temperatures)
• Strengthening Process
is accelerated if
temperature is
• Ideally the temperature
and time for
precipitation heat
treatment should be
designed to produce a
hardness or strength in
the vicinity of the


Mechanism of Strengthening

• During plastic deformation:

– Zones or precipitates act as obstacles to dislocation
– Stress must be increased to “push” the dislocation
through the distribution of precipitates.
• Consequently the alloy becomes harder and


Precipitation hardening versus
Quenching and Tempering
Al-Cu Alloy Steel
• Solution treat to obtain a single • Ausenitise to form single phase γ
phase α (θ phase dissolves) – Fe3C dissolves
– FCC (No change) – BCC ⇒ FCC
• Quench to prevent formation of • Quench to prevent Fe3C
precipitates (Supersaturated at formation and transform γ to
R.T.) martensite
– Low strength – high strength, very brittle
• Age to form zones or • Temper to precipitate very fine
precipitates Fe3C
– Strength increases – strength decreases
– Peaks and then decreases – ductility increases

Example: The replacement of steel sheet panels on

automobiles by aluminum sheet products

• e.g. hood and trunk panel

for the Ford Taurus.
• Steel
– Typically a 0.05 wt% carbon, ρ = 7.8g/cm3, σy = 250 MPa
• Aluminum (Al-Mg-Si) Alloy
– ρ = 2.8g/cm3
1. Relatively poor formability
– Precipitates of Mg2Si of Al Alloys
2. Would like higher strength
– Strength
• as quenched - σy = 60 MPa
• after natural ageing - σy = 150 MPa (still too soft)
• after a 1 hour, 180°C paint bake cycle – 250 MPa 22

Strengthening Mechanism Review
1. Grain Size reduction σ y = σ o + kyd 2

2. Cold Working
– Increase in yield stress as dislocation density

3. Solid Solution Hardening

4. Hardening due to Pearlite σ y = σ o + KS −1
5. Quenching and Tempering (martensite)
6. Precipitation Hardening