On Heat Treatment for Steel and Other Metals

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On Heat Treatment for Steel and Other Metals

heat treatment steel metals

Jeweler processing metal bar by heating it up

There are several processes that are often applied to steel and other metals to maintain or alter certain properties, and the process of heat treatment is a top example. What is this process, and might it be useful for any project you’re involved in that includes steel or other metal products? 

At Wasatch Steel, we’re happy to offer a wide range of steel products and steel services to clients around Salt Lake City and other parts of Utah. What exactly is heat treatment for a metal, why is it often done, and what are some of the benefits and possible drawbacks to heat-treated metals? Here’s a primer. 

Defining Heat Treatment

For those just learning about heat treatment for metals, it’s important to understand the basics of what this process involves. Heat treatment is the application of heat to a metal product in order to alter its mechanical properties and/or physical structure. The heat that is used can be relatively low or high depending on the desired result. 

During heat treatment, metals and their alloys will be heated to a specific temperature. They will then be held at that temperature for a defined duration of time, a process known as soaking, after which they are cooled rapidly or slowly based on the desired outcome. 

Purposes of Heat Treating Metals

There are a few key reasons why metals may be heat treated:

Enhancing metal structures: Heating metals to a certain temperature and then cooling them quickly can strengthen their structure. This process can help improve the ductility, hardness, shape retention and tensile strength of the material. 

Improvement of machinability: Heat treatment can make a metal easier to machine, allowing for more accurate cutting and better shaping of the final product.

Matching metals to required needs: Another reason why heat treatment is often applied to metals is to improve their performance in certain tasks. For example, a metal that may be too soft for one application can be hardened through heat-treating in order to make it more suited for the job. 

Refining microstructure: In other cases, heat treatment is used to refine and modify an existing metal structure. For example, it can be used to change the grain size of a metal or to make elements more homogenous in their composition. 

Benefits of Heat Treatment

Heat treatment offers several major benefits when applied to metals:

  • Stronger materials: By strengthening a material’s structure, heat treatment can make a metal more resistant against wear and tear, corrosion and other factors that can cause breaks or cracks. 
  • Improved ductility and malleability: In many cases, heat treatment can also help improve the malleability and ductility of a metal. This makes it easier to shape and form into its desired shape. 
  • Increased machinability: As mentioned before, heat treating metals can make them more suitable for machining and other cutting operations. 
  • Boosting specialized properties: When we talk about specialized properties, we’re referring to things like corrosion resistance, magnetic properties, impact resistance and more. Heat treatment can help boost these properties significantly. 
  • Heat conductivity: For metals that need to facilitate the transfer of heat, heat treatment can be used to increase their thermal conductivity.

Possible Drawbacks of Heat Treatment

Although there are several key benefits to heat-treating metals, this process does come with some potential drawbacks as well: 

High energy usage and costs: Heat treatment requires a significant amount of energy to perform, which can lead to an increase in electricity costs for businesses. 

Possible warping or cracking: If the metal is heated too quickly, it can cause major warping and cracking issues that may require further processing or additional repairs. 

Undesirable property changes: Heat treatment can sometimes result in undesirable property changes, such as reducing a metal’s ductility or making it too brittle. 

Requires expertise: The process of heat treating metals requires specialized knowledge and expertise. Without the right guidance, it is easy to make mistakes that could further damage the metal or negatively impact its properties. 

Regardless of the project you’re working on that involves steel or other metals, heat treatment is an important process to consider. With its ability to improve and refine certain properties and boost the strength of different metals, heat treating is often seen as a valuable tool in many metalworking industries. With the right guidance and expertise, this process can help ensure that your final product meets all of its desired requirements and specifications. 

At Wasatch Steel, we specialize in a wide range of steel products and services to meet all of your metalworking needs. Contact us today to learn more about what we have to offer to clients around SLC or other parts of Utah.