Furnace atmospheres play a vital role in the success of the heat-treating process. When it comes to commercial heat treating, it is vital that the correct process is chosen due to the large quantities of produce. It is important for the heat treater to understand why we use them and what the best atmosphere is for a specific application. Many different types of atmospheres are used. It is critical to understand how a particular atmosphere is chosen as well as its advantages and disadvantages and to learn how to control them safely.
In simplest terms, the purpose of a furnace atmosphere varies with the desired end result of the heat-treating process. The atmospheres used in the heat-treating industry have one of two common purposes:
• To protect the material being processed from surface reactions, i.e., to be chemically inert (or protective)
• To allow the surface of the material being processed to change, i.e., to be chemically active (or reactive)
The proper selection of a furnace atmosphere is highly dependent on both the desired purpose of the atmosphere and/or the type of heat treatment being performed.
Additional examples of the uses of furnace atmospheres include:
• Purging air (oxygen) from a furnace
• Controlling the surface chemistry to prevent oxidation and/or reduction reactions from occurring
• Controlling the surface chemistry to allow oxidation and/or reduction reactions to take place
• Avoiding decarburization of the surface
• Allowing surface-chemistry reactions for the purpose of introducing a chemical species such as carbon (carburizing) or nitrogen (nitriding)
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