h-vacuum-furnace wsAcquisition of a vacuum furnace represents a major capital equipment investment and one that creates a long-term relationship with your supplier partner. Thus the choice of what to buy and who to purchase it from requires careful planning and considerable up-front research.

You need to know when and how to apply vacuum technology, if it will be the most cost effective solution for what you need to do, what questions to ask and what information to provide. The process begins by understanding your specific needs and asking all the right questions. Is it more prudent to upgrade an older piece of equipment, purchase new or purchase used? Is it better to have one large furnace or two smaller ones? Is a batch solution best or is a continuous approach better? By Dan Herring 

vac-aero-vacuum-furnace-wsFastener applications are demanding. Whether fasteners are being used in the petrochemical industry, in medical or mining applications, for assembly of marine or nuclear components or in the aerospace, automotive or construction world, vacuum processing allows us to repeatedly achieve the highest quality and metallurgy.

Most fastener materials, including stainless steels and superalloy grades, benefit from or actually require vacuum processing for heat treatment instead of being run under protective atmospheres. In general, there are three main sets of applications that where vacuum heat treatment is used: processes that can be done in no other way than in vacuum; processes that can be done better in vacuum from a metallurgical standpoint or processes that can be done better in vacuum from an economic standpoint. By Dan Herring


vac-aero-WSWe continue our discussion on the maintenance of vacuum furnaces. In Parts One and Two we talked about establishing a sound maintenance strategy, implementing that strategy and working on critical components of the vacuum system to return the unit to full operational status. Let’s continue this discussion.

General MaintenanceThe following additional topics comprise the critical areas and systems that routinely require maintenance to ensure they operate correctly. Hot Zone MaintenanceAfter ensuring proper ventilation and following all safety guidelines with respect to asphyxiation and confined space entry, the interior of the hot zone should be inspected after every load. The bottom of the hot zone should be cleaned of all debris and foreign matter and the heating elements and heating element connections inspected for damage and tightness. Graphite heating elements can in some instances be patched and the damaged section replaced with a new element section. Molybdenum heating elements can be repaired although no more than three (3) repairs are recommended per element band. By Dan Herring. 

vac-aero-vacuum-furnace wsWe continue our discussion on the maintenance of vacuum furnaces. Part One talked about establishing a sound maintenance strategy and once this has been determined, the real maintenance work can begin. Let’s talk about the specifics on what, when, how and why we maintain certain critical components on our vacuum furnaces.

Vacuum furnaces come in all shapes and sizes and have many common features and operational/maintenance needs. However, it is important to understand the particular needs of the vacuum furnaces in your shop to have an effective maintenance program. When performing maintenance it is important to have a written plan defining the specific task to be performed, and the reason why a particular task is necessary (i.e. purpose of the task). A work order should be issued and the work signed off upon completion (which includes testing to ensure that the repair was successful). By Dan Herring

Intro wsToday, the maintenance of heat treatment equipment is a point of major emphasis and this is especially true for vacuum furnaces. Over the next few articles we will explore various aspects of vacuum furnace maintenance providing useful tips and practical techniques to simplify the work and make sure that it is done correctly. Let’s begin by understanding the importance of the role of maintenance, and more specifically, how planned preventative maintenance is helping to manage the overall cost of equipment operation.

Maintenance is a fact of life for heat treat equipment. In general, the cost of maintenance increases dramatically as the operating temperature increases and/or the process environment becomes more severe (e.g. carburizing versus hardening). This remains true in vacuum furnaces despite the fact that they are often operated below their maximum temperature ratings. As with all equipment, some styles and designs require more attention than others. It is interesting to note, however, that construction of heat treat equipment can often be classified as “heavy duty” or “light duty” by the amount of maintenance required. Of course, if any furnace is operated outside their design limitations, this almost always translates to a need for more extensive maintenance. By Dan Herring


Figure-2 wsKnowledge of vapor pressure and rates of evaporation of various materials is valuable information for those operating vacuum furnaces, whether we are heat treating or brazing at high temperature and low vacuum levels or dealing with outgassing at very low temperatures and pressures.

When we think about a solid or liquid in a sealed vessel, we find that, even at room temperature and atmospheric pressure, there are molecules that leave the surface and go into the gaseous phase. The gas phase thus formed is called a vapor. The process of forming a vapor is known as evaporation and the rate of evaporation is determined by the temperature of the substance involved. In time, some of the evaporated molecules will, in all likelihood in the course of random movement, strike and stick to the surface of the vessel. This process is known as condensation and the rate of condensation is determined by the concentration of gas molecules (that is, the pressure of the evacuated gas). Eventually, the number of molecules leaving the surface of the substance is equal to the number returning to it (that is, the evaporation rate equals the condensation rate) and we have dynamic equilibrium. The (partial) pressure at which this occurs is known as the vapor pressure of the substance.2 Below this pressure, surface evaporation occurs faster than condensation, while above it, surface evaporation is slower. By Dan Herring

Figure-2 wsLow temperature heat treatments that involve a vacuum purge at the onset of the cycle have become increasingly popular throughout the industry. These operations are conducted in vacuum furnaces and furnaces that employ a vacuum purge prior to the beginning of the heat process with parts placed inside a special vacuum tight vessel or in a retort. Processing being run using these methods take advantage of a highly controlled environment designed to minimize surface interactions.

Low temperature vacuum heat treatment is used by both captive and commercial heat treaters and spans such diverse markets as Aerospace, Automotive, Electronics, Optics, Housewares, Industrial Products, Tool & Die, Military/Defense and Farm Implement to name a few. Most processes run in the temperatures range of 175°C – 730°C (350°F – 1350°F). Special applications extend these ranges down to as low as 120°C (250°F) and up to as high as 925°C (1700°F), but this is unusual. Temperature uniformity in dedicated furnaces is considered excellent throughout the standard temperature ranges listed. By Dan Herring

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