Figure 2a wsWe study vacuum science and vacuum engineering in order to better understand the role vacuum technology plays in creating useful engineered products (Fig. 1, Table 1). Manufacturing as we know it, and research and development as we have come to depend upon it, would not exist without the creation and control of the vacuum “atmosphere”.

Vacuum techniques are important in both the industrial setting and for the scientific community, whether it be in heat treatment or high-energy physics. At the heart of vacuum processing for manufacturing is the modern vacuum furnace. Ever since the introduction of the electric light at the beginning of the 20th century, society and manufacturing have been linked to advances in vacuum science and engineering. Examples include the development of modern computers to advanced transportation systems; the very fabric of modern society depends on vacuum technology. By Dan Herring 

figure 4 wsVacuum furnaces are available in numerous styles and sizes and come in both standard and custom configurations. They are designed to process an almost limitless number of both semi-finished component parts as well as raw materials using a diverse set of thermal processes in equipment available from a wide variety of different equipment manufacturers located around the world.

The intent here is to provide a brief overview of some of the more common designs and applications found throughout the heat-treatment industry. The hope is that the reader will come away with an understanding that there is a vacuum furnace solution to virtually any design, application or specification encountered.. By Dan Herring

vacaero vacuum furnace wsThe role of materials science (Fig. 1) is to study, develop, design, and perform processes that transform raw materials into useful engineering products intended to improve the quality of our lives. It is said by many that material science is the foundation upon which today’s technology is based and that real-world applications would not be possible without the materials scientist. The discipline has expanded to encompass materials for many highly specialized product applications.

The industrial revolution thrust metals into the forefront of technology, and they have stayed there ever since becoming the very foundation on which our modern society is built. One cannot envision a life where our transportation and communications systems, buildings and infrastructure, industrial machines and tools, and safety/convenience devices that are not an integral part of our daily lives. By Dan Herring 

burn hazard wsWhen problems arise, especially those related to safety, we want to know that we have isolated the root cause and instituted corrective action measures so as to avoid their reoccurrence. 

Worker safety and the safe operation of heat-treat equipment is both MANDATORY and NON-NEGOTIABLE, especially when operating and maintaining vacuum equipment where dangers of asphyxiation, electrocution and explosion are as real as they are with any other type of thermal processing equipment. “It won’t happen to me” is not a phrase that belongs in the heat-treat shop and provides a false sense of security to all involved. There is no substitute for understanding the inherent dangers, taking the necessary steps and placing the right safeguards in place to prevent accidents from happening. Safety and safety issues are a serious matter and should be treated as such by all individuals within the company. By Dan Herring 

Figure 2 wsWhen operating vacuum furnaces, situations may arise in which the hot zone and/or cold walls may become contaminated (Fig. Nos. 1 - 2). This can occur from a variety of sources: air leaks, outgassing from residues left on the parts as a result of the manufacturing or cleaning processes, vaporization of sensitive materials (e.g., chromium bearing materials), process induced contaminations such as carbon in the form of soot or tar, fluxes from brazing pastes, excess braze alloy as well as many other sources. Often times the work being processed is also affected (Fig. 3). The question becomes, how do we attempt to clean up our contaminated vacuum furnaces? By Dan Herring

joint-ni-p-interlayer wsMany of us who use vacuum furnaces are all too familiar with and have learned how to counteract the unintentional diffusion bonding that has been known to occur between component parts exposed to high temperatures and low vacuum levels.

By contrast, vacuum technology that has found an important niche is that of diffusion bonding by design2-6. Vacuum diffusion bonding relies on temperature, pressure, time, and (ultra low) vacuum levels to facilitate atomic exchange across the interface between the materials. The process will work on similar or dissimilar materials so long as they are in intimate contact with one another. Vacuum diffusion bonding can be performed with or without pressure being applied and with or without the assistance of a short-lived low melting point “filler metal” (i.e. “activation layers or interlayer”) to facilitate the joining process. By Dan Herring


pressure-relief-valves wsOne of the most critical components on any vacuum furnace is the pressure relief value. While its function is clear, the fact that it needs to be inspected – and tested is either not well understood or simply ignored. Normally positioned atop a vacuum furnace it is in an area that is not always conducive to maintenance, and complicated in many instances by the fact that only the manufacturer can service them

What is a Pressure Relief Valve? A pressure relief valve is a safety device designed to protect a vacuum furnace from over-pressurization. An overpressure event refers to any condition that would cause the pressure to increase beyond the specified design pressure (the so-called maximum allowable working pressure or MAWP). The pressure relief valve is an integral part of the safety system provided on most vacuum furnaces. Vacuum vessels, including evacuated chambers and associated piping pose a potential hazard to personnel and the equipment itself from collapse, rupture, or implosion. By Dan Herring