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


Vapor-Pressure-Curves wsWhen performing any type of vacuum heat treatment it is always important to be aware of the possibility of evaporation and/or sublimation of elements, which can be present in the material being processed, introduced into the vacuum system with the workload, inherent in the equipment design or introduced during maintenance, repair or rebuilds. In cases where evaporation may be a concern, the vaporization rate is of prime importance and is directly related to the furnace pressure (the higher the pressure, the more frequent the collision of gas molecules and correspondingly, the few metal atoms leave the metal’s surface).

What is Evaporation? Vaporization is the process that occurs when a chemical or element is converted from a liquid (or a solid) to a gas. When a liquid is converted to a gas, the process is called evaporation or boiling; when a solid is converted to a gas, the process is called sublimation. The pressure exerted by the vapor of a liquid in a confined space is called its vapor pressure. As the temperature increases so too does its vapor pressure. Conversely, the vapor pressure decreases as the temperature decreases. By Dan Herring


Figure-4 wsVacuum deposition is a generic term used to describe a type of surface engineering treatment used to deposit layers of material onto a substrate. The types of coatings include metals (e.g., cadmium, chromium, copper, nickel, titanium) and nonmetals (e.g., ceramic matrix composites of carbon/carbon, carbon/silicon carbide, etc.), deposited in thin layers (i.e. atom by atom or molecule by molecule) on the surface.

Vapor deposition technologies include processes that put materials into a vapor state via condensation, chemical reaction, or conversion. When the vapor phase is produced by condensation from a liquid or solid source, the process is called physical vapor deposition (PVD). When produced from a chemical reaction, the process is known as chemical vapor deposition (CVD). These processes are typically conducted in a vacuum environment with or without the use of plasma (i.e., ionized gas from which particles can be extracted), which adds kinetic energy to the surface (rather than thermal energy) and allows for reduced processing temperature. By Dan Herring


vacuum-furnace-wsTungsten is used in vacuum furnaces when there is a need for structural integrity at elevated temperature and/or in situations where other materials may degrade, such as when lower melting point eutectics are a concern. One example of its use in is roller rail assemblies in which graphite wheels are positioned between molybdenum rails using tungsten axles.

Tungsten (chemical symbol W) is a member of the family of refractory metal (Mo, Nb, Re, Ta, W) and has the highest melting point and vapor pressure of this group. Due to this unique property, it is commonly used as a material of construction in specific areas of vacuum furnace hot zones operating above 1315ºC (2400ºF). Tungsten can also be used for heating elements given that it has the highest duty temperature, typically 2800°C (5075°F). In practice, this rating is often downgraded as it is for all heating element material choices. Tungsten will become brittle, however, if exposed to oxygen or water vapor and is sensitive to changes in emissivity. In general, tungsten is resistant to corrosion below 60% relative humidity. By Dan Herring