Induction Forge


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An induction furnace is an electrical furnace in which the heat is applied by induction heating of metal. The advantage of the induction furnace is a clean, energy-efficient and well-controllable melting process compared to most other means of metal melting. Most modern foundries use this type of furnace and now also more iron foundries are replacing cupolas with induction furnaces to melt cast iron, as the former emit lots of dust and other pollutants. Induction furnace capacities range from less than one kilogram to one hundred tonnes capacity and are used to melt iron and steel, copper, aluminium and precious metals. Since no arc or combustion is used, the temperature of the material is no higher than required to melt it; this can prevent loss of valuable alloying elements.[1] The one major drawback to induction furnace usage in a foundry is the lack of refining capacity; charge materials must be clean of oxidation products and of a known composition and some alloying elements may be lost due to oxidation (and must be re-added to the melt).

Operating frequencies range from utility frequency (50 or 60 Hz) to 400 kHz or higher, usually depending on the material being melted, the capacity (volume) of the furnace and the melting speed required. Generally, the smaller the volume of the melts, the higher the frequency of the furnace used; this is due to the skin depth which is a measure of the distance an alternating current can penetrate beneath the surface of a conductor. For the same conductivity, the higher frequencies have a shallow skin depth - that is less penetration into the melt. Lower frequencies can generate stirring or turbulence in the metal.

A preheated, 1-tonne furnace melting iron can melt cold charge to tapping readiness within an hour. Power supplies range from 10 kW to 15 MW, with melt sizes of 20 kg to 30 tonne of metal respectively.

An operating induction furnace usually emits a hum or whine (due to fluctuating magnetic forces and magnetostriction), the pitch of which can be used by operators to identify whether the furnace is operating correctly or at what power level.

Induction Forging

Induction forging refers to the use of an induction heater to pre-heat metals prior to deformation using a press or hammer. Typically metals are heated to between 1,100 °C (2,010 °F) and 1,200 °C (2,190 °F) to increase their malleability and aid flow in the forging die.[1]

Process

Induction heating is a non-contact process which uses the principle of electromagnetic induction to produce heat in a workpiece. By placing a conductive material into a strong alternating magnetic field, electrical current is made to flow in the material, thereby causing Joule heating. In magnetic materials, further heat is generated below the Curie point due to hysteresis losses. The generated current flows predominantly in the surface layer, the depth of this layer being dictated by the frequency of the alternating field and the permeability of the material.[2]

Power consumption

Power supplies for induction forging vary in power from a few kilowatts to many megawatts and, depending on the component geometry, can vary in frequency from 50 Hz to 200 kHz. The majority of applications use the range between 1 kHz and 100 kHz.[3]

In order to select the correct power it is necessary to first calculate the thermal energy required to raise the material to the required temperature in the time allotted. This can be done using the heat content of the material which is normal expressed in KW hours per tonne the weight of metal to be processed and the time cycle. Once this has been established other factors such as radiated losses from the component, coil losses and other system losses need to be factored in. Traditionally this process involved lengthy and complex calculations in conjunction with a mixture of practical experience and empirical formula. Modern techniques utilise finite element analysis[4] and other computer aided modeling techniques, however as with all such methods a thorough working knowledge of the induction heating process is still required.

Output frequency

The second major parameter to be considered is the output frequency of the power source. As the heat is predominantly generated in the surface of the component it is important to select a frequency which offers the deepest practical penetration depth into the material without running the risk of current cancellation.[5] It will be appreciated that as only the skin is being heated time will be required for the heat to penetrate to the centre of the component and that if too much power is applied too quickly it is possible to melt the surface of the component whilst leaving the core cool. Utilising thermal conductivity data for the material[6] and the customers specified homogeneity (physics) requirements regarding the cross sectional ∆T it is possible to calculate or create a model to establish the heat time required. In many cases the time to achieve an acceptable ∆T will exceed what can be achieved by heating the components one at a time. A range of handling solutions including conveyors, in line feeders, pusher systems and walking beam feeders are utilised to facilitate the heating of multiple components whilst delivering single components to the operator at the required time cycle.

Advantages

Process controllability - Unlike a traditional gas furnace the induction system requires no pre-heat cycle or controlled shutdown. The heat is available on demand. In addition to the benefits of rapid availability in the event of a downstream interruption to production the power can be switched off thus saving energy and reducing scaling on the components.

Types

Bar end heating

Bar end heating is typically used where only a portion of the bar is to be forged. Typical applications of bar end heating are

Subject to the required throughput, handling systems can vary from simple 2 or 3 station pneumatic pusher systems to walking beams and conveyors.

Billet heating

In the induction billet heater the whole of the billet or slug is heated. Normally for short billets or slugs a hopper or bowl is used to automatically present the billets in line to pinch rollers, chain driven tractor units or in some cases pneumatic pushers. The billets are then driven through the coil one behind the other on water cooled rails or ceramic liners are used through the coil bore which reduce friction and prevent wear. The length of the coil is a function of the required soak time, the cycle time per component and the length of the billet. In high volume large cross section work it is not unusual to have 4 or 5 coils in series to give 5 m (16 ft) of coil or more.[8]

Typical parts processed by in line billet heating:[9]

For long billets, single shot heating can be used. This process utilises similar systems to bar end heating except that the whole of the billet is driven into individual coils. As with bar end heating the number of coils is governed by ∆T required and the thermal properties of the material being heated.

Typical parts processed by single shot billet heating:[10]

Induction hardening is a form of heat treatment in which a metal part is heated by induction heating and then quenched. The quenched metal undergoes a martensitic transformation, increasing the hardness and brittleness of the part. Induction hardening is used to selectively harden areas of a part or assembly without affecting the properties of the part as a whole.[1]

Process

Induction heating is a non contact heating process which utilises the principle of electromagnetic induction to produce heat inside the surface layer of a work-piece. By placing a conductive material into a strong alternating magnetic field electrical current can be made to flow in the steel thereby creating heat due to the I2R losses in the material. In magnetic materials, further heat is generated below the curie point due to hysteresis losses. The current generated flows predominantly in the surface layer, the depth of this layer being dictated by the frequency of the alternating field, the surface power density, the permeability of the material, the heat time and the diameter of the bar or material thickness. By quenching this heated layer in water, oil or a polymer based quench the surface layer is altered to form a martensitic structure which is harder than the base metal.[2]

Definition

A widely used process for the surface hardening of steel. The components are heated by means of an alternating magnetic field to a temperature within or above the transformation range followed by immediate quenching. The core of the component remains unaffected by the treatment and its physical properties are those of the bar from which it was machined, whilst the hardness of the case can be within the range 37/58 HRC. Carbon and alloy steels with an equivalent carbon content in the range 0.40/0.45% are most suitable for this process.[1]

A source of high frequency electricity is used to drive a large alternating current through a coil. The passage of current through this coil generates a very intense and rapidly changing magnetic field in the space within the work coil. The workpiece to be heated is placed within this intense alternating magnetic field where eddy currents are generated within the workpiece and resistance leads to Joule heating of the metal.

This operation is most commonly used in steel alloys. Many mechanical parts, such as shafts, gears, and springs, are subjected to surface treatments, before the delivering, in order to improve wear behavior. The effectiveness of these treatments depends both on surface materials properties modification and on the introduction of residual stress. Among these treatments, induction hardening is one of the most widely employed to improve component durability. It determines in the work-piece a tough core with tensile residual stresses and a hard surface layer with compressive stress, which have proved to be very effective in extending the component fatigue life and wear resistance.[3]

Induction surface hardened low alloyed medium carbon steels are widely used for critical automotive and machine applications which require high wear resistance. Wear resistance behavior of induction hardened parts depends on hardening depth and the magnitude and distribution of residual compressive stress in the surface layer.[2]

History

The basis of all induction heating systems was discovered in 1831 by Michael Faraday. Faraday proved that by winding two coils of wire around a common magnetic core it was possible to create a momentary emf in the second winding by switching the electric current in the first winding on and off. He further observed that if the current was kept constant, no emf was induced in the second winding and that this current flowed in opposite directions subject to whether the current was increasing or decreasing in the circuit.[4]

Faraday concluded that an electric current can be produced by a changing magnetic field. As there was no physical connection between the primary and secondary windings, the emf in the secondary coil was said to be induced and so Faraday's law of induction was born. Once discovered, these principles were employed over the next century or so in the design of dynamos (electrical generators and electric motors, which are variants of the same thing) and in forms of electrical transformers. In these applications, any heat generated in either the electrical or magnetic circuits was felt to be undesirable. Engineers went to great lengths and used laminated cores and other methods to minimise the effects.[4]

Early last century the principles were explored as a means to melt steel, and the motor generator was developed to provide the power required for the induction furnace. After general acceptance of the methodology for melting steel, engineers began to explore other possibilities for the utilisation of the process. It was already understood that the depth of current penetration in steel was a function of its magnetic permeability, resistivity and the frequency of the applied field. Engineers at Midvale Steel and The Ohio Crankshaft Company drew on this knowledge to develop the first surface hardening induction heating systems using motor generators.[5]

The need for rapid easily automated systems led to massive advances in the understanding and utilisation of the induction hardening process and by the late 1950s many systems utilising motor generators and thermionic emission triode oscillators were in regular use in a vast array of industries. Modern day induction heating units utilise the latest in semiconductor technology and digital control systems to develop a range of powers from 1 kW to many megawatts.

Principal methods

Single shot hardening

In single shot systems the component is held statically or rotated in the coil and the whole area to be treated is heated simultaneously for a pre-set time followed by either a flood quench or a drop quench system. Single shot is often used in cases where no other method will achieve the desired result for example for flat face hardening of hammers, edge hardening complex shaped tools or the production of small gears.[6]

In the case of shaft hardening a further advantage of the single shot methodology is the production time compared with progressive traverse hardening methods. In addition the ability to use coils which can create longitudinal current flow in the component rather than diametric flow can be an advantage with certain complex geometry.

There are disadvantages with the single shot approach. The coil design can be an extremely complex and involved process. Often the use of ferrite or laminated loading materials is required to influence the magnetic field concentrations in given areas thereby to refine the heat pattern produced. Another drawback is that much more power is required due to the increased surface area being heated compared with a traverse approach.[7]

Traverse hardening

In traverse hardening systems the work piece is passed through the induction coil progressively and a following quench spray or ring is utilised. Traverse hardening is used extensively in the production of shaft type components such as axle shafts, excavator bucket pins, steering components, power tool shafts and drive shafts. The component is fed through a ring type inductor which normally features a single turn. The width of the turn is dictated by the traverse speed, the available power and frequency of the generator. This creates a moving band of heat which when quenched creates the hardened surface layer. The quench ring can be either integral a following arrangement or a combination of both subject to the requirements of the application. By varying speed and power it is possible to create a shaft which is hardened along its whole length or just in specific areas and also to harden shafts with steps in diameter or splines. It is normal when hardening round shafts to rotate the part during the process to ensure any variations due to concentricity of the coil and the component are removed.

Traverse methods also feature in the production of edge components, such as paper knives, leather knives, lawnmower bottom blades, and hacksaw blades. These types of application normally utilise a hairpin coil or a transverse flux coil which sits over the edge of the component. The component is progressed through the coil and a following spray quench consisting of nozzles or drilled blocks.

Many methods are used to provide the progressive movement through the coil and both vertical and horizontal systems are used. These normally employ a digital encoder and programmable logic controller for the positional control, switching, monitoring, and setting. In all cases the speed of traverse needs to be closely controlled and consistent as variation in speed will have an effect on the depth of hardness and the hardness value achieved.

Equipment

Power required

Power supplies for induction hardening vary in power from a few kilowatts to hundreds of kilowatts dependent of the size of the component to be heated and the production method employed i.e. single shot hardening, traverse hardening or submerged hardening.

In order to select the correct power supply it is first necessary to calculate the surface area of the component to be heated. Once this has been established then a variety of methods can be used to calculate the power density required, heat time and generator operating frequency. Traditionally this was done using a series of graphs, complex empirical calculations and experience. Modern techniques typically utilise finite element analysis and Computer-aided manufacturing techniques, however as with all such methods a thorough working knowledge of the induction heating process is still required.

For single shot applications the total area to be heated needs to be calculated. In the case of traverse hardening the circumference of the component is multiplied by the face width of the coil. Care must be exercised when selecting a coil face width that it is practical to construct the coil of the chosen width and that it will live at the power required for the application.

Frequency

Induction heating systems for hardening are available in a variety of different operating frequencies typically from 1 kHz to 400 kHz. Higher and lower frequencies are available but typically these will be used for specialist applications. The relationship between operating frequency and current penetration depth and therefore hardness depth is inversely proportional. i.e. the lower the frequency the deeper the case.






Case Depth [mm] Bar Diameter [mm] Frequency [kHz]
0.8 to 1.5 5 to 25 200 to 400
1.5 to 3.0 10 to 50 10 to 100
>50 3 to 10
3.0 - 10.0 20 to 50 3 to 10
50 to 100 1 to 3
>100 1
Examples of frequencies for various case depths and material diameters


The above table is purely illustrative, good results can be obtained outside these ranges by balancing power densities, frequency and other practical considerations including cost which may influence the final selection, heat time and coil width. As well as the power density and frequency, the time the material is heated for will influence the depth to which the heat will flow by conduction. The time in the coil can be influenced by the traverse speed and the coil width, however this will also have an effect on the overall power requirement or the equipment throughput.

It can be seen from the above table that the selection of the correct equipment for any application can be extremely complex as more than one combination of power, frequency and speed can be used for a given result. However in practice many selections are immediately obvious based on previous experience and practicality.




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