Few manufacturers are aware of laser heat-treating technology and how it can be used. Market awareness of laser heat-treating is familiar to almost every laser shop involved in processing materials. Designers and manufacturers just don’t know what the laser can do. But the fact remains, no other heat-treating process can control depth and hardness within a few percent like the laser can.
In spite of its status as a largely unknown technology, the laser is an established and recognized method for heat-treating the surface of carbon-based steels. It is used for small components such as guide rails, bearing seats, and wire drawing capstans, as well as for very large components such as coiling mandrels, steel rolls, and mold machine shafts. In fact, laser heat-treating is used in almost every industry that processes or uses carbon-based steel in its products. It is highly attractive because the laser heat-treating process produces a finer grain structure than other conventional heat-treating methods, thus providing better wear and fatigue characteristics.
Unfortunately, there are few options are available to manufacturers who want to exploit this technology. There may be fewer than two dozen job shops in the US that have the types of lasers needed to do heat-treating and have enough knowledge of the process to provide laser heat-treating services.
Laser design and construction over the past 20 years have resulted in lasers of varying construction, power, and size. The Nd:YAG laser and the CO2 gas laser have become the most popular types for working with steel.
Most YAG lasers generally operate at power levels of less than 2 kilowatts and are suitable for cutting, drilling, and seam welding. CO2 lasers can be made to generate up to 25 kilowatts, with those from 3 to 5 kilowatts being used most often for surface heat-treating and other materials processing applications.
The CO2 laser tends to be used more widely for these applications because they can deliver a beam ½-inch square with an energy density of 2 kilowatts per square centimeter or more. Beyond that, CO2 lasers are less expensive in terms of dollars per kilowatt delivered.
The big payoff
Laser heat-treating does not require those post-treatment operations, so the costs associated with laser heat-treating can look higher than other options. Laser equipment cost is a drawback, and optic systems are expensive to procure, maintain, and operate, and they require special expertise. However, many manufacturers turn to materials processing job shops to handle a significant portion of their heat-treating needs without investing in equipment themselves.
If you have components that require case hardening and you’re tired of problems of distortion and failure, call BMR Group at 260-635-2195 or send an email to discover how easy it can be to gain the advantages of laser heat treating.