Aluminum is a versatile engineering material. Few materials, in fact, are like it. Light, durable, and malleable, aluminum has transformed the way we build a wide variety of products and things, from airplanes to automobiles. We even use aluminum in buildings, bridges, and other engineering applications. Global consumption of aluminum will increase to about 80 million metric tons by 2029.
But aluminum also has its drawbacks. It becomes soft at temperatures above 400° C, for example, so you can’t use it at high temperatures. Fortunately, aluminum easily binds with other materials, like iron, silicon, copper, magnesium, manganese, and zinc. Combining these materials with aluminum allows you to add other elements to boost the material’s strength and mechanical properties.
One technique for changing aluminum is age-hardening. Metals age naturally over time, which transforms the material. But the demand for fast deliveries and efficient shipping logistics make storing a metal on production floors impractical. Heat-treating aluminum using an industrial batch oven can speed up the metal’s aging and create the mechanical properties in an alloy that manufacturers desire.
Age-Hardening with Batch Ovens
Age hardening occurs in three stages. In the first stage, you treat the metal with a solution at high temperatures. This treatment generally occurs in the 450 to 575°C (842 to 1067°F) range in air. Then, you rapidly cool the metal, generating a super solid solution in a metastable state. Finally, you heat this supersaturated solution to an intermediate temperature, inducing precipitation. Age hardening occurs much faster at higher temperatures.
Much age hardening of aluminum occurs in industrial batch ovens using hot air circulation to provide heat transfer by convection. The benefits of industrial batch ovens are compelling. Batch ovens are versatile, flexible, and functional at many production stages. Many are also user-friendly. Batch ovens are ideal for a braod range of manufacturing processes in addition to age-hardening, including drying, baking, and pre-heating.
Batch ovens are well-suited for production processes that need environmental control or isolation to complete the process. These ovens are ideal for precision aging aluminum and aluminum-based alloys, thanks to their heat-treating capabilities. Uniform heat transfer for this process, however, requires that the heated air is in contact with all of the load simultaneously. It also requires that the air temperature is uniform. Batch ovens can meet each of these requirements with ease. What’s more, batch ovens can accommodate large or oddly shaped parts. These parts will be evenly treated within a batch oven. Batch ovens are available as benchtop and walk-in batch models for extra-large products or parts that need heat-treating. These ovens allow you to control or regulate the temperature within them easily. Plus, they’re generally less expensive to produce than continuous ovens and require less maintenance.
Choosing a Batch Oven for Your Application
Choosing the right batch oven for precision again aluminum, however, is critical. Batch ovens are ideal for applications where load size and production volumes vary significantly. They also work well in situations requiring increased flexibility in terms of process variables or dwell (soak) times. Having determined that a batch oven will fit your needs, you’ll then need to address the following considerations:
- Chamber size for the oven
- Temperature requirements
- Temperature uniformity needs
- Best airflow for product loads
- Design and construction details
- Special processing needs (if any)
- Required controller capabilities
The chamber size of a batch oven depends on several factors—the product or part’s size, the number of products in each batch, the number of batches per day to meet production demands. Manufacturers can tailor an industrial batch oven to your needs.
Increases Productivity and Profitability
Aluminum is a remarkable engineering material. Its low density and high corrosion resistance make it an ideal material for numerous uses. Aluminum is also highly versatile. While aluminum has its drawbacks, it’s easily alloyed with other materials to produce aluminum-based materials with specific properties. In addition, precision age hardening of aluminum can help you add the right strength and mechanical properties, allowing you to use aluminum in a wide variety of applications.
Many manufacturers use industrial batch ovens with hot-air circulation to generate heat treatment by convection to age harden aluminum. These ovens help produce superior hardening of aluminum and aluminum casts—materials commonly used in the automotive, aerospace, manufacturing, and transportation industries. But choosing the right batch oven for you is a challenge.