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Cryogenic hardening :

Cryogenic hardening is a heat treatment in which the material is cooled to cryogenic


temperatures to the order of -185 C, usually using liquid nitrogen. It can have a profound effect
on the mechanical properties of certain steels, provided their composition and prior heat
treatment are such that they retain some austenite at room temperature. It is designed to
increase the amount of martensite in the steels crystal structure, increasing its strength and
hardness, sometimes at the cost of toughness. !resently this treatment is "eing practiced over
tool steels, high-car"on, and high-chromium steels to o"tain e#cellent wear resistance. $ecent
research
%citation needed&
shows that there is precipitation of fine car"ides 'eta car"ides( in the matri#
during this treatment which imparts very high wear resistance to the steels.
)he transformation from austenite to martensite is mostly accomplished through quenching, "ut
in general it is driven farther and farther toward completion as temperature decreases. In higher-
alloy steels such as austenitic stainless steel, the onset of transformation can require
temperatures much lower than room temperature. *ore commonly, an incomplete
transformation occurs in the initial quench, so that cryogenic treatments merely enhance the
effects of prior quenching.
It should "e noted that the transformation "etween these phases is instantaneous and not at all
dependent upon diffusion, and also that this treatment causes more complete hardening rather
than moderating e#treme hardness, "oth of which ma+e the term ,cryogenic tempering,
technically incorrect.
-ardening can also "e accomplished "y cold wor+ at cryogenic temperatures. )he defects
introduced "y plastic deformation at these low temperatures are often quite different from the
dislocations that usually form at room temperature, and produce materials changes that in some
ways resem"le the effects of shoc+ hardening. .hile this process is more effective than
traditional cold wor+, it serves mainly as a theoretical test "ed for more economical processes
such as e#plosive forging.
*any alloys that do not undergo martensitic transformation have "een su"/ected to the same
treatments as steels--that is, cooled with no provisions for cold wor+. If any "enefit is seen from
such a process, one plausi"le e#planation is that thermal e#pansion causes minor "ut
permanent deformation of the material.
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