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Enhancing the lifetime of metal-forming equipment

EU-funded researchers developed new materials and methods for surface treatment of metal-forming machines that promise to extend their lifetimes and thus reduce manufacturing costs.
Enhancing the lifetime of metal-forming equipment
Metal components are used extensively in industry. Among the methods used to produce them are die forging and die casting.

Die forging is a process by which a metal is essentially hammered with very large forces between two dies to form a certain shape, much as the classical hammer and anvil. Die casting uses high pressures to force molten metal into a mould to shape and form it.

Given the very extreme service conditions of forging and casting dies, several methods are typically employed to harden the metal surfaces, enhancing wear resistance and thus increasing die lifetime. Among these is a combination of laser alloying and subsequent nitriding or nitrocarburising.

Laser alloying uses focused laser sources to melt metal powder coatings with specific properties onto other metals (an alloy is a structure of two or more metals). Nitriding and nitrocarburising are surface-hardening heat treatments that introduce nitrogen or nitrogen, carbon and oxygen, respectively, into the surface of a metal.

European researchers working on the 'Increased service lifetime of forging tools by combined surface treatments' (FORBEST) project sought to develop enhanced surface treatments via new materials compositions and processes for laser alloying and nitriding to extend the lifetime of forging and aluminium die casting moulds.

The team investigated new additive materials and their properties for use in the laser alloying process with samples of simple structure. Following laser alloying, investigators carried out plasma nitriding or nitrocarburising.

Researchers then applied the novel surface treatments to selected dies and moulds, optimising parameters dependent on the specific application and comparing surface treatments and their combinations to conventional methods both with respect to technical and economic considerations.

FORBEST materials and techniques extended the lifetime of forging and die casting moulds up to three times, demonstrating superior wear resistance leading to reduced manufacturing costs.

Thus, use of the new materials and modified processes developed by the FORBEST project team in surface treatment of die forging and die casting equipment has the potential to significantly enhance the competitive position of European manufacturers and producers in this very large sector of the economy.

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