Induction: the Answer to Heat TreatmentsFri, 09/01/2017 - 23:26
No company is an island. There will always be areas where partners are needed to fill gaps in expertise. The more complicated the process, the greater the need for help to maintain quality, says Mario Galindo, Operations Director Mexico of Contour Hardening, a specialist in heat-treatment processes for metals. Companies cannot be experts in everything and metallurgy is a complicated science. "We are on hand to help them maintain a certain level of quality,” he says.
Contour Hardening is an equipment provider and outsourcing company for heat treatments. In Mexico, its plant is located in Silao, in the state of Guanajuato. Although some clients prefer to own their own machines, Galindo has big expectations for the company’s outsourcing operations. “We see the biggest room for development in our outsourcing services. Due to volume variability in parts production, not all companies want to invest in a machine.” As experts in heat-treatment solutions, it was natural for the company to start offering this service rather than just selling the machines, Galindo adds.
The global metal heat-treatment market has the potential to reach 6.2 percent compound annual growth between 2016 and 2020, according to Research and Markets, putting Contour Hardening in an advantageous position. Galindo says that the induction technology employed by the company is one of the most innovative solutions in the industry. “Induction heat treatments have proven effective in eliminating distortion problems,” he says. “It also ensures our quality and process replicability.”
A traditional heat-treatment procedure requires components to go through a carburizing process. After hours of heating, the metal’s microstructure is hardened. The part usually has to go through an additional tempering process to reduce its fragility. One alternative is to treat the component using nitriding or carbonitriding. The time spent on this heat treatment is lowered but distortion is unavoidable while furnace variables remain the same. The equipment used in induction processes, however, like those used by Contour Hardening, offers tolerances of up to 12μm of distortion. As a result, the client sees considerable savings in post-machining and rectifying processes. A heat-treatment process varies in duration for each component but in general, when using a conventional furnace it lasts one hour for every inch of thickness. An induction process uses electricity to heat the material through electromagnetic induction and requires less than a second to get the part to the desired temperature.
The only inconvenience Galindo sees in induction technology is energy costs. “Induction heat treatment is the most innovative and sustainable alternative in the market,” he says. “But energy is expensive in Mexico compared to in the US, for example.” According to the Ministry of Energy and the Energy Information Administration (EIA), energy prices in Mexico were approximately 65 percent higher compared to tariffs in the US before 2013. This could change as the Energy Reform revamps the market and prices.
The company has projected growth of approximately 5 percent by the end of 2016 and for 2017. Contour Hardening works with OEMs and suppliers within the automotive sector but sees opportunities in the aerospace industry too. Galindo hopes the company will eventually grow 10 percent across all its divisions, which would be well over the sector’s 6.2 percent, although the 5 percent figure is more realistic in the short term.
Contour Hardening has been in Mexico for nine years and 95 percent of its exports go to the US. Galindo acknowledges the current economic situation between the two countries is difficult. “After experiencing the crisis of 2009, which Contour Hardening survived, we expect a similar or even more complicated situation for the industry in 2017.” Nevertheless, he does not perceive a true risk for Mexico’s commercial partnership with the US. Galindo expects Mexico’s plans to diversify into other countries will prove to be a sound strategy and encourages the decision to start looking toward new markets.