What’s thermal cycling?

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Thermal cycling improves material strength and performance by optimizing molecular structure, removing microscopic defects, and improving corrosion resistance. It is most effective on metal parts, improving longevity, stress resistance, and fatigue strength while also enhancing surface characteristics and post-production processes.

Thermal cycling is a process of producing alternative cooling and heating material to improve its strength and performance. This process induces the so-called molecular reorganization, optimizing the molecular structure of a material and making it denser and more uniform. Most of the microscopic manufacturing defects such as cracks and pockets are removed during this process, thus improving the longevity and stress resistant qualities. Metal parts subjected to thermal cycling treatments are also less prone to metal fatigue failure caused by internal corrosion and vibration. External corrosion resistance is also improved, as are post-production processes such as brazing and plating when heat treatments are applied.

While thermal cycling is an effective process on several types of materials including composites, ceramics and plastics, it is most commonly associated with its beneficial effect on metal parts. Most cast, forged, or machined metal parts have numerous microscopic defects such as hairline cracks or crevices, and intermolecular pockets. While generally too small to see with the naked eye, these imperfections are a common source of component failures due to impact or vibrational stress cracking and metal fatigue caused by internal corrosion. One of the most effective ways to remove a significant number of these defects is the thermal cycling process. This process involves repeatedly cooling or, less commonly, heating the part and then returning it to room temperature.

Also known as advanced cryogenics, the temperature modulation process has the effect of tightening or fixing the molecular structure of the part and removing many, if not all, of its microscopic defects. The absence of internal cavities and cracks minimizes the possibility of internal corrosion development, thus giving the part better stress management and quality of useful life. An added benefit of denser and more uniform crystalline structures in a metal part is the removal of uneven heating areas or hot spots which ensures optimum cooling characteristics. The removal of internal defects also makes the part more resistant to vibration and sympathetic resonance which further improves the fatigue strength of the metal.

However, the benefits of the thermal cycle process do not end here; a treated part also has better surface characteristics. This, in turn, means that the part is less likely to experience surface corrosion and finishes such as plating that are applied before heat cycling adhere better and last longer. The same applies to any silver solder and braze done prior to the cycle which also benefits from the thermal modulation process.

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