|In industry, molten
metal is cooled to form the solid. The solid metal is then mechanically
shaped to form a particular product. How these steps are carried out is
very important because heat and plastic deformation can strongly affect
the mechanical properties of a metal.
Grain Size Effect:
It has long been known that the properties of some metals could be changed by heat treating. Grains in metals tend to grow larger as the metal is heated. A grain can grow larger by atoms migrating from another grain that may eventually disappear. Dislocations cannot cross grain boundaries easily, so the size of grains determines how easily the dislocations can move. As expected, metals with small grains are stronger but they are less ductile. Figure 5 shows an example of the grain structure of metals.
Quenching and Hardening:
There are many ways in which metals can be heat treated. Annealing is a softening process in which metals are heated and then allowed to cool slowly. Most steels may be hardened by heating and quenching (cooling rapidly). This process was used quite early in the history of processing steel. In fact, it was believed that biological fluids made the best quenching liquids and urine was sometimes used. In some ancient civilizations, the red hot sword blades were sometimes plunged into the bodies of hapless prisoners! Today metals are quenched in water or oil. Actually, quenching in salt water solutions is faster, so the ancients were not entirely wrong.
Quenching results in a metal that is very hard but also brittle. Gently heating a hardened metal and allowing it to cool slowly will produce a metal that is still hard but also less brittle. This process is known as tempering. (See Processing Metals Activity). It results in many small Fe3C precipitates in the steel, which block dislocation motion which thereby provide the strengthening.
Because plastic deformation results from the movement of dislocations, metals can be strengthened by preventing this motion. When a metal is bent or shaped, dislocations are generated and move. As the number of dislocations in the crystal increases, they will get tangled or pinned and will not be able to move. This will strengthen the metal, making it harder to deform. This process is known as cold working. At higher temperatures the dislocations can rearrange, so little strengthening occurs.
You can try this with a paper clip. Unbend the paper clip and bend one of the straight sections back and forth several times. Imagine what is occurring on the atomic level. Notice that it is more difficult to bend the metal at the same place. Dislocations have formed and become tangled, increasing the strength. The paper clip will eventually break at the bend. Cold working obviously only works to a certain extent! Too much deformation results in a tangle of dislocations that are unable to move, so the metal breaks instead.
Heating removes the effects of cold-working. When cold worked metals are heated, recrystallization occurs. New grains form and grow to consume the cold worked portion. The new grains have fewer dislocations and the original properties are restored.