Purchasing an atmosphere or vacuum heat-treating system is much like purchasing a new car or a home — a lot of thought, research, and careful consideration should go into the decision. However, it might be difficult to know all of the key items you should consider before making such an important investment.
In our experience, there are a few essential questions every buyer should ask themselves before committing to a furnace:
- What is your budget? Make sure to do some research and acquaint yourself with the general cost of different heat-treating systems, as well as the cost of optional features, auxiliary equipment, transportation, and installation. Then decide on a budget that will best meet your needs.
- Will your parts be processed in atmosphere or vacuum?
- What types of processes will you run in the furnace?
- How many parts do you want to process per month? This number will help determine the furnace size that best meets your needs.
- What type of parts are you putting into the furnace? Specifically, what is the size and material of the parts being processed?
- Are you new to heat treatment? If the answer is yes, you might have to do a little research to find out how your product will need to be heat-treated.
- What specifications are you trying to comply with? This can influence a range of furnace options, including the type and number of thermocouples, the construction of the hot zone, and more.
- How much space do you have for a furnace? This factor could influence the type and size of furnace you can get, as well as the flow of materials within your building.
- Atmosphere: Do you have an endothermic generator? Can you buy gases, such as ammonia and nitrogen, either locally or without difficulty? Do you require additional equipment for processing parts, such as tempers, washers, loaders, and storage tables?
- Vacuum: Do you have a recirculating water system? If so, what type and how much cooling water is currently being used by existing furnace systems compared to the total capacity of your recirculating water system? This will help determine whether your current water system has enough cooling water available to accommodate a new furnace.
Once you have made the final decision and invested in a new piece of heat treatment equipment, you also want to make sure it is up and running for as many years as possible with as little unplanned downtime as possible. Besides options like Ipsen’s PdMetrics® software platform for predictive maintenance — which connects to a network of integrated sensors on your furnace to gather data, analyze it, and provide real-time diagnostics that improve the health and integrity of your equipment — there are a few best practices that can also help keep your equipment operating at peak performance.
To start, keeping high-turnover parts in stock is a strong first step toward reducing unplanned downtime. While the spare parts you should have on-hand often depend on the situation and type of heat-treating system you purchased, here are the key items we recommend having readily available.
- Radiant tubes
- Oxygen sensors
- Elements and element hardware
- Additional hot zone replacement parts
- Seals and consumables
Another essential part of protecting your investment involves performing regular preventative maintenance, replacing parts, ensuring it is leak-free, and performing regular cleanup cycles. By regularly carrying out such tasks, you are helping prevent any potential issues that might cause downtime while also increasing the furnace’s life span.
Extending the equipment’s life span also requires that you are proactive about maintaining the heating chamber or hot zone, as well as getting necessary upgrades or retrofits. The hard part, though, is knowing when it’s the right time to do so. The following are some key questions you should occasionally ask yourself about your equipment:
- Is the furnace performing at an acceptable level?
- Are the parts coming out at the desired quality levels?
- Does the furnace have good temperature uniformity?
- Is the data acquisition acceptable?
If you answered no to one or more of these questions, then it might be time to start thinking about what a new hot zone or rebricking, upgrade, or retrofit could do for you and your furnace.
While every purchasing experience is unique, making sure you ask the right questions and fully understand what the new equipment will require of you are instrumental steps in ensuring a positive buying experience. Only by taking the time to do the necessary research, invest in the right equipment, and follow best practices can you start to ensure a return on your investment.