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Rapid cooling of a workpiece to obtain certain material properties / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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In materials science, quenching is the rapid cooling of a workpiece in water, oil, polymer, air, or other fluids to obtain certain material properties. A type of heat treating, quenching prevents undesired low-temperature processes, such as phase transformations, from occurring. It does this by reducing the window of time during which these undesired reactions are both thermodynamically favorable, and kinetically accessible; for instance, quenching can reduce the crystal grain size of both metallic and plastic materials, increasing their hardness.

Coke being pushed into a quenching car, Hanna furnaces of the Great Lakes Steel Corporation, Detroit, Michigan, November 1942

In metallurgy, quenching is most commonly used to harden steel by inducing a martensite transformation, where the steel must be rapidly cooled through its eutectoid point, the temperature at which austenite becomes unstable. In steel alloyed with metals such as nickel and manganese, the eutectoid temperature becomes much lower, but the kinetic barriers to phase transformation remain the same. This allows quenching to start at a lower temperature, making the process much easier. High-speed steel also has added tungsten, which serves to raise kinetic barriers, which among other effects gives material properties (hardness and abrasion resistance) as though the workpiece had been cooled more rapidly than it really has. Even cooling such alloys slowly in air has most of the desired effects of quenching; high-speed steel weakens much less from heat cycling due to high-speed cutting.[1]

Extremely rapid cooling can prevent the formation of all crystal structure, resulting in amorphous metal or "metallic glass".