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By the year 2025, it is estimated that the global heat treatment industry will reach a staggering $122.34 billion USD, which amounts to a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.5% from 2017. This impressive economic growth is largely attributed to a growing incorporation of metal treatment services that can be found within the automotive, aerospace, construction, energy and metalworking industries. As consumer demand for heat-treated products continues to rise, the heat treatment industry plans to transition from its current mass production style to batch production and one-piece flow production model.
Batch vs. Mass Production
Generally, batch production refers to a technique that produces multiple units of a product in a series of different steps. As the individual units progress along each step of the production line, they are moved collectively as a batch. Mass production, on the other hand, refers to the continuous production of items in a series of steps, during which each of the steps is performed synchronously. Since both types of production methods are widely used, the choice between batch and mass production varies on the application, product type and scale of production required by the company.
When the various units of a product must be unique, batch production is a particularly useful technique. Similarly, mass production is advantageous when a large scale of different products must be produced simultaneously. While it may appear obvious to choose mass production when a large number of products is required, numerous companies have found that small batch production can actually maximize the value of time, money and effort when applied. For example, automotive manufacturer Toyota utilizes a small batch production system that has been shown to reduce unnecessary waste generation during production, thereby saving the company a significant amount of money.
Batch Production in the Heat Treatment Industry
The main goal of the transition from mass to batch production within the heat treatment industry is to encourage the synchronization of soft-machining operations and ultimately improve the efficiency and ecological aspects of this industry’s production processes. In order to achieve this goal, the switch to batch production should involve the customization of the individual processes required to produce specific parts. Furthermore, this customization requires manufacturers to investigate ways in which heat-treated distortion can be reduced without compromising on the high-temperature uniformity and reproducibility of these processes.
The ALD Vacuum Technologies Solution
The SyncroTherm®, which is produced by German company ALD Vacuum Technologies, is a unique system capable of easily integrating heat treatment into production lines through primarily small batch processing principles. The SyncroTherm® system contains a pressure-tight chamber, which serves both quenching and loading functions, a treatment chamber that is always kept under vacuum conditions, as well as six distinct hot zones, each of which can hold a single small workload during production.
When in use, small batches can be heated in a rapid and homogenous manner through flat-panel heating elements located above and below each hot zone. These conditions allow the operator to have complete control of the high-pressure gas quenching process, as well as the freedom to customize these conditions for different product parts, shapes, and dimensions.
As compared to conventional mass production systems, the SyncroTherm® significantly reduces cycle times, cost of production, part distortion, thermal loss, hard machining, energy use, and process-related gas consumption. Furthermore, this system exhibits a compact design that also provides manufacturers with much more space as compared to traditional production units. Batch production systems, such as the SyncroTherm®, further support the shift that the heat treatment industry is making towards the more cost-effective solution of batch production.
Sources and Further Reading