Cementation Processes

Pack cementation, the fluidized-bed process, and vapor streaming are three types of cementation processes used in ceramic coating. These processes are used to produce impervious, oxidation-protective coatings for refractory metals and nickel-base, cobalt-base, and vanadium-base alloys. The principal types of coating applied by the cementation processes are silicides, carbides, and borides, usually of the base metal although frequently of codeposited or alternately deposited other metals such as chromium, niobium, molybdenum, and titanium.

Pack Cementation

Preparation of the substrate surface for application of a ceramic coating by pack cementation consists of removing burrs, rounding edges (0.125 mm, or 0.005 in. minimum radius to half the edge thickness, for foil), and rounding corners (preferably to a minimum radius of 3.2 mm or 0.125 in.). Edges and corners must be rounded to prevent cracking of the coating (Fig. 9). This can be accomplished by manual sanding with fine-mesh cloth or with a small motor-driven fine-mesh conical grinding wheel. Mass (barrel) finishing can be used for removing burrs and rounding edges and corners of small articles such as rivets.

Fig. 9 Effect of sharp and round corners on the continuity of a ceramic coating

Fig. 9 Effect of sharp and round corners on the continuity of a ceramic coating

The next operation consists of cleaning the work by vapor degreasing followed by mechanical or chemical cleaning. Mechanical cleaning is usually preferable to chemical cleaning and may consist of wet blasting, abrasive blasting with 200-mesh alumina, or buffing. Parts that are buffed should be washed in acetone, and precautions should be taken to prevent adherence of the buffing compound. Chemical cleaning is used when the shape of the part is not suited to blasting or buffing. Parts must be rinsed and dried thoroughly after they are removed from chemical solutions, and precautions must be taken to avoid contamination of cleaned parts during subsequent handling.

Processing. After cleaning, parts are packed in a retort with the desired coating material. Parts should be placed about

25 mm (1 in.) from the retort walls; spacing may be from 3.2 to 13 mm (- to -in.) between parts, and from 6.4 to 25

mm (4 to 1 in.) between layers. Packing material must fill all cavities or areas that may entrap air. Sufficient packing material must be placed between the bottom of the retort and the first layer of parts, and over the top layer. The packed retort should not be handled roughly or be vibrated before or during the thermal process cycle.

An inert filler (aluminum oxide) is used to obtain the most efficient use of packing material when large assemblies or components are being coated. The filler should be no closer than 13 mm (2 in.) from the substrate surface. Figure 10

shows the use of a filler for filling space within the throat of a nozzle, the internal surfaces of which were being coated by the pack cementation process.

Fig. 10 Use of an inert filler during application of pack cementation coating to the internal surfaces of a nozzle

The packing material usually consists of coating materials (in elemental or combined form), a suitable activator or carrier-gas-producing compound, and inert filler material. A standard siliconizing packing material contains silicon powder (100-to 325-mesh), a halide salt (ammonium chloride, sodium fluoride, or potassium bromide), and an inert filler (aluminum oxide, 100- to 325-mesh). Occasionally, urea is incorporated in the pack material to purge entrapped air before the cementation reaction begins.

The processing temperatures used for pack cementation coating of refractory metals depend on the substrate metal and the desired coating characteristics. In general, temperature controls the rate of deposition, and time is varied to control the thickness of the coating. A low processing temperature results in a coarse, columnar structure and an uneven deposit. High processing temperatures result in deposits of uniform thickness and dense structure. The recrystallization temperature of molybdenum-base and tungsten-base substrates should not be exceeded because of resulting embrittlement. Table 11 gives time-temperature cycles adequate for applying oxidation-resistant coatings.

Table 11 Cycles for application of silicide and other oxidation-resistant ceramic coatings by pack cementation

Processing cycles suitable for depositing coatings of silicon, chromium, boron, aluminum, titanium, zirconium, vanadium, hafnium, and iron

Substrate metal

Processing cycle


Time, h(b)



Niobium alloys




Molybdenum alloys




Tantalum alloys




Tungsten alloys




(a) Tolerances: ±6 °C (±10 °F) at 1040 °C (1900 °F);±14 °C (±25 °F) at 1260 °C (2300 °F).

(a) Tolerances: ±6 °C (±10 °F) at 1040 °C (1900 °F);±14 °C (±25 °F) at 1260 °C (2300 °F).

After thermal treatment is completed, the retort may be cooled in the furnace or in air. The coated parts can be removed from the retort when they are cool enough to handle. Loose packing material is removed by washing the parts in warm water, bristle brushing, and spray rinsing. Water under pressure may be used to remove packing material from difficult-to-clean areas. If a second pack cementation operation is required for the addition of other coating elements, parts should be handled with clean gloves or plastic-tipped tongs. If contaminated, parts must be vapor degreased just before packing for the next coating cycle.

When a second coating cycle is not required, the coated parts may be subjected to a high temperature (about 1095 °C, or 2000 °F) to form a protective oxide surface. Normally, 15 to 30 min at this temperature is sufficient to form a protective film on refractory alloys.

Components of assemblies are coated individually, then assembled and packed for the second cycle to protect the joint areas. If assembling causes discontinuities or cracks in the coating, areas are wet blasted and dried or are lightly sand blasted before packing.

The optimum thickness of coating on refractory metals is from 25 to 100 pm (1 to 4 mils). In general, oxidation resistance increases with coating thickness; however, the sharp radii of foils do not permit a coating thickness of much over 25 pm (1 mil). The usual thickness of pack cementation coatings is 38 ± 13 pm (1.5 ± 0.5 mils) for machined components, formed parts, and sheet materials; for foils of 0.250 mm (0.010 in.) or less, the coating thickness is usually 25 ± 8 pm (1.0 ± 0.3 mils).

Equipment for pack cementation consists of a retort and a furnace of suitable size to accommodate the retort. Furnace atmosphere is not critical and may be air, endothermic, exothermic, or inert gas. When a specific atmosphere around the retort is essential, an atmosphere housing may be incorporated.

Retorts are either top-loaded or inverted and may be designed for shallow or deep sealing (Fig. 11). The type of material from which retorts are made depends on the operating temperature and furnace atmosphere. For operating temperatures between 980 to 1260 °C (1800 to 2300 °F), Inconel and types 310, 321, and 347 stainless steel provide satisfactory service. When the furnace atmosphere is oxidizing or carburizing, a stopoff slip ceramic coating on exposed areas of the retort prolongs its service life. Materials for sealing the retort may be sand, alumina, or garnet, with or without oxide scavengers such as silicon or titanium, or low-melting-point materials such as sodium orthosilicate.

Fig. 11 Designs of retorts used in the pack cementation process Fluidized-Bed Cementation Process

The fluidized-bed process for applying ceramic coatings involves:

• Thermal decomposition and displacement reactions of metal halides

• Presence of hydrogen to reduce the halides

• Diffusion of deposited materials into the substrate metal to produce an intermetallic compound, such as molybdenum disilicide

In this process, a bed of metal powder reactant and inert material is fluidized or floated at elevated temperature by an inert or reactive gas. The finely divided particles of reactant and inert material are constantly agitated by the fluidizing gas. Thus, the transfer of heat between the object to be coated, the coating material, and the gas is greatly increased by the diffusion of vapor and gas and by the relatively high flow rates. Vapors of coating material can be prepared within the fluidizing chamber by the reaction of particles in the bed with the gases, or they can be prepared and evaporated in a separate vessel. A schematic flow diagram of the fluidized-bed process is shown in Fig. 12.

Fig. 12 Fluidized-bed cementation process

Processing. Preparation of the surface of the work consists of rounding the edges, buffing the surfaces and edges, and etching. The following etching procedure is used for molybdenum-base substrates:

• Dip in 80% nitric acid solution at room temperature for several seconds.

• Dip in 50% hydrochloric acid at room temperature for several seconds.

After etching, parts are placed into the fluidizing chamber and processed at 1065 °C (1950 °F) for 1 h. Coated parts are removed from the furnace when cool.

Effect of Process Variables on Coating Characteristics. The control of time, temperature, and carrier-compound concentration is important in the fluidized-bed process, because these variables control the thickness and uniformity of the coating, as well as the rates of deposition and diffusion. Temperature should be controlled to within ±14 °C (±25 °F).

Coating thickness as a result of time and temperature is shown in Fig. 13 for a silicide coating applied to Mo-0.5Ti alloy. The coating thickness represented by these data was calculated from the change in weight of the coated part, using the average density of molybdenum silicide (MoSi2). Although data for operating temperatures below 925 °C (1700 °F) are included, coatings applied to refractory metals at these low temperatures have poor oxidation resistance.

Fig. 13 Effects of (a) time and (b) temperature on the thickness of a silicide coating applied by the fluidized-bed process to Mo-0.5Ti alloy

Applicability. Complex shapes can be coated by the fluidized-bed process. With special techniques, inside surfaces of long small-diameter closed-end tubes can be coated. However, coatings will form only on edges with a radius of 0.125 mm (0.005 in.) or more.

Cracks around rivet heads and joints between sheets cannot be bridged by ceramic coating during elevated-temperature service. Therefore, double processing cycles are required, one before joining and one after assembly of the component parts.

Service life of a coating 50 to 75 pm (2 to 3 mils) thick on flat surfaces is about 1 to 2 h at 1650 °C (3000 °F). The effects of edges and corners combine to reduce this life, because coating thickness for satisfactory coverage is less at these locations.

Vapor-Streaming Cementation

Vapor streaming is a cementation process in which a vapor of the coating material is decomposed on the surface of a heated part. For example, silicide coatings are produced by passing silicon halide vapor in a hydrogen atmosphere over heated substrate. The silicon halide is reduced, and silicon deposits on the substrate and diffuses to form an intermetallic compound. Commercial application of this process has been insignificant.

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