A bogie hearth furnace for heat treatment of heavy forgings

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1 A bogie hearth furnace for heat treatment of heavy forgings Heat treatment of a large forging requires a furnace providing precise temperature control during heating, soaking and cooling so that the desired mechanical properties are achieved throughout the piece and dimensional control (no distortion) is maintained. The use of bogie hearth furnaces capable of treating pieces up to 250t provide greater flexibility, cost less than vertical furnaces, and are getting very close to matching their technical performance. Authors: Matteo G Ricci, Giampiero Santin and Franco Cascariglia Tecnocentro eng. srl A horizontal bogie hearth furnace (BHF) is one of the simplest methods of heating large steel parts before forging, and of heat-treating bars, plate, castings and forgings. However, if high-quality heat treatment of heavy forgings, such as normalising or quenching and tempering, is required, good temperature control is key when choosing a furnace supplier. In this article, an automatically controlled BHF is described, which can quench and temper forgings up to 250t with very high temperature uniformity. Tecnocentro eng. Srl, an engineering company providing services and turnkey plants for the steel industry since the 1980s, was chosen to design and supply this furnace for a leading company producing high-quality forgings made from carbon, high and medium alloyed and stainless steels. COMPARISON OF a BHF WITH A VERTICAL FURNACE r Fig 1 Bogie hearth furnace 94 By 2008 Tecnocentro had developed and installed a vertical pit furnace (VF) for heat treatment of forgings with a maximum diameter 2.6m, maximum length of 14.5m and net weight of up to 250t. The new BHF (see Figure 1) has been designed for the high-quality heat treatment of forgings, such as rotating machine shafts with a weight of up to 250t. The maximum loadable weight is the same for both BHF and VF, so a comparison between the two plants will be interesting. The furnaces are quite different, from an engineering point of view. Generally, a well-designed BHF can carry out the same heat treatment as a VF, but with larger tolerances affecting temperature precision. This makes the BHF less suitable for treatments such as quenching and tempering of shafts with special requirements for use (HP-LP turbines, generators, nuclear components, etc). They not only require tight treatment temperatures, but the process must be carried out in a VF as well. Of course, if better temperature control could be achieved by a BHF this could extend its field of effectiveness,

2 Forming Processes r Fig 2 Vertical furnace 3D CAD r Fig 3 VF burner arrangement r Fig 4 Thermal zones a allowing it to carry out such treatments currently restricted to VFs. Before entering the furnace, the forgings have already been roughly machined, so in this phase a uniform longitudinal temperature field must be guaranteed in order to provide the required homogeneous mechanical properties and to minimise deformation so as not to compromise the final machining phase. The main differences between the furnaces can be summarised as follows: Logistics and installation All aspects of logistics and installation favour the BHF. A BHF requires simple civil works, whereas a VF is housed in a deep pit (eg, in our case 9.6m) so that the maximum height of the plant is about 7.5m above floor level (see Figure 2). The overhead crane for a VF needs a considerable hook height because the piece must be loaded vertically. Furthermore, one shaft end must be shaped to mate with special lifting equipment, so any pieces that must be grabbed from the bottom cannot be loaded into a VF. The movable hearth of the BHF needs only to be within overhead crane range. The furnace itself could be positioned outside the warehouse bay. Overall, a BHF is much more flexible than a VF. Maintenance and investment costs The number of burners in a VF is approximately double that in BHF, having the same processing capability, and the installation layout, arranged on a multi-level system, is rather more complex. Therefore, maintenance costs are higher, and investment is significantly higher: about 50% more for the VF. Process and performance Considering we are dealing with high-quality heat treatment, ie, a treatment with very low temperature tolerances on quite large and expensive forgings, process and performance are the most important factors. The main problem is guaranteeing the same temperature profile throughout the forging surface in order to obtain homogenous mechanical properties and to avoid local deformations. As a consequence, the radiative effectiveness factor and the convection heat exchange coefficient must be uniform over the entire forging surface and the thermal power must be tuned according to the mass to be heated. If symmetry axes or planes can be exploited, control of the energy transferred to the body can be made easier by placing appropriate burners on the furnace walls. Let us consider, for example, a VF having a rounded section with a high number of burners, set out tangentially to avoid hotspots and to obtain a uniform heat transfer coefficient onto a shaft with a longitudinal symmetry axis (see Figure 3). It makes sense to use a VF for pieces with a symmetry axis coinciding with the furnace axis; the VF chamber is divided into a certain number of thermal zones, depending on the number and height of body profile changes to be treated. The number and size of each zone, 95

3 The forgings are laid on the hearth, supported by stands, whose thermal inertia could locally modify the temperature field, thus altering temperature profile. The piece is not immersed in the hot atmosphere like a VF, so both the radiative effectiveness factor and the convection heat exchange co-efficient can be quite different from point to point. Often, furnace temperature control is the operator s job. They adjust the thermal power fed to each thermal zone after reading the measured temperature inside. Thus, the main two problems here are: r Fig 5 BHF 3D CAD number of burners linked to each zone and hence thermal flux can be freely set by the operator using a computer mouse with the HMI system, and tailored to the length and shape of the forging, ie, the mass distribution along the axis. Setting an appropriate layout for the thermal zones (eg, taking into consideration annular supports or the different mass distribution along the axis), means that temperature uniformity on the forging surface can be achieved. In our case, about ±10 C on the set value during the transients and less than ± 1 C in the stationary condition have been measured by contact thermocouples, even with the largest forgings. Supporting long and slim forgings so that they remain straight during treatment is critical, and use of a VF is beneficial in this respect. The body can also be treated while it remains hanging on the crane hook or an adequate support structure, thus avoiding the presence of any support system going into the furnace. The BHF, however, has a high degree of flexibility, so non-symmetrical forgings can be loaded. Attainment of a uniform heat transfer is much more critical than in a VF, owing to irregular mass distribution in the chamber and the large variation of heat exchange co-efficients. For this reason high-velocity, properly oriented burners are used to increase the turbulence and the heat exchanged by convection. Motor-driven impellers made of superalloys can be installed for the same purpose in smaller BHFs, depending on the maximum temperature required and the chamber volume. ` The thermal zones cannot be considered adiabatic. It could happen that a temperature setting affects and modifies the temperature field of the adjacent zone. A typical condition of this is a zone which requires less power because the small mass in it is close to the set point, whose thermal field is affected by the adjacent zone which still requires much more power to get the set point (see Figure 4). This means that continuous adjustments are required, without guarantee that the forging thermal profile remains inside the specified temperature tolerance. ` Another problem area is the hearth, which is covered by heavy refractory to support the load. The hearth absorbs more heat during the heating phase than the furnace vault but when it is hot, due to its enormous thermal inertia, it gives heat back to the chamber. This phenomenon is greatly increased if the vault refractory is made of ceramic fibre. To make matters worse, the thermal behaviour of the rear wall, the front door and the two side walls are all quite different. There are no burners in the rear wall, and the front door, which is lined with light ceramic fibre to minimise weight, is less insulating than the sides. These differences all disturb temperature control actions. Such a lack of symmetry makes the design of a reliable control system one able to follow the programmed temperature cycle automatically on the whole forging surface a real challenge, and it is the main problem likely to jeopardise BHF performance against a VF. In the following, a new BHF for heat treatment of highquality forgings is described, which has demonstrated excellent temperature control since start-up. BHF TECHNICAL FEATURES The equipment, to be used for quality heat treatment of low and medium alloyed or stainless steel forged shafts, is shown in Figure 5. It is designed for continuous working and thermal cycles lasting from two to six days. The furnace specification is shown in Table 1 but can be tailored according to customer specifications. 96

4 Forming Processes Parameter Maximum temperature during treatment Maximum weight of total loads Net internal furnace chamber dimensions Typical heating gradient Temperature uniformity on the forging surface measured by contact thermocouples Emissions Wall external temperature Value 1,150 C 250 t + 25t (supports) 12.8 l x 4.5 w x 4.2 h, m 50 C/h ± 5 C on the set value Conforms to current NOx regulations 50 C + ambient temperature r Table 1 Furnace specification Structure and refractory The casing and refractory design is quite conventional. The lining comprises several refractory layers and is different for the various part of the furnace: vault, hearth (see Figure 6), side walls and door. Customers generally require castable refractories, but ceramic fibre modules can also be used (except for the hearth), according to required temperatures. Castable refractories with different densities have been used. Ceramic fibre blocks have been used in the door, providing light refractory lining which can be easily maintained. A special arrangement is used around each burner to ensure that an acceptable maximum temperature on the furnace external casing near the burner supporting flange is achieved and to avoid refractory erosion near the burner outlet due to the high speed of the gas/flame. The burner arrangement uses a special refractory flanged sleeve, made by vacuum-formed ceramic fibres with a second ceramic tube inside, able to withstand large and sudden temperature changes. This ceramic sleeve also acts as a mould during refractory wall casting. Both the tubes can be extracted from the outside for maintenance after the burner is de-mounted. Combustion system and temperature control Self-recuperative gas burners have been selected for this application because of their size/compactness, low sensitivity to fouling, high efficiency and low NOx emissions. The main features of the combustion system design are: r Fig 6 Hearth ` Overall thermal capability has been split into many r Fig 7 Burners a burners with relatively low nominal power in order to distribute the thermal flux uniformly inside the chamber volume ` Local recirculation of the exhaust fumes of each burner to preheat its combustion air improves the thermal zone temperature control, thus avoiding disturbances caused by the migration of fumes throughout the furnace chamber ` A basic proportional integral derivative (PID) control strategy is insufficient, so the control system must implement control laws which take into account mutual interferences between thermal zones 97

5 r Fig 8 Synoptic quenching r Fig 9 Programming thermal cycle 98 The burners are set out on the side walls in two staggered rows (see Figure 7) at an angle that promotes internal turbulence and avoids hotspots on the piece surfaces. They operate in on/off mode so their air/fuel ratio needs to be adjusted and optimised once only, ie, at commissioning, aiming at the maximum efficiency point, obtaining high CO2 values and minimising pollutants. Each burner control is carried out by a burner control unit (BCU), each connected to the others and to the PLC by an industrial data link. The furnace chamber is divided into a number of thermal zones with a fixed horizontal length (instead of a variable one, as for the VF), and BCUs are activated by the on/off impulses of the furnace controller on the basis of internal temperature measurements and set point values. The number and size of the thermal zones were determined during the design phase (and checked by FEM analysis), optimising them on the basis of the process requirements: size, shape and weight of the forgings to be treated. Each thermal zone is controlled by dedicated thermocouples; the forging is loaded inside the furnace with a number of contact thermocouples fixed on its external surface. The forging temperature control is performed by a specific algorithm built into the PLC software, and the operator can freely select the set temperature through the human machine interface (HMI). The algorithm output controls the zone burners, modulating them in an on/off sequence according to a routine which determines the strategy of the firing/shutdown of each one. In particular, the software chooses which burner to fire and the effective ignition and shutdown times which guarantee the feeding of the required power. A special stabilisation function has been developed to prevent one thermal zone feeding or removing energy to/from the adjacent ones. This function acts on the temperature set point of each zone as a function of the temperature bias in the zone having the higher measured level. Furthermore, the hottest zone is cooled by injection of cooling air through the burners themselves, making the heating phase faster and more accurate. This is not a paradox: the more uniform the temperature gradient (adding cold air where necessary), the more energy can be fed to the furnace without risk of overheating small forgings, and the shorter the heating transients. In other words, the stabilisation function manages the abovementioned lack of symmetry of the furnace and of the loaded piece and allows complete automatic control of the whole thermal cycle, providing necessary uniform thermal distribution inside the zones. The system automatically takes into account any burners that are out of order or being serviced by modifying cycle times accordingly. Particular attention has been paid to sizing the combustion air ducts in order to guarantee a uniform and constant air pressure at each point of the feeding network, reducing disturbances due to burner operations, and maximising efficiency. The air pressure in the main manifold is transmitted to a PID controller in order to drive the air combustion fan velocity by means of a frequency converter. The exhaust is collected from each burner to a main manifold and then to the chimney. The driving pressure to collect and discharge the exhaust outside the building is generated by the main ejector installed at the chimney base, fed by the air combustion fan. Furthermore, the ejector reduces the temperature of the exhaust by mixing it with cold air, avoiding the need for duct thermal insulation.

6 Forming Processes After the forging has been stabilised at high temperature the thermal cycle ends with its fast cooling outside the furnace. During the tempering cycle, after the high temperature stasis, controlled cooling of the forging inside the furnace may be required. The thermal power of extraction depends on the required cooling speed, the piece weight and furnace heat losses. During the cooling phase, if the heat to be extracted exceeds the losses, through the furnace refractory lining, the burners are used to ventilate the furnace, injecting forced air through the air valves. If, however, the heat losses exceed the heat which has to be removed in order to follow the controlled temperature drop (very slow cooling), the burners continue to feed thermal power. The software seamlessly blends the cooling and heating strategies. SCADA & HMI The Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) functions are quite conventional (see Figure 8). The operator sets the treatment cycle for each thermal zone by an HMI graphic application (see Figure 9), links the temperature sensors to their measurement channel and selects the reference temperature which can be changed freely during the treatment (up to 12 thermocouples can be placed on the forging). If required, the following corrective measures can be applied dynamically to the process: r Fig 10 Thermal cycle ` Heat treatment pause, fixing the set temperature to the actual value until its restart ` Temperature jump (bridging forward the cycle and shorting the phase) ` Heat treatment curve modification, starting from the actual time PERFORMANCE Comparisons between measured temperature and set point values show minimal bias (less than ±5 C after stabilisation), even when large variations of imposed curve slope (small, over or undershoot) are required. Figure 10 is taken from a thermal cycle and shows five thermocouple traces (min 848 C, max 853 C) overlapped to the set point value (850 C). Figure 11 deals with a tempering treatment at 605 C (the white line is the set point; blue is the piece reference temperature and red is the control action output). r Fig 11 Tempering cycle (cooling temperature control not required) The overall specific gas consumption of the furnace shows savings of more than 25% compared with similar but older BHFs. This has been achieved as result of the thermal efficiency of the self-recuperative burners, proper refractory design, and high furnace efficiency in following the set temperatures, which leads to shorter overall treatment time. MS Matteo G Ricci is General Manager, Giampiero Santin is Technical Manager and Franco Cascariglia is Project Manager, all at Tecnocentro eng. Srl. Terni, Italy. CONTACT: Local control of many functions of the furnace is possible by means of a touchscreen operator panel on the main electrical cabinet placed near the furnace. Temperature plots are also registered by a chart recorder, ready to be submitted to the customer with the forging heat treatment certificate. The furnace safety functions are surveyed by a dedicated safety PLC. 99

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