Arthur Heuer, Ph.D.
Swagelok Company, a major developer and provider of fluid system solutions headquartered in Solon, Ohio, along with its longtime research collaborator Case Western Reserve University, are the recipients of a three-year $5.5 million grant from Ohio's Third Frontier Project. The grant will enable Swagelok, in partnership with Case, to further research, evaluate and commercialize a paradigm-shifting technology that the company developed and patented: Low-Temperature Colossal Supersaturation (LTCSS™). LTCSS is a method for heat-treating austenitic stainless steels that enables large-scale carbon absorption, dramatically improving hardness and other performance characteristics.
The announcement of the 2007 grant was made on December 15 by the Ohio Department of Development. The Third Frontier Project is a 10-year, $1.6 billion initiative designed to expand Ohio's high-tech research capabilities, promote innovation and company formation, and create high-paying jobs.
"We recognize this opportunity as very significant, not only because of the breakthrough nature of the technology but also because of the resources available to us in the state of Ohio. We have top-notch laboratories and scientists, as well as manufacturing expertise and a world-class workforce right here in Northeast Ohio," said Art Anton, president and chief executive officer of Swagelok.
The Third Frontier grant will provide for development of the research, manufacturing, and infrastructure elements necessary to convert the LTCSS technology into a commercially viable, Ohio-based metals surface enhancement business.
Possible applications could include uses in the automotive, medical, aerospace and defense, oil and gas, and pulp and paper industries. Revenue from these initial efforts could provide funding for the research, development, and commercialization resources necessary to expand into other markets.
LTCSS is a breakthrough technology that challenges the most basic knowledge about stainless steel. In materials science, it has been generally understood that carbon atoms cannot be introduced into austenitic stainless steel through heat treatment without the formation of chromium carbides, which compromise the corrosion resistant properties of the alloy. Hardness and corrosion resistance are typically regarded as tradeoffs.
And yet, LTCSS introduces carbon atoms into the austenitic, or face-centered-cubic (FCC), crystal structure without the formation of chromium carbides. In fact, the carbon absorption is about 80,000 greater than thermodynamics and kinetics would suggest would be possible. At the same time, corrosion resistance increases by 10,000 times; wear resistance by 100 times; erosion resistance by 5.5 times; and fatigue strength by approximately 50 percent.
These improvements occur at the surface of the stainless steel component being treated, not all the way through to the core. As a result, the LTCSS process is referred to as "case hardening." The surface hardness of austenitic stainless steels increases by about three to four times.
LTCSS enables ordinary stainless steel to adopt performance characteristics of expensive alloys, like Hastelloy or titanium.
Finally, these improvements are achieved with no compromise to ductility. LTCSS may be performed on finished components without distortion or change of dimension, including components with complex shapes and structures.
These outcomes have been verified by research at Case, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and Northwestern University.
"Arguably, this is one of the most significant breakthroughs in materials science in many decades, as well as one with many extraordinary technological implications," said Arthur Heuer, Ph.D., University Professor and Kyocera Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Case, whose work has been instrumental in verifying the characteristics of LTCSS.
LTCSS has been successfully applied to other alloys besides austenitic stainless steels, including superaustenitic grade, duplex grade, ferritic grade, martensitic grade, Ni-base alloys, and Ni-Co-Cr alloys. With Third Frontier dollars, Case will research the application of LTCSS to these and other alloys.
In October 2006, Swagelok received the ASM International Engineering Materials Achievement Award for the development and commercialization of the LTCSS technology. This prestigious award is given to a company for a breakthrough technology that has been commercialized and proven.
Since 2000, Swagelok has used LTCSS to case harden the rear ferrule of its signature tube fitting, which is designed with patented back ferrule geometry.
The LTCSS research team is led by Swagelok's Sunniva Collins, Ph.D., an accomplished research metallurgist who has been involved with LTCSS since its inception; Peter Williams, the company's chief scientist, who is the inventor of the technology; and Heuer of Case.
Headquartered in Solon, Ohio, U.S.A., Swagelok Company is a major developer and provider of fluid system solutions, including products, assemblies, and services for the research, instrumentation, pharmaceutical, oil and gas, power, petrochemical, alternative fuels, and semiconductor industries. Its manufacturing, research, technical support, and distribution facilities support a global network of more than 200 authorized sales and service centers in 54 countries. For more information about Swagelok, visit the company's Web site at http://www.swagelok.com.
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