The Flash Bainite process takes regular, off-the-shelf commercial AISI1020 carbon steel, and instead of heat treating it for 10 minutes like costly alloyed steel, you put it through a roller-driven system that induction-heats and liquid-cools the steel in a matter of 10 seconds or so.
More than a decade ago, Gary Cola was a machine shop owner whose hobby was exploring heat treating to make high strength steel. Today, he has created a company that can have a significant impact on the lightweighting of passenger and military vehicles.
Cola is the founder of Flash® Bainite, a Michigan-based company and SME member of LIFT. Flash Processing is a patented, compact and low-cost induction heat treatment that creates 1600 to 2100MPa steel that is uniquely strong, readily weldable, and lean alloyed. Just as important, Flash Bainite exhibits good bend-ability and ductility for room temperature stamping, a significant cost savings over hot stamping.
“Being able to have a positive impact on the strength and form-ability of steel is critical,” Cola said. With total cycle time less than10s, Flash Processing creates about 20 percent bainite in the steel in just 80 milliseconds, which defies long-held beliefs.
Not only can our process create the highest performing steel available, but the Flash® Bainite system can be directly integrated into many manufacturing processes. This cost-effective solution for strengthening steel is turning the steel industry on its head. With our patented system, even the smallest production shop can produce steel that previously required the capabilities of a five-hundred million dollar enterprise, all for tiny a fraction of the cost. Our system will also allow you to harden your steel after it has been roll formed, preserving its structural integrity and producing a superior product.
With superior weldability, lighter weight, improved workability, and strength levels never before seen.
Flash 1500 could offer a one third mass reduction and cost savings over the ‘industry standard’ DP1000 known at the time to be the strongest hydroformable tube,” Cola says. “During this development, it was discovered that Flash 1500 (Flash-processed AISI1020) could be formed into very tight bends, almost as tight as simply folding a sheet of paper.”
In Flash 1500 energy absorbing crush in this story’s lead image, the bends are twice the strength of the DP780 cans in cars today.
Another major manufacturer “that makes 10 million vehicles per year,” according to Cola, tested Flash-processed steel on a structural/safety component of a car that is 3 mm thick and 3 lb (1.4 kg) in weight in its current form. Using the flash treatment, a part was created that weighs 2 lb (0.9 kg) at 2 mm thick, and passes all the same tests – and the OEM estimated it could be made at a cost savings
Flash Bainite is the Strongest, Most Ductile, Lean Alloyed, Readily Weldable, Least Expensive Ultra Strength METAL known to man. A50 tensile ranges from 1100 to 2080MPa (160-302ksi) with 8 to 9% elongation. Total elongation up to 10-11% is not uncommon. Flash 4130 at 1900MPa and 9% elongation exceeds titanium-6Al-4V’s strength to weight ratio making it pound per pound stronger at only 56% the volume. Flash4130 is just 10% the cost of Ti-64.
Cola Bainite Steel process – Rollers carried steel sheets through flames as hot as 1100 degrees Celsius and then into a cooling liquid bath. The typical temperature and length of time for hardening varies by industry, most steels are heat-treated at around 900 degrees Celsius for a few hours. Others are heated at similar temperatures for days. Cola’s entire process took less than 10 seconds.
The resulting steel was 7 percent stronger than martensitic advanced high-strength steel. [Martensitic steel is so named because the internal microstructure is entirely composed of a crystal form called martensite.] Cola further claimed that his steel could be drawn – that is, thinned and lengthened – 30 percent more than martensitic steels without losing its enhanced strength.
Cola’s process forms martensite microstructure inside the steel. But they also saw another form called bainite microstructure, scattered with carbon-rich compounds called carbides.
Flash Bainite is a steel with a unique microstructure containing bainite, martensite and carbides.
“Off the shelf” plate and tubing can be made into Flash Bainite. Triple the strength of Chrome Moly, Flash 4130 is pound for pound 2X stronger than the best aluminums. If you are “lightweighting” structure with aluminum, Flash Bainite will do a better job at less weight and lower cost.
Ohio State University engineers verified the claims of increase the strength of steel by seven percent and can make cars and other products 30% lighter while keeping the same strength. For armor it can provide the equal of the best protection with a 20% weight reduction.
The most obvious use of Bainitic High Strength Steel (BHSS) is in sheet form in the transportation industry. The increased ductility of a bainitic microstructure will allow stamping of part configurations never possible with existing martensitic Advanced High Strength Steels (AHSS). A significant number of complex stamped components will soon be manufactured in much thinner gages of steel due to the excellent formability of BHSS. Imagine an automobile whose stiffness has been increased yet weighs hundreds of pounds less.
Another area of increased use will be in the field of civil engineering. Steel building components can be manufactured to rely on much higher tensile strengths than previously thought possible. Wall studs, bar stock, angle iron, and I-beams are just some of the shapes that can be converted to bainite using this process. Significantly lighter roof trusses could be completely constructed from thinner gauge bainitic members that rely on greater tensile strengths. Tensioning components such as wire and re-bar may positively impact the bridge and highway building industries. Just imagine how much less steel could be used in a suspension bridge if architects could rely on much higher tensile strength cables.
Other areas as diverse as household appliances to stronger armor plating to space craft will be able to take advantage of Bainitic High Strength Steel.