Melting alloys new and old at LCM can present some interesting challenges; the immediate perception of people new to our process is “how hard can it be!”
The perception being to throw it all in a pot and heat until molten, and there is some truth to this, with perhaps a touch of logic.
In short it can be awkward to orientate and load raw materials in our furnaces in such a way that different metals with their unique characteristics are positioned to deliver a smooth melting profile, without need for excess power usage, burning off valuable Rare Earths, or unnecessary manual handling tasks.
Each furnace at LCM presents its own challenges in this regard, with a choice of semi or continuous melting or batch one off melts of a specialist kind. LCM can cast product from 5kg -300Kg of lump alloy and our strip casters can produce 600Kg of flake.
Orientating a 5kg furnace will prove less troublesome than our 600kg strip casters.
Our specialties at LCM are SmCo based powders and we have had great success in developing precise melting profiles over the years that allow repeatability and accuracy for melting this large family of alloys with minimal deviation.
We use vacuum induction furnaces at LCM, so melting is performed in a furnace chamber back filled with inert gas. Our melt cycles determine what power is added for how long and these differ depending on product types, based on incremental increases to give a molten solution.
Temperature readings are taken during the melt cycle to determine if enough heat is present to ensure full dissolution of raw materials. Again, different alloys require specific targets.
Soak times allow the alloy to sit at a set temperature for a predetermined period of time to ensure that full melt homogeneity is obtained. The temperature is then adjusted to an optimum pouring temperature and stabilised for casting. The cast alloy is then allowed to cool until safe to handle.
What interests me with LCM is we never know what we could be dealing with next; we may see a breakdown of elements required to create a specific chemical composition and prepare for that series of melts to find it is eventually to be used in F1 car components, scientific equipment in Europe or Jet fighter engine parts.
There are many new projects and alloy developments at LCM that constantly need us to move and develop with the times improving our knowledge and lending that to new products in development.
SmCo powder goes into making high performance magnets, and LCM can boast that our customers produce the world’s strongest SmCo based magnets using our alloys and I think this should be celebrated with credit to the furnace operators hard work, attention to details and dedication.