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Titanium heat treating is the industrial process of applying extremely high temperatures to titanium so that the metal becomes more workable for manufacturing purposes. Annealing and stress relieving are the two most common types of titanium heat treating used today.
Annealing is the titanium heat treating method that serves mainly to make the titanium resist fracture while increasing its ductility, or ability to be stretched into thin wire. The stress relieving method of titanium heat treating, on the other hand, is used mostly to reduce the amount of stress the titanium undergoes while being welded or formed.
Titanium often requires either annealing or stress relieving. Titanium that is not stress relieved may crack after being welded or formed, while titanium meant for extensive machine processing usually will not hold up to such heavy processing without first being annealed. Temperatures as high as 1100 degrees Fahrenheit (593 degrees Celsius) for stress relieving and 1450 degrees Fahrenheit (788 degrees Celsius) for annealing are not uncommon in titanium heat treating.
Contamination is a crucial issue in titanium heat treating. Fabrication shops often have separate areas for titanium since titanium is especially prone to contamination from air, moisture, dust, and grease. Other high-performance metals, such as stainless steel and nickel-base alloys do not require as strict attention to cleanliness as they are not as sensitive as titanium to contamination while being formed or welded.
It is important to note that pure elemental titanium is rarely used in modern manufacturing as it is a rather soft metal on its own. Titanium alloys, mixtures of titanium with other metals, allow for maximum hardening properties. However, each particular titanium alloy will respond differently to the titanium heat treating process.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) first Space Shuttle helped the public become more aware of the use of titanium alloys and titanium heat treating as the Shuttle used titanium heat shield insulation tiles for the ability to remain strong in high temperatures. Since the first Space Shuttle, NASA continued to incorporate titanium alloys in their designs because of their non-melting, strong properties. Manufacturers of quality swords and knives also rely on the strength of titanium alloys. Titanium alloys are even stronger for their weight than steel. Titanium alloys are also resistant to corrosives such as acids, solvents and bases.