Fun fact: Smaller doesn’t always mean weaker — especially when it comes to metals.

Lawn mower blades, for instance, are small and fairly lightweight. But because they’re heat-treated, they’re able to keep their sharp edge and be strong and tough enough so that they don’t shatter when they hit an object.

In a nutshell, this idea — building strength into parts — reflects the thinking across today’s manufacturing markets. It’s a huge movement, affecting nearly all of the major manufacturing industries, from automotive to agricultural and railroad. The rational? By strengthening smaller, more lightweight parts, you can make their larger bodies more fuel-efficient.

Take the Audi A8 luxury sedan, for example. Years ago, this flagship sedan had an aluminum body, to keep the car light. That was once the trend in the auto industry: aluminum was the buzz word to signal a fuel-efficient car. (The body is now made of high strength steel to improve the stiffness of the vehicle structure and keep weight low.)

Now, engineers and auto manufacturers are finding that high-strength steels — heat-treated, specifically austempered steels — hold a tremendous amount of promise to reduce weight, and cost, compared to other manufacturing methods. They’ve realized that a material like steel can be made stronger with austempering, while remaining lightweight for fuel efficiency. Audi, among many others, have returned to high-strength steel.

High-strength, high-performance heat-treated steels are seeing significant growth when it comes to increasing strength, reducing weight, and reducing total cost. Many different heat treatment processes can make steel and iron parts stronger. But austempering makes parts stronger and has the advantage of higher toughness when compared to lesser processes, such as quench and temper. Also, parts that are salt quenched (austempered or marquenched) experience significantly less distortion than other methods. If you simply oil quench or water quench a component, it might be stronger — but it will also become brittle with a high level of distortion. 

At AP, we quench in molten salt. We’re the worldwide leader in austempering. We can heat treat your parts so that they’re not only stronger and tougher, they’ll making your finished product more efficient.