Normalizing is a thermal process where  steel is heated about 100-150 degrees F  above the critical range followed by cooling in still air to below that range.

Not a fan of expensive thermal treatments without a good reason...
Not a fan of expensive thermal treatments without a good reason…

On some steels, this normalize process is followed by a temper or stress relief anneal below the Ac1 to remove residual stresses resulting from the air cooling and to reduce hardness.
 Normalizing Steel gives you

  • Reduced hardness and removes residual stress
  • Improves machinability
  • Develops desired mechanical properties (especially in larger sections)
  • Improved austenitizing  for subsequent quench and tempering

Adding costly thermal treatments to a production process is seldom a good idea. But

  • if you need high side mechanical properties as a result of the quench and tempering operation you have planned,
  • if the heat is lean on chemistry,
  • if the part to be quenched has a large cross section or wall thickness,
  • if you know from experience that you have difficulty getting to high side with your quench,

Normalizing can help.
For the end quench position of the bar that corresponds to 90% martensite,  a non-normalized  4140,  austenitized at 1550 degrees can have anywhere from a 7 to 14 point Rockwell C hardness deficiency compared to the same steel that had been normalized.  Using an austenitizing temperature of 1650 (200 degrees F above the Ac3 temperature) the non-normalized 4140 could still exhibit as much as a 10 Rc hardness deficiency compared to normalized stock for the same time at temperature. For 4340 steel, the hardness deficit can  range from 10 to 18 points of Rockwell C hardness deficiency for the same austenitizing time.
Normalizing was a necessary step in the days of highly variable microstructures resulting from Ingot steels and analog controlled processes. Today’s modern computer controlled steel making processes provide more consistent products and structures, making normalizing a less utilized process. But normalizing remains a way to coax better properties or performance out of some steels.
We’re not a big fan of adding “fire for fire’s sake,” but if you suspect you may have difficulty in developing the full hardenability out of your steel, Normalizing may just give you the edge you need to assure you develop the as quenched hardness you need.
Photo credit: Above The Law Blog

As machinists, we are used to handling materials in the bulk world.
As machinists, our ease in obtaining productivity is influenced by the microscopic world of phases, microstructures, and chemistry.
Underneath this microscopic world lies the world of molecules  and atoms themselves.
This is the chemical formula for pentacene. It is used in organic thin film transistors.
Recently researchers from IBM research team in Zurich used an atomic force microscope to capture an image of a single molecule of this substance.

Compare to the structure above.
Compare to the structure above.

This image of a single molecule shows the five rings of six carbon atoms and suggests the hydrogen bonds along the edges.
The precision needed to resolve at this atomic level requires both extremely high vacuum and frighteningly cryogenic temperatures. And you thought you had temperature control issues in your metrology lab.
Our industry will not be at this atomic-level nanoscale any time soon, at least not for our production processes.
We hope this glimpse of what makes up our material world from the frontiers of science gives you a better appreciation for the work of all the chemists, metallurgists and engineers in the supply chain that produce our raw materials, tools, and metalworking fluids. For all of history, scientists have struggled to  make sense of their observations, develop theory, structure and formulas that made sense. This IBM image confirms that we’re on the right track.
Full story care of BBC .