DAVID PARKER / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY DAVID PARKER / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
A technician observes a machine part undergoing plasma carburisation, a surface hardening process, through the inspection port of a plasma chamber. The overlayed graph is produced on a mass spectrometer and provides an analysis of the surface composition of the part; the proportions of various elements have a marked effect on the properties of steel alloys. Essentially the process involves exposing the part to a plasma containing the correct mixture of elements needed to produce the desired characteristics. Ions from the plasma dissolve into the steel (which is given a negative charge to attract them) thus forming a new, harder, alloy at the surface.
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