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Materials processing is a broad field that involves a series of chemical, thermal and physical processes that prepare a starting material, form the shape required for the product to function in its intended application and refine the structure and microstructure. There are many types of products that can be produced from a variety of raw materials and each one requires a different type of processing.

Often, this includes extractive metallurgy, chemical synthesis, and some other process that brings the raw materials into usable form. There are also some tertiary and more complex processes that use these initial processing techniques to develop the structural features that are essential for a finished product.

Heat treatment (temperature-based modification of properties) is the most common and important method. This is based on time-temperature cycles that include heating and cooling, sometimes combined with other heat-transfer mechanisms such as surface tension or Marangoni effects.

Laser cutting and engraving are typically based on a laser ablation process in which the absorption of the beam leads to heating of the material. In the most moderate cases, the material remains solid, but certain modifications are facilitated by the elevated temperature – for example, oxidation of the surface or stress-induced bending.

For stronger heating, the material may melt – for example, by forming a vapor, which can then be expelled. This can be very efficient, if the vapor is assisted by a fast-flowing process gas.

This can be a key feature of metal processing in abrasion, sanding and deburring processes. Moreover, it can be useful in machining and in a wide range of other applications where strong heating of the workpiece is necessary for high-quality results.

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