The word cryogenics stems from Greek and means "the production of freezing cold"; However, the term is used today as a synonym for the low-temperature state. It is not well-defined at what point on the temperature scale refrigeration ends and cryogenics begins, but most scientists assume it starts at or below -150 ° C or 123 K (about -240 ° F). The National Institute of Standards and Technology at Boulder, Colorado has chosen to consider the field of cryogenics as that involving temperatures below 180 ° C (-292 ° F or 93.15 K). This is a logical dividing line, since the normal boiling points of the so-called permanent gases (such as helium, hydrogen, neon, nitrogen, oxygen, and normal air) lie below 180 ° C while the Freon refrigerants, hydrogen sulfide, and other common refrigerants have boiling points above 180 ° C.
The field of cryogenics advanced during World War II when scientists found that metals frozen to low temperatures showed more resistance to wear. Based on this theory of cryogenic hardening, the commercial cryogenic processing industry was founded in 1966 by Ed Busch. With a background in the heat treating industry, Busch founded a company in Detroit called CryoTech in 1966 which merged with 300 Below in 1999 to become the world's largest and oldest commercial cryogenic processing company.  Busch originally experimented with the possibility of increasing the life of metal tools to anywhere between 200%-400% of the original life expectancy using cryogenic tempering instead of heat treating. This evolved in the late 1990s into the treatment of other parts.
Cryogens, like liquid nitrogen, are further used for specialty chilling and freezing applications. Some chemical reactions, like those used to produce the active ingredients for the popular statin drugs, must occur at low temperatures of approximately 100° C (about -148° F). Special cryogenic chemical reactors are used to remove reaction heat and provide a low temperature environment. The freezing of foods and biotechnology products, like vaccines, requires nitrogen in blast freezing or immersion freezing systems. Certain soft or elastic materials become hard and brittle at very low temperatures, which makes cryogenic milling (cryomilling) an option for some materials that cannot easily be milled at higher temperatures.
Cryogenic processing is not a substitute for heat treatment, but rather an extension of the heating - quenching - tempering cycle. Normally, when an item is quenched, the final temperature is ambient. The only reason for this is that most heat treaters do not have cooling equipment. There is nothing metallurgically significant about ambient temperature. The cryogenic process continues this action from ambient temperature down to 320 ° F (140 ° R; 78 K; 196 ° C). In most instances the cryogenic cycle is followed by a heat tempering procedure. As all alloys do not have the same chemical constituents, the tempering procedure varies according to the material's chemical composition, thermal history and/or a tool's particular service application.
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