The recommended furnace atmosphere conditions necessary for good brazing are as follows:
- Dew point: ≤ -40°C
- Oxygen: < 100 ppm
- Inert gas: nitrogen
The most common source of nitrogen is that generated from liquid nitrogen storage tanks. A typical nitrogen gas specification from a liquid source indicates that the moisture content is <1.5 ppm (dew point = -73°C) and an oxygen level of <3 ppm. In brazing furnaces however, the normal atmospheric operating conditions almost always exceed incoming nitrogen contaminant levels. This is due to water and oxygen dragged into the furnace by the incoming products, by the stainless steel mesh belt and by the potential back-streaming of factory atmosphere through the entrance and exit of the furnace. The latter will occur when the exhaust and incoming nitrogen are not properly balanced.
Many furnaces are equipped with dew point and oxygen measurement devices. It is important that the measurements are taken in the critical brazing zone of the furnace because this is where these impurities will reach their lowest concentrations. Measuring dew point or oxygen levels anywhere else in the furnace may be of academic interest, but will not represent actual brazing conditions.
Dew Point Measurement
Measuring the moisture content in the critical brazing zone of the furnace has always been a key indicator of the quality of the brazing atmosphere. Moisture can substantially influence the quality and appearance of the brazed heat exchanger as well as the first time through braze quality (% rejects).
Chilled Mirror Technology
One of the more common principles of measuring dew point is using chilled mirror technology. The measurement of the water vapor content of a gas by the dew point technique involves chilling a surface, usually a metallic mirror, to the temperature at which water on the mirror surface is in equilibrium with the water vapor pressure in the gas sample above the surface. At this temperature, the mass of water on the surface is neither increasing (too cold a surface) nor decreasing (too warm a surface).
In the chilled-mirror technique, a mirror is constructed from a material with good thermal conductivity such as silver or copper, and properly plated with an inert metal such as iridium, rubidium, nickel, or gold to prevent tarnishing and oxidation. The mirror is chilled using a thermoelectric cooler until dew just begins to form. The temperature at which dew is formed on the mirror is displayed as the dew point.
The advantage of the chilled mirror dew point meter is that it is an absolute measurement with high precision. However, this measurement technique is sensitive to pollutants and corrosive contaminants which, in the brazing process, include KAlF4 condensation and trace amounts of HF gas. Consequently, the mirror requires frequent maintenance and replacement. “Dirty” mirrors can lead to false readings.
Coulometric Measurement Principle
The principle of operation for measuring is that an electrolyte is formed by absorption of water on a highly hygroscopic surface (e.g. P2O5) and the current level obtained to electrolyze the surface is proportional to the water content. The advantage of this principle of operation is that it is insensitive to aggressive media. The disadvantage is that the precision is not as high as chilled mirror technology. Some heat exchanger manufacturers have reported good success using this measurement principle in their CAB furnaces.
Relationship between dew point and moisture content
The relationship between dew point and moisture content is not linear. It is important to note that small changes in dew point will result in large changes in actual moisture content. This is evident from the graph shown below.