Precipitation Hardening also called age hardening or particle hardening is a heat treatment technique used to increase the yield strength of malleable materials, including most structural alloys of aluminum, magnesium, nickel, titanium, and some steels and stainless steels. In superalloys, it is known to cause yield strength anomaly providing excellent high-temperature strength.
Precipitation Hardening relies on changes in solid solubility with temperature to produce fine particles of an impurity phase, which impede the movement of dislocations, or defects in a crystal’s lattice. Since dislocations are often the dominant carriers of plasticity, this serves to harden the material. The impurities play the same role as the particle substances in particle-reinforced composite materials. Just as the formation of ice in the air can produce clouds, snow, or hail, depending upon the thermal history of a given portion of the atmosphere, precipitation in solids can produce many different sizes of particles, which have radically different properties. Unlike ordinary tempering, alloys must be kept at elevated temperature for hours to allow precipitation to take place. This time delay is called “aging”. Solution treatment and aging are sometimes abbreviated “STA” in metals specs and certs.