Fabrication and heat treatment of ceramic-reinforced aluminium matrix composites - a review
© Das et al.; licensee Springer 2014
Received: 22 February 2014
Accepted: 13 May 2014
Published: 7 August 2014
Ceramic-reinforced aluminium matrix composites have attracted considerable attention in engineering applications as a result of their relatively low costs and characteristic isotropic properties. Reinforcement materials include carbides, nitrides and oxides. In an effort to achieve optimality in structure and properties of ceramic-reinforced metal matrix composites (MMCs), various fabrication and heat treatment techniques have evolved over the last 20 years. In this paper, the status of the research and development in fabrication and heat treatment techniques of ceramic-reinforced aluminium matrix composites is reviewed, with a major focus on material systems in terms of chemical compositions, weight or volume fraction, particle size of reinforcement, fabrication methods and heat treatment procedures. Various optical measurement techniques used by the researchers are highlighted. Also, limitations and needs of the technique in composite fabrication are presented in the literature. The full potential of various methods for fabricating ceramic-reinforced aluminium matrix composites is yet to be explored.
Metal matrix composites are combinations of two or more chemically non-reactive materials to form a new material system with enhanced material properties, in which titanium, aluminium and magnesium are popularly used as matrix metals and some non-metallic materials, commonly ceramics such as silicon carbide, aluminium oxide, graphite or fly ash may be used as reinforcing materials (Pandey 2004; Surappa 2003). Silicon carbide-reinforced aluminium matrix composites are advanced engineering materials with improved physical and mechanical properties as compared to their corresponding monolithic alloys. Reinforcement of particles or short fibres of SiC has proved to be advantageous since it offers the composite materials having virtually isotropic properties at low cost. In recent years, metal matrix composites find their extensive engineering application due to their high strength-to-weight ratio, stiffness and resistance to corrosion and high temperature, especially under creep conditions, for which they can be successfully used in aircraft and automobile engine technologies (Divecha et al. 1981; Weinert 1993; Khalifa and Mahmoud 2009; Reddy and Zitoun 2010b). Experimental works on SiC-based technology has gained more importance in aerospace, nuclear, automobile, chemical and cryogenic applications (Adalarasan et al. 2011). One of the major challenges during fabrication of composite material is uniform distribution of reinforcing agent in the matrix phase, which directly affects on the properties and quality of the composite material (Singla et al. 2009). Mechanical properties of a material can be tailored by subjecting it into proper heat treatment condition.
Fabrication of aluminium MMC
It can be clearly observed that there is slight agglomeration of SiC particulates at some places in Figure 1a, and distribution of SiC particulates is more uniform in Figure 1b. The comparison reveals that the size of reinforcement particulates is one of the influencing factors for their uniform distribution in MMC, and the distribution becomes more uniform as the particle size reduces. It can be observed that there is non-uniformity of size of SiC particulates in Figure 2. The uniformity of distribution of SiC particulates is better as compared to that of Figure 1a and slightly poor as compared to that of Figure 1b. This difference might be either due to variation of particulate size or due to variation of volume fraction of reinforcement or even might be due to variation of composition of matrix material, which is difficult to predict, since all the three parameters of the composite represented in Figure 2, i.e. matrix material (Al-5% Cu), size (average 3.5 μm) and volume fraction (15%) of reinforcement, are different as compared to those of Figure 1.
The chemical composition (wt.%) of Al 2024 matrix alloy
Mindivan et al. (2008) manufactured disc-shaped composites with 2618, 6082, 7012 and 7075 aluminium alloys as matrix and SiC as reinforcement. The process involved heating the aluminium alloy up to 800°C and SiC particles up to 1,000°C before mixing to the molten alloy. The molten SiC and alloy slurry was poured into the mould, which was preheated up to a temperature of 300°C. The mixture was hydraulically pressurized up to 600 MPa. The uniformity of distribution of SiC in the alloy was confirmed by macroscopic and microscopic examination of the composites.
Adeosun et al. (2009) fabricated 0 to 50 vol.% SiCp (1 and 60 μm) reinforced Al 1200 alloy composite in a crucible furnace; some of which were homogenized at 430°C for 8 h and air-cooled.
Khalifa and Mahmoud (2009) prepared 5, 10, and 15 wt.% of SiCp (of average size of 60 μm) reinforced Al 6063 by vortex method, which involves melting the matrix at 710°C and degassing it with dry nitrogen gas to minimize the oxidation of the molten metal. The melt was then stirred with a steel stirrer at a speed of 750 rpm for 10 to 15 min, and SiC particles, preheated to a temperature of 300°C for 2 h, were added to the vortex of molten metal during stirring. The composite slurry was poured into a metallic mould, after the stirring was completed. Bains and Manna (2010) prepared 5 and 10 vol.% SiCp (of size 100 μm) reinforced Al 6063 alloy, where the matrix alloy was preheated at 300°C for 1 to 2 h before melting and the SiCp was preheated at 300°C for 1 h before mixing to make the surface of SiCp oxidized. The furnace temperature was raised above the liquidus temperature to melt the alloy completely at 750°C and was then cooled down just below the liquidus temperature to keep the slurry in a semi-solid state. Then, the preheated SiCp were added to a semi-solid metal and mixed manually for 1 to 1.5 min. The composite slurry was then reheated to a fully liquid state, automatic mechanical mixing was done for 30 min at a stirring rate of 220 rpm and casting was done in a steel mould. Yingfei et al. (2010) produced 15 vol.% SiCp (of mean size 2 μm)/2009 Al composites through powder metallurgy technology.
Chemical composition (wt.%) of LM 6
10 to 13
Chemical composition result (wt.%) of Al 6063
Schubert and Nestler (2011) fabricated 25 vol.% SiC (of particle size ranging 2 to 3 μm) reinforced AA 2124 MMC by powder metallurgy route, where the powder is compacted by hot isostatic pressing, after a high-energy mixing process.
Kumar et al. (2012) produced SiC (of size 30 to 50 μm and weight percentage of 5, 10 and 15) reinforced Al 6061 matrix composite by liquid metallurgy technique, where the SiC was first cleaned in distilled water and dried at 90°C. It was then preheated to a temperature of 500°C and added into the vortex of molten aluminium, which was created by rotating an alumina-coated stainless steel stirrer at a speed of 550 rpm. The composite slurry was then degassed using pure nitrogen for about 3 to 4 min, and then the resulting mixture was tilt-poured into a preheated permanent mould. Alaneme and Aluko (2012) manufactured SiC (3, 6, 9 and 12 vol.%)/Al 6063 alloy matrix composites by double stir casting process, where the Al alloy billets were heated up to a temperature of 750°C and then allowed to cool to 600°C, which is slightly below the liquidus temperature, to a semi-solid state. Then, the SiC and dehydrated borax mixture (in a ratio 2:1) was added into the melt, and manual stirring of the slurry was performed for 20 min. After manual stirring, the composite slurry was reheated and maintained at a temperature of 750°C ± 10°C, and then mechanical stirring was performed for 20 min at an average stirring rate of 300 rpm. Casting was then performed in sand moulds at a pouring temperature of 720°C. Vanarotti et al. (2012) manufactured A 356/SiC composite by stir casting technique in a resistance furnace, where the matrix alloy was preheated at 450°C for 3 to 4 h and SiC particles were preheated at 1,100°C for 1 to 3 h to make their surfaces oxidized. Furnace temperature was first raised above the liquidus to melt the alloy completely and was then cooled down just below the liquidus temperature to keep the slurry in a semi-solid state. Then, the preheated SiC particles were added and mixed manually. Then, the composite slurry was reheated to a fully liquid state, i.e. up to a temperature of 730°C ± 10°C, and then automatic mechanical mixing was carried out for about 20 min at an average stirring rate of 300 rpm. The pouring temperature of the slurry to a preheated (350°C) permanent graphite mould was maintained at around 720°C. Ravesh and Garg (2012) synthesized SiC- and fly ash-reinforced Al6061 alloy composite by stir casting technique, in which the alloy was melted at 820°C in a resistance furnace. The fly ash was preheated at 400°C, and SiC was preheated at 800°C for 1 h to remove moisture and gases from the surface of the particulates. The speed of the stirrer was gradually raised to 800 rpm and the preheated reinforced particles were added with a spoon at a rate of 10 to 20 g/min into the melt with constant stirring. Then, the melt was kept in the crucible for approximate half minute in static condition, and then it was poured in the mould. Kumar et al. (2012) fabricated glass and silicon carbide particle-reinforced aluminium hybrid composite by powder metallurgy method, in which cold pressing was used for compaction of the reinforced glass-SiC aluminium hybrid composites.
Chemical composition of Al 356-SiC (10p) B4C (5P) hybrid MMC
Type of hybrid MMC
SiC and B4C - 30 to 50 μm
The chemical composition of Al 7075 matrix alloy ( Kumar and Dhiman 2013 )
Heat treatment of aluminium MMC
A more uniform distribution of SiC particulates are observed in the microstructural image shown in Figure 17 as compared to that in Figure 16a, which clearly depicts the positive effect of heat treatment on uniformity in the distribution of reinforced ceramic particles in metal matrix composites.
Kumar and Dhiman (2013) performed T6 heat treatment of SiC/Gr/Al 7075 hybrid metal matrix composite specimens, in which the solution treatment was done at 490°C for 2 h, followed by water quenching, and ageing treatment was done at 120°C for 20 h.
Step 1. Selection of matrix metal and reinforcing agent
Any type of aluminium alloy may be chosen as matrix metal depending upon the application of the composite. Silicon carbide particulates have widely been used as reinforcing element; however, the use of aluminium oxide, boron carbide, graphite, fly ash and bamboo leaf ash also find their application as reinforcing agent during fabrication of aluminium matrix composites.
Step 2. Determination of weight/volume fraction of reinforcement
Step 3. Preheating and/or melting of matrix alloy
Step 4. Addition of all cover flux during melting and degasser after melting
Step 5. Preheating of reinforcement
Step 6. Manual/motorized stirring, addition of preheated reinforcing agent and wetting agent and temperature control of the abrasive slurry
As per some researchers (Natarajan et al. 2006; Kumar et al. 2012; Behera et al. 2012; Umanath et al. 2013), motorized stirring may be performed to molten aluminium and preheated SiC along with some suitable wetting agent may be added to the vortex created on the surface of molten aluminium due to continuous stirring, whereas some other researchers (Singla et al. 2009; Khalifa and Mahmoud 2009; Alaneme 2011; Alaneme and Aluko 2012; Vanarotti et al. 2012; Alaneme et al. 2013) are in favour of addition of preheated SiC along with wetting agent to the aluminium at semi-solid state, which can be achieved by cooling down the temperature of molten metal just below its melting point. After addition of preheated SiC particles and wetting agent to semi-solid aluminium, sufficient manual stirring is to be performed for 10 to 20 min to avoid difficulty of motorized mixing in the semi-solid state of the alloy. Thorough mixing of the slurry is required to achieve uniform distribution of SiCp in the Al matrix. Naher et al. (2004) reported that stirring the MMC slurry in semi-solid state, during the solidification process, helps to incorporate ceramic particles into the alloy matrix without any addition of wetting agent. After sufficient manual mixing, the composite slurry is reheated to fully liquid state and then automatic mechanical mixing is to be carried out for 10 to 20 min. The mechanical stirring speed used are 220 rpm (Bains and Manna 2010), 300 rpm (Alaneme 2011, Alaneme and Aluko 2012; Vanarotti et al. 2012), 400 rpm (Alaneme et al. 2013), 600 rpm (Singla et al. 2009) and even ultrasonic (Hamed et al. 2001). Preheated SiC may be added at very slow rate, for example, 0.5 g/min (Hamed et al. 2001), 5 g/min (Kalkanli and Yilmaz 2008) or 10 to 20 g/min (Ravesh and Garg 2012). To prevent iron contamination in the abrasive slurry, the stirrer system may be coated with Zirtex 25 (Manoharan and Gupta 1999) or alumina (Kumar et al. 2012; Umanath et al. 2013).
Step 8. Pouring the abrasive slurry to preheated mould
After sufficient mechanical mixing for about 10 to 20 min, the abrasive slurry is transferred to preheated mould, which may be made of sand, ceramic, cast iron or steel. The mould may be preheated up to a temperature within the range of 250°C to 760°C (Umanath et al. 2013; Kumar and Dhiman 2013; Vanarotti et al. 2012; Kalkanli and Yilmaz 2008; Singla et al. 2009), whereas the pouring temperature of molten abrasive slurry is maintained in the range of 680°C to 750°C (Boopathi et al. 2013; Hung et al. 1995; Kalkanli and Yilmaz 2008; Alaneme and Aluko 2012; Vanarotti et al. 2012; Joardar et al. 2011). After pouring molten abrasive slurry into the mould cavity, it is allowed to cool to atmospheric condition at different cooling rates.
Most of the researchers follow T6 condition of heat treatment for SiC-reinforced Al matrix composite, which involves solution treatment at a certain temperature for a certain period of time, quenching in water followed by ageing at a certain temperature for a certain duration. The solution treatment temperature and time and the ageing temperature and time depend upon the type of the Al alloy used for composite fabrication.
An attempt has been done to outline various methods of fabrications of aluminium matrix composite, giving special emphasis to stir casting method. Various steps involved in this method has been discussed briefly, and emphasis has been given to different key points, such as selection of weight or volume fraction of SiC in the composite, SiC particulate size, preheating temperature of SiC, preheating and melting temperature of Al matrix, stirring speed during agitation of the composite slurry, use of flux, degasser and wetting agent, preheating temperature of the mould and pouring temperature of composite slurry into the mould. T6 condition of heat treatment for composites of various Al alloy has been outlined briefly.
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