EFFECTS OF IRON AND NICKEL ON THE PROCESSING AND PERFORMANCE OF AN EMERGING ALUMINUM-COPPER-MAGNESIUM POWDER METALLURGY ALLOY
Moreau, Eric D.
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Aluminum (Al) powder metallurgy (PM) provides a cost effective and environmentally friendly means of creating lightweight, high performance, near net shape components, relative to conventional casting/die casting technology. Unfortunately, the current lack of commercially available Al alloy powder blends has hindered development in this field as a result of the limited scope of mechanical properties available; especially under elevated temperature conditions common to many automotive applications. As such, the objective of this research was to attempt to improve the versatility of current Al PM technology through the incorporation of Fe and Ni transition metal additions into an emerging Al- 4.4Cu-1.5Mg-0.2Sn alloy, as this technique is known to enhance the elevated temperature stability of wrought/cast Al alloys through the formation of stable, Fe/Ni aluminide dispersoids. Initial experimentation consisted of evaluating the feasibility of incorporating Fe and Ni both elementally and pre-alloyed, through a series of tests related to their PM processing behaviour (compressibility, sintering response) and sintered product performance (ambient tensile properties). Results confirmed that pre-alloying of the base Al powder was the most effective means of incorporating Fe and Ni as all such specimens achieved properties similar or slightly superior to the unmodified alloy. Of the pre-alloyed systems considered, that containing 1%Fe+1%Ni displayed the most desirable results in terms of mechanical performance and microstructural homogeneity of the Fe/Ni dispersoid phases present in the sintered product. Bars of the baseline system and that modified with pre-alloyed additions of 1Fe/1Ni were then sintered industrially to gain a preliminary sense of commercial viability and obtain additional specimens for elevated temperature exposure tests. Results confirmed that the sintering response, tensile properties and microstructures were essentially identical in both alloys whether they were sintered in a controlled laboratory setting or an industrial production environment. Furthermore, DSC data indicated that S (Al2CuMg)-type phases were the dominant precipitates formed during heat treatment. The effects of elevated temperature exposure were assessed in the final stage of research. Both alloys were found to exhibit comparable behaviour when exposed to the lowest (120°C) and highest (280°C) temperatures considered. Here, the alloys showed no obvious degradation at 120°C. Conversely, exposure at 280°C prompted a steady decline in yield strength for both alloys with significant precipitate coarsening noted as well. Despite these similarities, differences emerged during isochronal tests at intermediate temperatures. Here, DSC data indicated that the precipitates present in the pre-alloyed material were stable at temperatures up to 160°C while those in the unmodified alloy had begun to overage under the same exposure conditions. These differences were accompanied by increased stability in tensile yield strength for the pre-alloyed material. In all, this study has indicated that the use of Al powder pre-alloyed with Fe/Ni additions is feasible for press-and-sinter PM technology and that the sintered product exhibits improved elevated temperature stability under certain conditions.