A study of the powder processing, tribological performance and metallurgy of Aluminium-based, discontinuously reinforced metal matrix composites
The principal objectives of the research reported in this thesis are: to determine the effect that sinter time has on the metallurgical behaviour of alumina-reinforced aluminium-606lmatrix composites; compare and assess the wear resistance of alumina and silicon carbide reinforced aluminium 6061-matrix composites, together with monolithic aluminium 6061 alloy; determine the effect that reinforcement particle size has on the wear resistance of aluminium 6061-matrix composites; identify the relative merits of two techniques for depositing copper coatings on to alumina reinforcements. Through investigation, a successful method of processing silicon carbide and alumina particulate-reinforced AA6061 composites, fabricated by cold uniaxial pressing with vacuum sintering, has been determined. The processing route is as follows: pressing at 400 MPa; vacuum sinter at 600°C for 30 minutes; solution heat treat for 30 minutes at 530°C then water quench; precipitation (ageing) heat treat for 7 hours at I 75°C, then air cool. Metallurgical examination of composites revealed that magnesium was found to collect at interface regions around alumina particulates, resulting in the depletion of magnesium from the aluminium 6061 matrix. The severe depletion of magnesium from the AA6061 matrix when alumina is used as a reinforcement was found to occur during long (greater than 30 minutes) sintering times using a sintering temperature of 600°C. It is postulated that the formation of spinel (MgA12O4) formed from the reaction of magnesium with alumina is a probable cause for the Mg migration. The composites containing alumina particulates were found to have lower hardness values than the monolithic alloy and composites containing silicon carbide, when sintering took place for longer than 30 minutes. Adding 5 wt% silicon to the AA6061 matrix in composites reinforced with alumina particulates was found to reduce the magnesium depletion for sinter times up to one hour at 600°C and give improved composite bulk hardness. During the research, a need for an improved wear testing machine was identified. Therefore a wear test rig, which allows samples of different materials (under different applied loads if required) to be tested simultaneously without interference between test pieces, was designed and commissioned. Two electroless methods for copper coating alumina particulates were also investigated. One method used formaldehyde as the reducing agent, while the other employed hydrazine-hydrate as the reducing agent. The latter method has proven to be quicker, and with improved results, compared to the traditional method using formaldehyde as the reducing agent.