The production and evaluation of squeeze cast Al-alloy matrix-short ceramic fibre composites
Research work on metal matrix-fibre composites has concentrated in the past on aligned fibre composites. The poor transverse strength of these composites is seen as a major hindrance to their practical use in the majority of engineering applications because stresses exist in more than one direction. Materials with isotropic properties are preferred and consequently reinforcement of composites in three dimensions will be necessary. With this objective, an investigation was conducted to assess the method of fabrication and properties of A1-a110y reinforced with short fibres (SiC and A1 203) randomly oriented in three dimensions. Two composite systems were examined: Al-4.S Cu alloy reinforced with SiC fibre; and Al-3.7S Mg alloy reinforced with A1 203 fibre. The general approach was to establish a satisfactory manufacturing method for the composites before evaluating their mechanical properties. The vortex technique was used to introduce the fibres into the molten alloy. Pre-treatment of the fibres, to induce wetting, and the use of a specially designed device for fibre separation and introduction to the molten A1-ai10ys was found to be necessary so that a uniform distribution of fibres oriented in three dimensions could be achieved. The composites were squeeze cast, under conditions which were experimentally determined, to ensure the production of pore-free castings with fine equiaxed structures. The improvement in tensile strength and ductility of the cast metal, provided by squeeze casting, would be beneficial to composite properties. Composite castings, with up to 10% volume fibre, were produced with a sound structure and with fibres that were uniformly distributed and randomly oriented in three dimensions. It was found that the reaction between the fibres and the respective molten alloy must be closely controlled so that fibre reinforcement can be realised. In this respect the optimum time of contact between the fibres and the molten alloy was experimentally defined for both composite systems. The tensile properties (UTS, 0.1% proof stress, and ductility) of the fibre-free alloys were substantially improved by squeeze casting. The addition of fibre produced further substantial improvement in the tensile properties of the squeeze cast composites, in particular elastic modulus and 0.1% proof stress. Furthermore, composite properties were isotropic. The improvement in the tensile properties of composite castings (as a result of the addition of fibre) was maintained at elevated temperatures. At 250oC, castings of both composite systems with 10% (volume) fibre had 0.1% proof stress and elastic modulus values similar to those for the fibre-free castings at room temperature. The tensile properties of the composite castings were not affected by thermal cycling (at experimental conditions). The fatigue life of the squeeze cast composite was substantially improved over and above the initial improvement in fatigue life of the fibre-free castings produced by squeeze casting. Wear of cutting tools was adversely affected by the presence of fibres.