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Journal ofMaterials Processing Technology 63 (1997) 339-353
The processing of metal matrix composites - an overview
Brian Ralph, H.C. Yuen and W.B. Lee'
"Department of Materials Engineering, Brunei University,
Uxbridge, West London, UBS 3PH, U.K.
'Department of Manufacturing Engineering,
Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
This overview begins by considering the mature situation for polymer matrix composites (PMCs). After a further short section devoted
to ceramic matrix composites (CMCs), the main text is devoted to the variety of routes available for processing metallic matrix
composites (MMCs). These are divided into those where the main steps are performed in the solid state and those where the process
route involves a stage where the matrix is molten. Some discussion is also given to the thermomechanical processing of MMCs and of
their properties.
Metal matrix composites. Processing. Microstructure - property relationships. Polymer matrix composites. Advanced fibre reinforced
composites. Ceramic matrix composites. Internal oxidation. Sintered aluminium powder. Particulates. Short and long fibres. Mechanical
alloying. Diffusion bonding. Molten metal mixing. InfIltration. Dispersion. Spraying. In-situ processing. Solidification processing.
1. Introduction
1.1 Historical perspective
We tend to think of the latter half of the twentieth century as
the "Composite" age. In some ways this is realistic and gives us
a feeling of continuity from former "material-based" ages such as
the Stone, Bronze and Iron ages. Certainly the last 50 years have
been associated with some remarkable developments in composite
materials; some 0 f which will be alluded to in various degrees 0 f
detail below.
However, in another sense, man's use of composite materials
has a very much longer history than just the last 50 years. Many
natural materials may be considered as of composite type; the
classic example being wood [e.g. 1]. Further, mankind relatively
early on in its development discovered and employed one of the
central principles of composite materials, that is enhancing one
or more properties by mixing materials in various ways. Thus a
very elementary example of a ceramic matrix composite (CMC)
would be mud mixed with straw; still a very widely used material
in the construction of houses. The incorporation of the straw
improves the strength, toughness and the thermal insulation
properties of this very basic composite. In principle at least, the
degree of reinforcement (volume fraction of straw) and the level
of alignment of the straw stalks (and their lengths) may be
adjusted so that not only the properties but their anisotropy may
be optimised differently in various parts of the structure. In
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terms of exploiting modem engineering composites. this remains
a central principle.
Modern engineering composites may be said to have "designed
microstructures" in that the dispersed phases/reinforcement tend
to have sizes in the micrometre range (that is from lOs of
nanometres to 100s of micrometres). Wood and straw (e.g.
adobe) tends to rely on rather coarser dispersions of the phases
(say at a scale centred around the millimetre level). In another,
relatively modem, engineering composite - reinforced concrete -
the scale is larger still (here the scale is perhaps centred at the 100
millimetre level). Reinforced concrete may be looked at in at
least two different ways. It can be thought of as a ceramic matrix
composite (CMC) toughened/reinforced with steel bar/mesh.
Equally the civil engineer tends to think of it as a basically steel
structure with the function of the concrete to stop Euler buckling
of the steel elements and to protect the steel from corrosion.
Many problems with structures made from reinforced concrete in
relatively recent times arise because of inadequate protection of
the steel reinforcing bar by the concrete against corrosion.
Ingress of salt-laden solutions into highway bridges has been of
particular concern ("concrete cancer") requiring very expensive
patch and repair processes. Now that the problem has been
correctly identified solutions have emerged including modifying
the concrete chemistry and/or precoating the steel reinforcing bar
with protective (often epoxy) layer.
340 B. Raifet al./Journal ofMaterials Processing Technology 63 (1997) 339-353
1.2 Modern engineering composites
1.2.1. Polymer matrix composites
The major thrust of this overview is to consider critically the
processing routes for metal matrix composites (MMCs).
However, before going into some detail on MMCs, it is perhaps
pertinent to look at recent developments in composites more
The obvious initial subdivision of modern composites is by
way of the nature of the matrix, i.e. polymer, metal or ceramic.
Of these three, clearly polymer matrix composites (PMCs) are
the most extensively developed and applied [e.g. 2-4].
Reinforced polymer composites fInd very wide application
indeed, from uses in aerospace structures (control surfaces, etc.,
in aeroplanes, for the rotor assembly in helicopters) to very
extensive utilization in sports equipment (from shafts for golf
clubs, handles of rackets to marine applications and racing cars).
Here whilst it is still possible to buy small yachts, etc., made in
wood, steel or aluminium this market sector is dominated by
glass reinforced polyester (GRP) and other polymer/fibre
combinations. In addition many smaller domestic structures
(garden ponds, water tanks, etc.), are marketed in reinforced
plastic and reinforced plastics fInd increasing use in the
automobile sector. In addition, some specialist structures such as
windmills are now conventionally fabricated from GRP or
variants thereof. In essence where wood would have been the
natural choice of material in the past (i.e. boats, windmills, etc.),
GRP and other PMCs have tended to become the preferred
replacement materials. In one sense this is because of the
similarity of the materials (wood and GRP are both composites
and plywood is very much like a "layered" polymer fibre
composite). In addition, some of the work skills required in the
fabrication of artefacts in wood are not needed to the same extent
for PMCs. Perhaps of more significance is the reproducibility of
properties in the case of PMCs compared to wood.
PMCs may involve thermoplastic or thermosetting matrices
and the reinforcement may be in the form of relatively equiax
particles, short fIbres or long fIbres. In the case of smaller
engineering components processing by injection moulding of a
thermoplastic matrix reinforced with particulate or short fibre
dispersions is common; the major attributes here are the speed of
processing and the increased stiffness which the dispersoid gives
to the polymer matrix. This fIeld is relatively mature, and
advanced gating systems permit the management of the volume
fraction and alignment of dispersed fibres in various parts of a
moulding by shear within the moulding of the matrix [e.g. 5]. In
other developments reactive processing of polymer blendes
(alloys) can be used to create in-situ reinforcement [e.g. 6,7,].
The reinforcing phases used in PMCs may be polymeric or
ceramic. Glass fibres (continuous or chopped strand) are used to
reinforce thermosetting polyester matrices and the resultant GRP
forms the basic material used in the marine industry and for
many domestic applications. When there is a need for higher
performance, advanced fIbre reinforced composites (AFRCs)
come into play with epoxy matrices reinforced with carbon or
amide (Kevlar) fIbres. AFRCs offer improved specific
mechanical properties (that is property divided by density) and
are of particular importance in aerospace applications, where
weight is a prime factor. However, often AFRCs are also found
within sports equipment, sometimes because of the improved
performance offered but often because of the dictates of fashion!
What is particularly appealing about PMCs as a class of
materials is that many of the relationships between the designed
microstructure and the properties which result are relatively well
understood [e.g. 2-4, 8]. For instance, the variation in elastic
modulus with content of reinforcement is usually found to follow
a simple law of mixtures. In other cases, the relationship between
the microstructural parameters and a specific property may be
much more complex. For instance, explaining the toughening
effect of glass fIbres in a polyester matrix requires consideration
of the details of the fracture process in both phases (which are
both brittle). Here essentially the analysis of fractographs leads
to the conclusion that much of the toughening effect (energy
absorption) arises because of fIbre pull out. This type of
thinking/analysis has become quite sophisticated particularly in the
case of failure under compressive loads [e.g. 9]. In turn it is then
possible to use this approach to redesign the microstructure of
composites to resist more complex loading situations such as
fatigue. In general, this requires the use of hybrid microstructures
[e.g. 10, 11].
The processing of PMCS based on thermosetting polymeric
matrices varies from minimalistic to highly sophisticated. At the
minimalistic level the approach may be almost at the "cottage
industry" level. Taking the fabrication in GRP of small boats as
an example, the glass fIbres are supplied either in the form of
cloth (woven roving) or as a chopped strand matte in various
weights per square metre. A mould of the boat to be made is
covered with a release agent and then with some barrier (gel)
coating of polymer before the cloth/matte is shaped to the mould
and saturated with resin and hardner. At the most primitive level
the "processing" consists of stippling the fIbres with the
resin/hardner mixture and then using a roller to squeeze out
air/gas. The quality of the moulding produced by this method
depends greatly on the skill and experience of the moulder.
Problems (boat pox) with older GRP boats due to osmosis have
tended to lead to improved barrier (gel) coatings and also more
care being exercised in the moulding process. Here, and
particularly with the use of AFRCs in the aerospace and sports
industries, often vacuum bagging (to reduce air/gas entrapment!
voidage) and heat curing in especially designed autoclaves is
becoming more important and represents the sophisticated end of
the processing chain. Another aspect of the more sophisticated
approach is to be able to monitor the state of cure of the matrix
(in terms of cross link density, etc), and in-situ cure monitoring
is emerging as an extremely powerful technique [e.g. 12]. In
general, there is an interest in monitoring the state of "health" of
the composite once it is in service and again sensing systems are
arising which can condition monitor impact and fatigue damage
[e.g. 13].
In a more critical structure, it may be necessary to take the
designing in of an anisotropy of properties a stage further. For
many engineering artefacts now it is possible to analyse the state
of stress which the artefact will encounter during its lifetime using
a computer-aided design (CAD) approach. Such is the sophisti-
cation of CAD systems that it is possible to give a mesh of stress
B. Ralfet al./Journal ofMaterials Processing Technology 63 (1997) 339-353 341
distributions over a structure (e.g. the mast of a windsurfer, an
AFRC gas bottle). This mesh can then be used to modify the
overall design but, more importantly, in tenns of producing
structures from AFRCs, can also be used to calculate the local
fibre densities and orientations needed to cope with this stress
pattern. In the most sophisticated cases this can then be used as
input data to an automatic fIlament winding device which is used
to fabricate the structure.
Whether thennosetting or thennoplastic matrices are used with
whatever fonn of reinforcing, the major attraction of PMCs is the
ability to design/optimise a microstructure which delivers an
optimised "basket" of properties. Whilst it would be wrong to
claim that a detailed understanding of the mechanisms of all
processes in polymer composites is known, in general, good
models are available which are predictive. This means that the
design engineer has "codes" which will enable him/her to
optimise the choice of material parameters for a particular design.
This is probably the main reason that PMCs have become so well
established within such a relatively short time.
However, one problem now beginning to emerge is how to
handle PMCs when the lifetime of the structure they have been
used in is at an end. Increasingly, the importance of
environmental issues comes to the fore with many agencies
stressing the importance of perfonning a life cycle assessment
("cradle-to-grave") approach. Here the difficulty for PMCs, in
particular, and perhaps other composites as well, is to suggest a
sensible recycling process or how they may be disposed of in an
environmentally-sensitive way. There is a tendency to think of
used PMCs as "toxic waste" and this may limit their exploitation
in the future [e.g. 14J.
1.2.2. Ceramic matrix composites
Reference has been made in the Introduction to some of the
traditional ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) where the matrix
is concrete or dried mud. Here we are concerned with modem
engineering versions thereof which would be characterized by
having much more finely divided microstructures.
The main reasons for exploring the possibilities of CMCs is
the hope of achieving substantial increases in toughness (that is
increasing K
above 2MPa m'h). As with all inherently brittle
materials this means invoking processing techniques which
eliminate critical defects. Recent reviews survey these issues
[e.g. 15-18].
A very wide range of matrices and reinforcements have been
explored. For instance, there has been a wide range of studies
exploring the possibility of reinforcing Al
as the matrix with
a range of oxides, carbides, nitrides and borides. In general, the
results have been disappointing because the presence of the
dispersoid has resulted in poor sinterability and the resulting
porosity has degraded the mechanical properties achieved [e.g.
19]. One of the more promising particular additions to Al
been zrO
where hot pressed composites with high fracture
toughnesses (- 10MPa m'h) and high strengths [e.g. 17,20,21]
have been made. Others have been able to show that these and
other low defect content CMCs are able to be superplastically
defonned to large strains [e.g. 22, 23]. Other successful
additions to Al
matrices are the carbides TiC and SiC.
Alumina matrix-TiC composites show excellent wear resistance
and cutting tools have been produced by hot pressing at 16OC1'C
[17]. Composites based on Al
reinforced with SiC are
commercially produced by hot pressing for use as microware
absorbers [17]. Exploratory studies of many other systems have
been made [e.g. 24J.
The main processing route for CMCs, as for ceramics in
general, is via powder fonning. A crucial factor here is to start
with a fme particle size and to avoid agglomerates. This will aid
the sintering/densification process and lead to lower concentrations
of critical defects. The aim during sintering is to get to the lowest
possible porosity without extensive grain growth. Because of the
hardness of ceramics and CMCs, together with the possibility of
introducing critical surface flaws, in general the aim is to use the
powder processing route as a net shaping technique and avoid
fmal machining as much as possible. In some cases, a binder will
be added to give "green strength" after the pressing stage and
sintering aids may also be incorporated. However, often these
additives lead to other problems later in the processing sequence
(e.g. the need for binder removal, often leading to the production
of defects in thicker sections).
The cost of processing through a powder route is high and to
date CMC components produced this way tend to be small in
number and in overall size. However, the potentialities of
artefacts produced from CMCs by this route are acknowledged to
be high and a greater exploitation of CMCs in the future is
generally anticipated. Already CMCs are being exploited
extensively as coatings to protect high temperature metallic alloys
(nickel-base superalloys). These thennal barrier coatings (TBCs)
are used to insulate the underlying alloy from the extremes of
temperature in the hotter parts of gas turbine engines. In general,
TBCs are plasma sprayed over a bond coat which is itself an
MMC [e.g. 25]. In the future, one may expect a competition
between engine components produced from monolithic ceramic or
CMC and those produced from a high temperature alloy and
coated. Another development for internal combustion engines
uses inserts of ceramic/CMC in alloy pistons. One may expect
many other applications for CMCs where the combination of wear
resistance, ability to withstand exposure to high temperature,
chemical inertness and potentially high specific mechanical
properties are of significance.
1.2.3. Metallic matrix composites
One difficulty in reviewing this topic is to decide the
boundaries of what is treated as an MMC. For instance, in
principle, wrought irons and most conventional steels could be
treated as MMCs since they have a metallic matrix which is
reinforced with dispersoids of oxides, sulphides, carbides, etc.
Even if we take a defmition through "microstructural design"
many conventional engineering alloys, such as some steels
involving dispersions created at a moving alpha-gamma interface,
really ought to be included [e.g. 26]. However, this is still much
too all-embracing a defmition and, to some extent by analogy with
PMCs, a cut-off is taken in the defmition which really looks at
"blending" the reinforcement with the matrix. A number of other
ways of limiting the scope of the defmition have been suggested
[e.g. 27]. Even the "blending" approach has in PMC tenns to
B. Ralfet al./Journal ofMaterials Processing Technology 63 (1997) 339-353
Table 1 Main categories of MMCs (modified extensively from [29])
Composite type/process Section Examples (reinforcement/matrix) Main features
In-situ forming
2.1 AlP3' Si0
BeO particulate in Cu Modest strength improvement
- internal oxidation or Ag
Good electrical conductivity
Powder forming
- sintered aluminium
2.2 Al
particulate/AI matrix
Moderate strength and stiffness to
around 300C
Low density
- - -
-- - --- ---- --- --.------ -- - ------ - - -- - -. - ---- ---
- long or short fibres or
2.2 AlP3' SiC in AI alloy matrices Good stiffness/strength to modest
particulate incorporated
by powder metallurgy
Low density
Low thermal expansion
- - -
- ---- - - - - ---- --- - ----- ------------------------
- hard metals
2.2 WC particulate in Co matrix Well developed class of material for
cutting applications
- - -
- -- - .--- - .-- ---- - - - --- ------------------------
- mechanical alloying
2.2 oxide particles in superalloy matrix High performance alloy [e.g.30, 31]
High strength at high temperature
Diffusion bonding
2.2 SiC fibres in Ti
AI etc. Some problems over oxidation at
- long fibres in high temperature [e.g. 32]
- - -
----------------------- ------------------------
- anodised AI roll
2.3 AlP3 particulate/Al Moderate strength and ductility
bonded and consolidated High electrical conductivity
Molten metal mix
3.1 SiC or Al
/light alloy matrices Modest improvements in properties
Infiltration of preforms
3.2 SiC whisker, Al
fibres/AI alloys Good stiffness and strength to 200C
(may be short or long fibre C/AI and Mg alloys (Mg), 300C (AI) and 6000C (Ti)
or particulate) SiC/Ti alloys Low density
B/AI alloys Low thermal conductivity
3.3 various ceramic dispersoids into the Some problems in controlling the
melt microstructure
- - -
- --- - - - - -- -- - ---- - ---- -------------------
Semi solid processing 3.3 Si in AI Modest strength
(rheocasting/thixoforming) Good wear characteristics [e.g. 33]
Spraying 3.4 particulate/short or long fibres in alloy Good stiffness and strength
matrices, e.g. SiC or Al
/in AI alloy Low density
Low thermal expansion coefficient
In-situ processing
3.5 TiB
particulate/AI alloy Good strength ductility and toughness
Fatigue resistant
Solidification - processing,
3.6 TiC fibres in "(/"(' matrix Questions over stability in thermal
directional solidification gradients and thermal cycling [e.g.28].
B. Ralfet al./Journal ofMaterials Processing Technology 63 (1997) 339-353 343
allow for reactive processing [e.g. 6, 7] and so it is quite nonnal
to think of directionally solidified eutectics within the framework
of an MMC defmition [e.g. 28]. One possible scheme for
considering MMCs is given in Table 1. However, two things
should be appreciated about this listing. Firstly, many processing
routes are included here which would not agree with a defmition
for an MMC that the reinforcement and matrix are mixed [e.g.
34]. Secondly, whilst the list may seem quite extensive, it is not
exhaustive and does not attempt to distinguish between processing
routes which are already being used to produce commercial
quantities of material and those which are very much at the
demonstration stage.
The following sections of this overview look at some of the
processing routes mentioned in Table 1 in more detail. Whilst
the emphasis is directed to the processing route, some attention
is also given to microstructure/property relationships (in the same
manner as was done for PMCs earlier in this paper). The next
section (2) looks at the main processing routes for fonning
MMCs in the solid state, whilst section 3 perfonns the same
function for those cases where the main processing step involves
the liquid state.
In looking at the wide variety of processing routes available
for making MMCs (Table 1) thought must be given as to the
likely applications of a particular MMC and the processing route.
Some of these methods produce MMCs with relatively low
volume fractions of dispersoids and so any property enhancement
is likely to be relatively modest. What has to be remembered
here is the cost of using some of the more esoteric long fibres
[e.g. 35, 36]. For instance, one estimate of carbon/boron
protected 100 [.Lm diameter SiC long fibres suggests a cost of
around 10k kg,l. Whilst these costs are likely to fall if major
applications for such fibres arise, these high costs tend to limit
the rate at which potential applications for MMCs employing
these fibres become commercially realised. Again, the
processing route has a considerable bearing on the type of
application. For instance, some MMCs may be processed to very
nearly net shape by casting routes including pressure die casting
[e.g. 37]. In other cases, the initial processing will produce
something which may be identified as a billet which in turn can
be further processed by conventional thennomechanical routes,
such as extrusion, forging and rolling [e.g. 38]. In many cases,
the fabrication route will also require a strategy for making joins
and various joining techniques, such as diffusion bonding, are
now being explored [e.g. 39].
The aim of much of the more fundamental investigations
should be to establish mechanisms relating microstructure to
properties. Eventually, the purpose of this will be to create
predictive models which compare with those available for other
classes of materials, and some efforts along these lines are now
being made [e.g. 40). Two particular complications may arise in
the case of MMCs. The first one arises because many of the
reinforcing phases (e.g. SIC) are thennodynamically unstable in
the chosen matrix (e.g. AI) [e.g. 29,41). Table 2 lists a number
of examples of the type of interactions encountered. This has
lead to a whole range of fibres with protective coatings. The
second complication arises because of the differences in thennal
expansion coefficients between ceramics and metals. For
instance, in the case of Al/SiC the coefficient of thennal
expansion for AI is whilst it is only 3.8xl0
SiC. Thus on cooling from the high temperatures used during
material processing, a thennal mismatch strain is generated across
the interface between the two components of the composite. The
associated strain is then sufficient to generate local plastic yield in
the AI matrix [e.g. 42]. If the MMC is then subjected to thennal
cycling, microstructuraUsubstructural damage can accumulate
leading to dimensional instability or under low loads to accelerated
creep which amounts to superplastic behaviour [e.g. 43, 44].
2. Fonning MMCs predominantly in the solid state
2.1. In-si/u formation of /he dispersoid
With the widest possible defmition of an MMC it is possible
to think in tenns of standard phase transfonnations as a means by
which MMCs are fonned. Within this very broad definition would
then come some of the more "designed" microstructures in steels
[e.g. 26]. A more selective defmition would probably still include
internally oxidised alloys [e.g. 45]. These are examples of
dispersion strengthened alloys which have been extensively studied
and modelled [e.g. 46]. An alloy, typically of Cu or Ag, is made
up as a dilute solid solution with a solute, e.g. AI, Si or Be which
has a higher affmity for oxygen than does the solvent. This is
then heat treated in a partial pressure of oxygen which is below
the threshold for surface oxidation. The result is diffusion of
oxygen into the alloy with the fonnation of oxide dispersions (e.g.
AIP3, Si0
or BeO). Improved mechanical properties (e.g.
strength) result without substantial loss of electrical conductivity.
2.2 Powder fanning
The simplest example of a powder-fonned MMC must be
sintered aluminium powder SAP [e.g. 47]. Only modest
improvements in strength and creep strength are achieved by
powder fonning Al powder with its air-fonned (or high
temperature oxidized) oxide film. Enhanced properties can be
achieved by blending in additional AI
. Again these relatively
simple MMCs have been extensively studied and their mechanical
properties accounted for in tenns of models and relationships such
as that expressed by the Hall-Petch equation [e.g. 48]. One of the
attractions of this work is that it fonns a useful base for many of
the studies of the more recently-developed MMCs which tend to
have much higher volume fractions of dispersoid. In particular,
where the matrix is AI-based and powder fonned whatever the
main dispersoid, fme AIP3 will be found as well and may
contribute to the fmal microstructure and properties [e.g. 49].
A very wide range of MMCs may be fonned using powder
metallurgy techniques (see Table 1); incorporating wide
variations in volume fraction of reinforcement in particulate, short
fibre and long fibre fonn (see Table 1). By way of an example,
figure 1 is a scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of the fracture
surface of a powder fonned and extruded MMC with 17.7% by
volume of approximately 3 [.Lm SiC particulate in 2124 aluminium
powder matrix. Hot isostatic pressing was used to achieve full
densification of this material. Table 3 gives a small selection of
the mechanical property data collected from this material in the
longitudinal (L) and transverse (T) directions and as a function of
percentage stretch after extrusion [50]. One rather specialised set
of MMCs produced by powder fonning are the hard metals
(usually WC dispersed in Co) [e.g. 51].
344 B. Ralfet al./Joumal ofMaterials Processing Technology 63 (1997) 339-353
Table 2. Examples of interactions in selected fibre matrix systems (from [29l).
Fibre recrystallisation activated by Ni
Formation of borides
Formation of TiB!
No significant reaction below
TiSi!, Ti
and TiC form
Formation of nickel silicides
No significant reaction
AI,O dissolution (very little) gives pits
In air, NiAIP4 formation
No interaction up to
Recrystallisation of fibre
Degredation of creep properties
Formation of Fe-,W
; dissolution of fibre
F ~ A I s formation
Dissolution (dissolution/reprecipitation)
Approx. temp.
of significant
interaction (0C)
( 660)
( 660)
( 1083)
*Directionally solidified eutectic composite - representative of several carbide/metal eutectic composites.
B. Ralfet al./Journal ofMaterials Processing Technology 63 (1997) 339-353 345
Figure 1. Scanning electron micrograph of the fracture surface
of a powder-formed SiC particulate reinforced 2124 AI alloy
MMC. The fracture process in this case has cracked the SiC
particle (from [SO)).
Figure 2b. As Fig.2a but taken from a section transverse to the
rolling direction (from [53]).
Figure 2a. Light micrograph of a longitudinal cross-section of an
AI MMC reinforced with 0.08 volume fraction of alumina (from
Figure 3a. Light micrograph of a longitudinal cross section of an
AI MMC reinforced with 0.14 volume fraction of alumina (from
B. Ralfet al./Journal ofMaterials Processing Technology 63 (1997)339-353
Figure 3b. As Fig. 3a but taken from a section transverse to the
rolling direction (from [53]).
Figure Sa. Scanning electron micrograph of TiB
dispersion in
an AI 8%Mg 1%Zr matrix produced by flux-assisted dispersion
(from [61]).
Figure 4. Scanning electron micrograph of an alumina/AI MMC
showing poor banding at the end of the alumina particle (from
Figure 5b. As Fig. Sa but here the matrix is pure AI (from [61])
B. Ralfet al./Journal ofMaterials Processing Technology 63 (1997)339-353
Table 3. Tensile values for as-extruded and stretched material from [53]
Bar Orienta-
strength (MPa)
0.2% proof
As-extruded L 637 430 7.7
As-extruded T 593 427 5.2
Control L 600 417 5
Control T 564 406 4
0.5% L 610 454 5
0.5% T 536 462 4.5
1% L 604 458 4.5
1% T 520 418 4.5
Table 4. Volume fraction of MMCs and geometric shape of the reinforcing alumina (from [53])
Alumina geometry
length (/-tm)
length (/-tm)
0.08 10.5 1.98 20.5 4.3
0.11 11.8 2.21 20.4 4.1
0.14 11.4 2.09 20.2 3.64
* 0 = longitudinal to rolling direction; 90 =transverse to rolling direction
Table 5. Experimental results of physical and mechanical properties of MMCs from [53].
Volume Sample Tensile Modulus Hamdess Resistivity
fraction conditions strength (GPa) Hv
(0.08) Cold
97 72.3 40.7 33.0
rolled 90 108 78 35.9
Annealed 0 85.2 73 31.8 36.8
90 94 87 35.6
(0.11) Cold-
99.7 99.4 49.2 39.6
rolled 90 116 108.5 39.6
Annealed 0 97.3 83.1 32.6 35.9
90 101.3 98.2 36
(0.14) Cold- 0 90.7 78 51.1 40.1
rolled 90 121 120 39.9
Annealed 0 88.8 82.8 35.8 36.8
90 98 103 39.7
* 00 = longitudinal to rolling direction; 90 =transverse to rolling direction
348 B. Ralfet al./Journal ofMaterials Processing Technology 63 (1997)339-353
As outlined in Table 1, mechanical alloying is an important
means of fabricating special MMCs which is already
commercially exploited [e.g. 30, 31]. Whilst a number of
possible systems have been studied, most effort has been directed
at alloys used in the high temperature parts of gas turbines, that
is nickel-base superalloys. In general, a rather low volume
fraction of a rare earth oxide phase is used as the dispersoid.
This is blended into a matrix which is made by mechanical
alloying where the elements are mixed and dispersed by diffusion
bonding and fracture in a machine called an attritor. Extremely
uniform microstructures free of any segregation can be made by
this means.
2.3. Diffusion bonding
In principle, diffusion bonding may be used to form interfaces
between the phases in an MMC and to form joints between MMC
components. Because of some of the inherent properties of Ti
(that is to absorb large quantities of interstitial impurities and
"consume" the air-formed oxide film) the development of
advanced MMCs with Ti matrices and long fibre reinforcements
has been explored extensively [e.g. 36].
The Ti matrix/long fibre reinforced class of MMC might be
thought of as rather exotic; certainly until critical applications for
this class of MMC are found they will remain expensive. A
much less sophisticated and cheaper system has recently been
studied [52, 53]. Figures 2 to 4 and Tables 4 to 6 come from
this study where the aim was to produce a relatively low cost,
reinforced Al which could be used for electrical power
transmission. Thus the aim was to retain the good electrical
conductivity of pure Al but reinforce its mechanical properties
with a dispersoid.
The processing chosen here was to anodize Al fIlm to increase
the thickness of the AlP3 layer. "Sandwich" structures were
then made from anodized and unanodized Al foils to generate a
selected range of AlP3 volume fractions (0.08 - 0.14, see Table
4). These sandwiches were then hot rolled (and in more, as-yet
unreported, experiments were hot extruded) to roll bond them
together. Subsequently, cold rolling was used to break up the
oxide layers (see Table 4 and figures 2 and 3). A whole variety
of mechanical texts together with measurements of electrical
resistivity were made (see Table 5) and the results compared with
simple rule of mixture models (Table 6). Whilst some good
improvements in properties have been achieved more can be
expected once a full bond between the Al and ~ 0 3 is achieved.
It is apparent from micrographs such as figure 4 that more work
in this area is needed.
3. Forming MMCs predominantly in the liquid state
3.1. Molten metal mix processing
In principle, this represents a very simple processing route
whereby reinforcements such as SiC or Al
particles are mixed
into a light alloy melt, subsequently cast and then fabricated in a
manner analogous to conventional, unreinforced alloys [e.g. 54].
In practice, there are three main considerations which distinguish
the reinforced melt from its unreinforced counterpart. Firstly,
the presence of the particles leads to a large increase in the
rheological properties (viscosity) of the melt, which has to be
remembered when thinking of transferring the liquid. The second
factor involves allowing for the sedimentation of the particles
which have a higher density than the Al matrix. This is less of a
problem for more uniformly sized particles when the volume
fraction of them is high. The fmal factor concerns the reactivity
of the particles in the melt. In the case of SiC, its reaction with
molten Al to form A l 4 ~ and Si can be prevented by using a
matrix with a high (-10% Si) content [55]. Whilst Al
are stable in pure Al, any Mg in the melt will encourage the
formation of MgAlP4 spinel.
3.2. Processing by infiltration
In the infiltration process, the starting point is a preform
made from the reinforcing phase. The melt is then introduced
into this preform to fill all the open porosity. In systems where
the melt wets the reinforcement the flow may be brought about
solely by the forces of capillarity; otherwise mechanical force
must be applied to overcome the forces due to drag and capillarity
[e.g. 56]. This process is seen to be a highly versatile, near net
shape fabrication teChnique which offers very good control of the
microstructure. The disadvantages mainly involve the high tooling
costs and the fact that the reinforcement must be mechanically
self-supported prior to inmtration. This latter point limits the type
of reinforcement geometries which may be employed.
3.3. Processing by dispersion
Potentially this is a relatively inexpensive way of making a
broad range of MMCs whereby the dispersoid is added to the
surface of the melt and then becomes entrained in the melt by
agitation and/or mechanical work [e.g. 56,57]. Variations of this
process involve semi-solid processing (rheocasting/thixoforming)
[e.g. 33,58].
These dispersion techniques are versatile but suffer to various
extents from difficulties in controlling the microstructure and
defect content therein.
3.4 Processing by spraying
This is another relatively versatile way of forming MMCs;
offering quite large production rates and the possibility of fonning
to near net shape billets for subsequent, secondary processing
[e.g. 56,59, 60]. Here the melt is divided into droplets (a variety
of "atomization" techniques are used) and sprayed on to or with
the reinforcement. The process can be used for surface coating
or for making monolithic composites.
Table 7 (from ref. [59]) illustrates some of the property
changes which accompany two different ways of making MMCs.
In the case of the SiC reinforced 2014 Al alloy MMCs, the
forming process used was spray fonning (using the Osprey
process). By contrast, the AlP3 reinforced Al-3.5% Cu samples
were produced by infIltration and squeeze' casting.
3.5. In-situ processes
Again depending on the breadth of the defmition of an MMC,
cast irons could be said to come within this class. However, a
B. Ralfet al./Journal ofMaterials Processing Technology 63 (1997) 339-353
Table 6. Comparison of experimental and theoretical values
of the tensile strength of MMCs from [53J
Average experimental Average calculated
results (MPa) results (MPa)
Annealed As-rolled Annealed As-rolled
0.08 94 108 83 122
0.11 101 118 87 134
0.14 103 121 92.8 146
Table 7. Tensile properties of composite and unreinforced alloys (from ref. [59
Alloy Type Heat- Young's 0.2% Proof Tensile Elonga-
and treated Modulus Stress Strength tion
Reinforcement condition (GPa) (MPa) (MPa) %
2014 (Ingot) ST - 153 402 21.7
2014 (Osprey)
+SiC ST - 210 406 U.5
2014 (Ingot) T6 73.8 432 482 10.2
2014 (Osprey) T6 - 437 489 7.4
2014 (Osprey)
+SiC T6 93.8 437 484 6.9
2014 (Osprey)
+SiC T8 - 484 521 8.7
Al-3.5%Cu T4 68.6 150 223 19.5
T4 90.9 134 319 2.3
Al-3.5%Cu T6 70.6 174 261 14.0
T6 95.4 238 374 2.2
ST = solution treated and cold water quenched
Table 8. Selected mechanical properties of A356 alloy series metal-matrix composites (from [62])
Material U.T.S. (MPa) 0.2% Proof Stress Elongation
(MPa) (%)
A356 heat treated' 287 228 13
A356-4w/o TiB
300 237 10
A356-5.5w/o TiB
303 240 7
A356-15v/o SiC # 331 324 0.3
* Solution treated at 53SOc and aged for 24 h at 16O>C;
# Duralcan material solution treated at 541C and aged for 12 hat 16O>C.
350 B. Raifet al./Journal of Materials Processing Technology 63 (1997) 339-353
Table 9. Principle fibre types and their properties at room temperature (from [29]).
Fibre and Method of Diameter Specific Mean Axial Coeff. of
fonn prepara- (I'm) gravity fracture Young's thennal
tion stress modulus expansion
(MPa) (GPa) K-
Tungsten drawn 10-5<>0' 19.2 2500
400 5
Steel drawn 10-250
7.8 2500
210 15
(M or Y/C)
Boron (M/C) CVD 150 2.6 3500 400 8
SiC (M/C) CVD 150 3.4 3800 450 4.5
SiC (Y/C) PP 12 3 2.6 2500 200 4.5
SiC whisker PP 0.1 - 2 3.2 10000 700 4.5
(Y/C) PS 20 5 3.9 1500 380 7
a-AlP3 (RlS) PS 3 1 3.5 2000 300 7
Carbon (Y/C):
high modulus
10 2 3000 600 0
med. strength
8 1.9 4200 300 0
PS 3 3.0 850 150 -
melt 3 2.7 1750 105 -
S-glass (Y/C) melt 3 - 20
2.5 4000 90 3
1. C - continuous; S - short; M - monoftlament; Y - multifllament yam; R - random.
2. CVD - chemical vapour deposition; PP - pyrolysis of polymer precursor fibre; PS - pyrolysis or
sintering of a salt andlor oxide suspension or gel in fibre fonn.
3. Fibre diameters can be chosen in this range. For metal fibres, the strength and price
depend on diameter (extent of wire drawing).
B. Ralf et al./Journal ofMaterials Processing Technology 63 (1997) 3 3 9 ~ 3 5 3 351
number of MMCs coming within the more conventional defmition
of an MMC have been made by forming the reinforcing phase
(such as TiB:z) by an in-situ reaction [e.g. 56, 61-63].
Table 8 compares the properties of an unreinforced Al alloy
(A 356) with the same alloy reinforced reactively to give a
dispersion of TiB
and reinforced with AlP3 by molten metal mix
processing [62]. Figure 5 demonstrates the possibility of
producing both uniform and ultrafme dispersions of TiB
in Al
alloys using a flux-assisted dispersion process [61].
3.6 Solidification processing
Directional solidification of superalloys to give highly aligned
structures or single crystals is now a part of the standard
technology used to produce the compressor blades for the high
temperature zone in gas turbines for use in advanced aeroplanes
[e.g. 64]. It is then possible to modify the base chemistry of the
superalloy such that ceramic fibres (e.g. TiC) are produced
during the eutectic reaction [e.g. 28].
4. Secondary processing
The previous two main sections (2) and (3) have outlined the
main primary processing steps used to fabricate MMCs. As
mentioned previously, in many cases a near net shape route is
desired so that the primary step represents the main step, as in
the case of using a pressure die casting route [e.g. 37].
However, often there is a desire to use thermomechanical
processing steps on MMC billet (e.g. forging, rolling, extrusion
and annealing) so as to be able to produce sections, etc., which
replace those made in more conventional alloys and also so that
the property advantages from thermomechanical treatments may
also be exploited [e.g. 38, 65].
In terms of adjusting/optimising properties, the various
components of the microstructure such as particles/fibres,
precipiates/zones, grain size and dislocation substructure may all
contribute to the overall strengthening in an "additive" manner
[e.g. 66]. Many of the working operations will help to align any
short fibres within the microstructure but also to introduce some
degree of deformation texture into the matrix [e.g. 38].
However, there will also be an interaction between the particles
and the matrix giving local deformation zones which will tend,
in some cases, to randomise the texture [e.g. 38]. If these local
deformation zones do not cause particle-stimulated nucleations of
recrystallisation then a stronger recrystallisation texture will result
[e.g. 67].
It seems likely that the commercial development of MMCs
will require considerable sophistication in the use of
thermochemical treatments, in order that properties may be
5. Future perspectives
In terms of processing routes, this short overview has
demonstrated that there is already a large number available for
MMCs. However, as yet MMCs are only beginning to be
exploited commercially. One reason for beginning this overview
from a treatment of polymer matrix composites (PMCs) was the
contrast in that PMCs are very widely used commercially and this
statement also includes the expensive, advanced fibre reinforced
composites (AFRCs). In the caseofPMCs (including AFRCs) the
data bases and models linking processing to microstructure to
properties are well established and as yet this is not true for
ceramic matrix or metal matrix composites (CMCs and MMCs).
However, this is a very active area of research and our
understanding of the processing/microstructure/property chain is
rapidly gathering momentum over such issues as stiffness strength
and toughness [e.g. 68-72] and fatigue [e.g. 59, 73-75].
Table 9 [from reference 29] demonstrates the wide range of
fibres available for reinforcement. MMCs have been made using
all of these and many particulate reinforcements but only
relatively rarely have the expected property enhancements been
fully realised. However, the "knowledge base" is improving
rapidly so that we may expect significant advances in the
application of MMCs in the immediate future.
The authors are grateful to Dr. G.F. Fernando and Mr. C.
Dometakis for valuable discussions.
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