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Powder Metallurgy

Science of producing metal powders and making finished/semifinished objects from mixed or
alloyed powders with or without the addition of nonmetallic constituents The powder
metallurgy technique finds use in various industries and manufacturing processes. It has
become very popular in a very short span of time because of its efficiency, durability and
reliable output. Some of them are mentioned here.
Applications of Powder Metallurgy in Industries

Manufacturing metal bonded diamond tools and materials.


Manufacturing power tools and modern home appliances.
Aerospace and Automobile Industry have a huge scope for power metallurgy for
making large equipment and machine parts.
Manufacturing of friction materials, refractory metals, switch materials and electric
contact materials.
Production and processing of metals with high melting points like Tungsten and
Molybdenum that are used in electronics industry.

Parts with irregular curves or recesses that are hard to machine can be manufactured using the
powder metallurgy techniques. It is suitable for high-volume and mass production with
practically negligible wastage of the manufacturing material. The process of secondary
machining is virtually eliminated or reduced to negligible extent by the technique of powder
metallurgy and it helps in improving efficiency by a huge margin. Cams, sprockets, pawls,
iron bearings, sintered bronze, ratchets and carbide tool tips are the most commonly
manufactured items with the help of powder technology. The advantages are:
Efficient material utilization
Enables close dimensional tolerances near net shape possible
Good surface finish
Manufacture of complex shapes possible
Hard materials used to make components that are difficult to machine can be
readily made tungsten wires for incandescent lamps
Environment friendly, energy efficient
Suited for moderate to high volume component production
Powders of uniform chemical composition => reflected in the finished part
wide variety of materials => miscible, immiscible systems; refractory metals
Parts with controlled porosity can be made
High cost of powder material & tooling
Less strong parts than wrought ones
Less well known process

Processes of Powder Technology


The basic steps involved in powder metallurgy are the following:
Blending and Mixing: This is carried out to achieve uniformity of the product manufactured.
Distribution of properly sized particles is attained by mixing elementary powder with alloy
powders to obtain a homogeneous mixture. Lubricants are also mixed with powders to
minimize the wear of dies and reduce friction between the surfaces of dies and particles of
powder during compaction. Mixing time will depend upon the results desired, and over-

mixing should be prevented, or otherwise the size of particles will be decreased and they will
be hardened.
Pressing: The cavity of the die is filled with a specified quantity of blended powder,
necessary pressure is applied, and then the compacted part is ejected. Pressing is performed at
room temperature, while the pressure is dependent upon the material, properties of the
powder used, and the density required of the compaction. Friction between the powder and
the wall of the die opposes application of a proper pressure that decreases with depth and thus
causes uneven density in the compact. Thus the ratio of length and diameter is kept low to
prevent substantial variations in density.
Sintering: Changes occur during sintering, including changes in size, configuration, and the
nature of pores. Commonly used atmospheres for sintering are hydrogen, carbon monoxide,
and ammonia. Sintering operation ensures that powder particles are bonded strongly and that
better alloying is achieved.
Flow chart of PM activities

Properties of Metal Powders


Properties of metal powder depend upon the process employed for its production. Therefore,
it is essential to determine the physical and chemical properties of powders to prevent

variations in the desired characteristics of the compactions. Significant properties of metal


powders are:

Chemical composition that is determined by chemical analysis.


Shape of particles that is affected by methods employed for production of powder.
Particle size influences the properties of flow and density of powder metal. It can be
measured by a microscope, sieve, or by sedimentation.
Distribution of particle size has a significant effect on physical properties of powder,
and can be determined by sieving test.
Flowability is the relative ease of the flow of powder through an orifice.
Bulk density can be measured by filling a pot whose volume is known with powder,
and then obtaining the weight of the powder.
Other properties include compressibility, compatibility, sintering ability, and specific
surface.

Powder synthesis techniques


Atomization

Produce a liquid-metal stream by injecting molten metal through a small orifice


Stream is broken by jets of inert gas, air, or water
The size of the particle formed depends on the temperature of the metal, metal
flowrate through the orifice, nozzle size and jet characteristics

Reduction

Reduce metal oxides with H2/CO


Powders are spongy and porous and they have uniformly sized spherical or angular
shapes

Electrolytic deposition

Metal powder deposits at the cathode from aqueous solution


Powders are among the purest available

Carbonyls

React high purity Fe or Ni with CO to form gaseous carbonyls


Carbonyl decomposes to Fe and Ni
Small, dense, uniformly spherical powders of high purity

Comminution

Crushing
Milling in a ball mill
Powder produced
Brittle: Angular
Ductile: flaky and not particularly suitable for P/M operations

Mechanical Alloying

Powders of two or more metals are mixed in a ball mill


Under the impact of hard balls, powders fracture and join together by diffusion
Products manufactured by powder technique

Blending

To make a homogeneous mass with uniform distribution of particle size and


composition
Powders made by different processes have different sizes and shapes
Mixing powders of different metals/materials
Add lubricants (<5%), such as graphite and stearic acid, to improve the flow
characteristics and compressibility of mixtures
Combining is generally carried out in air or inert gases to avoid oxidation
Liquids for better mixing, elimination of dusts and reduced explosion hazards
Hazards

Metal powders, because of high surface area to volume ratio are explosive,
particularly Al, Mg, Ti, Zr, Th

Compaction

Press powder into the desired shape and size in dies using a hydraulic or mechanical
press
Pressed powder is known as green compact
Stages of metal powder compaction:

Cold Uniaxial Pressing

Components or articles are produced by forming a mass of powder into a shape, then
consolidating to form inter-particle metallurgical bonds. An elevated temperature diffusion
process referred to as sintering, sometimes assisted by external pressure, accomplishes this.
The material is never fully molten, although there might be a small volume fraction of liquid
present during the sintering process. Sintering can be regarded as welding the particles
present in the initial useful shape.
As a general rule both mechanical and physical properties improve with increasing density.
Therefore the method selected for the fabrication of a component by powder metallurgy will
depend on the level of performance required from the part. Many components are adequate
when produced at 85-90% of theoretical full density (T.D.) whilst others require full density
for satisfactory performance.
Some components, in particular bush type bearings often made from copper and its alloys, are
produced with significant and controlled levels of porosity, the porosity being subsequently
filled with a lubricant.

Cold Isostatic Pressing

Metal powder placed in a flexible rubber mold


Assembly pressurized hydrostatically by water (400 1000 MPa)
Typical: Automotive cylinder liners

Elemental metal, or an atomised prealloyed, powder is mixed with a lubricant, typically


lithium stearate (0.75 wt.%), and pressed at pressures of say, 600 MPa (87,000 lb/in 2) in
metal dies. Cold compaction ensures that the as-compacted, or green, component is
dimensionally very accurate, as it is moulded precisely to the size and shape of the die.
Irregularly shaped particles are required to ensure that the as-pressed component has a high
green strength from the interlocking and plastic deformation of individual particles with their
neighbours.
One disadvantage of this technique is the differences in pressed density that can occur in
different parts of the component due to particle/particle and die wall/particle frictional
effects. Typical as-pressed densities for soft iron components would be 7.0 g/cc, i.e. about
90% of theoretical density. Compaction pressure rises significantly if higher as-pressed
densities are required, and this practice becomes uneconomic due to higher costs for the
larger presses and stronger tools to withstand the higher pressures.

Sintering
Sintering is the process whereby powder compacts are heated so that adjacent particles fuse
together, thus resulting in a solid article with improved mechanical strength compared to the
powder compact. This fusing of particles results in an increase in the density of the part and
hence the process is sometimes called densification. There are some processes such as hot

isostatic pressing which combine the compaction and sintering processes into a single step.
After compaction the components pass through a sintering furnace. This typically has two
heating zones, the first removes the lubricant, and the second higher temperature zone allows
diffusion and bonding between powder particles. A range of atmospheres, including vacuum,
are used to sinter different materials depending on their chemical compositions. As an
example, precise atmosphere control allows iron/carbon materials to be produced with
specific carbon compositions and mechanical properties.
The density of the component can also change during sintering, depending on the materials
and the sintering temperature. These dimensional changes can be controlled by an
understanding and control of the pressing and sintering parameters, and components can be
produced with dimensions that need little or no rectification to meet the dimensional
tolerances. Note that in many cases all of the powder used is present in the finished product,
scrap losses will only occur when secondary machining operations are necessary
First stage: Temperature is slowly increased so that all volatile materials in the green
compact that would interfere with good bonding is removed
Rapid heating in this stage may entrap gases and produce high internal
pressure which may fracture the compact
Second stage: High temperature stage
Promotes solid-state bonding by diffusion. Diffusion is timetemperature sensitive. Needs sufficient time Promotes vapour-phase
transport. Because material heated very close to MP, metal atoms will
be released in the vapour phase from the particles. Vapour phase
resolidifies at the interface

HOT ISOSTATIC PRESSING (HIP)

Powders are usually encapsulated in a metallic container but sometimes in glass. The
container is evacuated, the powder out-gassed to avoid contamination of the materials by any
residual gas during the consolidation stage and sealed-off. It is then heated and subjected to
isostatic pressure sufficient to plastically deform both the container and the powder.
The rate of densification of the powder depends upon the yield strength of the powder at the
temperatures and pressures chosen. At moderate temperature the yield strength of the powder
can still be high and require high pressure to produce densification in an economic time.
Typical values might be 1120C and 100 MPa for ferrous alloys. By pressing at very much
higher temperatures lower pressures are required as the yield strength of the material is lower.
Using a glass enclosure atmospheric pressure (15 psi) is used to consolidate bars and larger
billets.
The technique requires considerable financial investment as the pressure vessel has to
withstand the internal gas pressure and allow the powder to be heated to high temperatures.
As with cold isostatic pressing only semifinished products are produced, either for subsequent
working to smaller sizes, or for machining to finished dimensions.

Simultaneous compaction + sintering


Container: High MP sheet metal
Container subjected to elevated temperature and a very high vacuum to remove air and
moisture from the powder
Pressurizing medium: Inert gas
Operating conditions
100 MPa at 1100 C
Produces compacts with almost 100% density
Good metallurgical bonding between particles and good mechanical strength
Uses
Superalloy components for aerospace industries
Final densification step for WC cutting tools and P/M tool steels