Isotropic composites of aluminum alloy matrices reinforced with particulate alumina have been developed as lightweight, high-specific-strength, less expensive alternatives to nickel-base and ferrous superalloys. These composites feature a specific gravity of about 3.45 g/cm3 and specific strengths of about 200 MPa/(g/cm3). The room-temperature tensile strength is 100 ksi (689 MPa) and stiffness is 30 Msi (206 GPa). At 500 °F (260 °C), these composites have shown 80 percent retention in strength and 95 percent retention in stiffness. These materials also have excellent fatigue tolerance and tribological properties. They can be fabricated in net (or nearly net) sizes and shapes to make housings, pistons, valves, and ducts in turbo-machinery, and to make structural components of such diverse systems as diesel engines, automotive brake systems, and power-generation, mining, and oil-drilling equipment. Separately,incorporation of these metal matrix composites within aluminum gravity castings for localized reinforcement has been demonstrated.

A composite part of this type can be fabricated in a pressure infiltration casting process. The process begins with the placement of a mold with alumina particulate preform of net or nearly net size and shape in a crucible in a vacuum furnace. A charge of the alloy is placed in the crucible with the preform. The interior of the furnace is evacuated, then the furnace heaters are turned on to heat the alloy above its liquidus temperature. Next, the interior of the furnace is filled with argon gas at a pressure about 900 psi (≈6.2 MPa) to force the molten alloy to infiltrate the preform. Once infiltrated, the entire contents of the crucible can be allowed to cool in place, and the composite part recovered from the mold.

This work was done by Uday Kashalikar and Boris Rozenoyer of Foster-Miller, Inc., for Marshall Space Flight Center.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

Foster-Miller, Inc.
350 Second Avenue
Waltham, MA 02451
Phone: (781) 684-4000

Refer to MFS-31784, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs, and the page number.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2004 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from the archives here.