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Semisolid metal processing

D. H. Kirkwood
MIT in 1992,3 testifies to a new awareness of the
potential advantages in this novel technology, shown
both in Europe and Japan as well as in the USA, and
this wider interest may at last lead to an acceleration
in its adoption by industry during the 1990s. A third
international conference was held in Japan in June
1994.
This review is an attempt to cover both the scientific
background and the technological aspects of the
process as far as they are understood at present. For
the former the author has drawn heavily on the recent
review by Professor Flemings," and on the article by
Kenney et a1.5 for the practical aspects of the technology. Both areas have been supplemented by the
proceedings of the two international conferences
referred to abovc.v"

Semisolid metal processing is a relatively new


method for forming alloys in the semisolid
condition to near net shaped products. It relies
on the behaviour of semisolid slurries in which
the solid exists in the form of spheroidal
particles: if left undisturbed such slurries are
stiff and may be handled, but flow like liquids
on being sheared. Slugs of semisolid alloy may
therefore be injected into a die (thixocasting) or
shaped between closed dies (thixoforging) to
produce components near-to-shape with good
surface finish, free from porosity, and
possessing fine uniform microstructures, which
may be heat treated to give superior mechanical
properties. The rheology of non-dendritic alloy
slurries and the recent ideas which have been
proposed to account for their pseudoplastic and
thixotropic behaviour are considered. This is
followed by a description of the technologies
available for producing non-dendritic structures
and the processes for subsequently shaping the
semisolid alloy. Finally, some indication is
given of the mechanical properties of
components produced by the semisolid
processing route.
IMR/263

Terminology

1994 The Institute of Materials and ASM International.


The author
is in the Department
of Engineering
Materials, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S1 4DU, UK.

Introduction
The beginnings of interest in the mechanical properties and rheology of semisolid alloys which eventually led to semisolid metal processing can be traced
back to the work of Flemings and his co-workers at
MIT in the early 1970s. This work was originally
directed at the problem of hot tearing in alloy castings,
but it was quickly realised that a new technology for
near net shaping of complex forms had been discovered which resulted in a flow of patents from that
source. In these days of narrowly targeted research
when investigators are required to define goals and
identify de1iverables, it is perhaps timely to remember
that important discoveries are often made accidentally, and the ability to recognise unexpected events,
the vision to see potential value, and the freedom to
follow up clues are all vital factors in making important breakthroughs in science and technology.
It is 20 years since the original discovery by Spencer
et al? at MIT of the unusual rheological properties
of vigorously stirred tin-lead slurries and the commercialisation of this discovery has apparently been slow
in spite of a great deal of effort and money having
been invested in the development of the technology,
as well as in the scientific understanding of semisolid
processing. However, the occurrence of two recent
international conferences devoted to the topic, the
first at Sophia Antipolis in 19902 and the second at

The process of stirring alloys during solidification to


produce non-dendritic solid within a slurry and then
injecting this semisolid slurry directly into dies as in
liquid metal die casting, was originally called rheocasting. An alternative process whereby the slurry is
first cast as a billet, cut into appropriately sized slugs,
and reheated back to the semisolid condition before
injecting into the die, was termed thixocasting. The
equivalent process in which the semisolid slug is
shaped between closed dies was called thixoforging.
All these variants for shaping alloys are now collectively referred to as semisolid metal forming processes
(SSM), but all these terms are used in this review.
The term 'semisolid metal processing' is used here to
cover both operations of shaping and of production
of the raw billet.

Rheology of alloy slurries


The modelling of slurry flow into die cavities during
thixoforming requires a fundamental understanding
of their rheological behaviour and a knowledge of
the basic parameters which control the process.
Concentric cylinder viscometers or rheometers are
usually employed for this purpose since the shear
geometry is simple and the shear within the gap can
be made to be acceptably uniform. This condition is
particularly important for non-newtonian fluids. Two
types of cylindrical viscometer are possible: the Searle
type in which the inner cylinder rotates and the outer
remains stationary, and the Couette which has a
rotating outer cylinder which inhibits the onset of
turbulent flow.
Alloy slurries of tin-lead were the first to be
investigated, since their low working temperature
200C) allows convenient experimental conditions
and more accurate data to be obtained. Also the
density difference between solid and liquid in this
alloy system is small, reducing the possible effect of
particle segregation.
( I'J

International

Materials Reviews

1994

Vol. 39

No.5

173

174

Kirkwood

Semisolid

metal processing

7 r----------------..1.6

1.4

6
continuously
cooled

1.2
5
N

5
N

1.0 E

(/)

~"4

cri

U5
a

(/)

0.8~

(/)

I-

1-3
z
w

'E
(J)

z
~4
Ui

(/)

0:

0:

0.6~

~
a..

(/)

en

Yo

s
l-

~3
a:

Yo =

~a..

~2
0.4

= 350 s1

-.

1'0 s1

<t

0.2

Yo

0.2

0.4

0.6

FRACTION SOLID (fs)

Experimental viscosity v. fraction solid fs for


5n-15 wt-%Pb alloy cooled at 0006 K S-1 with a
shear rate of 200 S-1 (after Ref. 1)

0.2
VOLUME

During an investigation in 1972 into the hot tearing


of alloys, Spencer et al? measured the viscosity of
Sn-15 wt-%Pb as a function of fraction solid while
continuously shearing the alloy. The results were
quite unexpected (Fig. 1) in that whereas un stirred
melts began to stiffen when the fraction solid reached
about 0'2, the stirred alloy continued to behave like
a liquid beyond 04. Following this discovery, a comprehensive study on the rheology of this same alloy
was carried out by Joly and Mehrabian" which
showed that the viscosity was also very sensitive to
the cooling rate and shearing rate: low cooling rates
and high shear rates decrease the viscosity for a given
solid fraction. In Fig. 2, it can be seen that for a
cooling rate of 033 K min -1 and shear rate of750 s-\
the alloy still behaves with a low viscosity (like that
of machine oil) at a fraction solid Is of 06. The
microstructures of the rapidly quenched solid-liquid
slurries indicate that this effect is related to the
morphology of the solid particles, as illustrated in
Fig. 3. In the unstirred condition, they form as dendrites; the more vigorous the stirring and the longer
the time spent in the semisolid state, the greater the
tendency to form equiaxed dendrites, rosettes, and
eventually, by a coarsening process, dense spheroids
(see Fig. 4). It would seem that during shearing spheroids find it easier to move past one another than the
more awkwardly shaped dendrite particles, which
may result from hydrodynamic effects as well as from
the entrapped liquid within the dendrite arms acting
effectively as extra solid. This process towards spherInternational

Materials Reviews

1994

Vol. 39

= 750

S1

0
0.8

No.5

0.4
FRACTION

0.6

0.8

SOLID (fs)

Apparent viscosity v. fraction solid fs of 5n15 wt-%Pb sheared continuously and cooled at
033 K min -1 at different shear rates (after Ref. 2)

oidisation of the solid phase and the attendant


lowering of viscosity is irreversible.
Another set of experiments by Joly and Mehrabian
consisted of cooling the alloy at a given rate during
stirring to a predetermined fraction solid and then
continuing to shear isothermally. Continuous shearing at a constant fraction solid leads to a decrease in
viscosity until an effectively steady state condition is
achieved. At this stage, increasing and decreasing the
shear rate slowly demonstrates pseudoplastic behaviour of the slurry since the viscosity falls as shear rate
increases and vice versa; this behaviour appears to be
reversible so that on returning to the original value
after an excursion in shear rate, the same viscosity is
recorded. However, this does not appear to be a true
equilibrium condition because slurry produced at
different initial shear rates to form the same fraction
solid exhibits different pseudoplastic behaviour:
higher shear rates used initially in producing the
slurry result in consistently lower apparent viscosities
in pseudoplastic studies as shown in Fig. 5. The power
law relationship between shear stress x and shear rate
y: L = kyn (where k the consistency and n the power
index are material constants) is often used to describe
pseudoplastic behaviour. The apparent viscosity
(defined as shear stress/shear rate) then becomes 11 =
kyn-\ which is a convenient way of representing the

Kirkwood

Semisolid

metal processing

175

-...:

a.>

0::

I
(J)

N
I

0
0
N

L!)

'<:t

'<:t

II

(J)

.;:>--

Z
,

II

~-

+-'

co

(Y)

L!)

,+-'"
;- 6 6

'<:t

00 N

(Y)

L!)

II

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L!)

L!)

6 6 6

:5
0

'sco
..c
a.>

';"

.0

(J)

co

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0

0
a.>

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a:

';"
(J)

'<:t 0
V '<:t
.;:>-- /\

00

II

lO::"

.;:>--

,,(0

~
I

Structure
of Sn-15 wt-%Pb sample sheared
continuously at 750 s -1 and cooled at 033 K min-1
to a fraction solid of 055 (Ref. 6)
x 50

(Y)

I""-

I""- L!)

6 6 6

6
I

C?

.~o

o
.?-

(Y)

6 6
I +

I
(J)

CL!)

'E ~
~J
MO'>

I
(J)

MO
6L!)

II
C<;)

viscosity behaviour of many non-newtonian fluids.


Joly and Mehrabian attempted to fit their results on
Sn-Pb slurries to this equation, and the values of n
are recorded in Table 1 for 045 fraction solid as well
as the value of 1] determined at y = 200 S -1.
The generally accepted explanation of the pseudoplastic flow observed in alloy slurries is that structure
in the form of agglomerates or clusters of primary

o
L!)
l""-

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.;:>--

'<:t 0

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I

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o a.

(a) c{?

<.9"0

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66

66666

in

~
~

(b)~
Structure

evolution

in rheocasting

roa.>

..c
(J)

(y)0'>

a.>

:(Y)

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co
(J)

increasing

shear rate

10
"0

increasing

(Cl~

decreasing

a.>

time
cooling

~ E
oE

rate

(0

L!)
L!)

00
N(Y)

OON

:5

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(0
I

(J)

co
a.>

(Y)(Y)L!)

E
"0

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"0

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ca a.>
.s::. E

(dl~

Q)

(elO

.D.
Co>

's,

II

:>

co
a.>

o
(5
Q,)

Schematic illustration
during solidification
(after Ref. 4)

b dendritic

growth;

c rosette;

..c
(J)

>-

a:

'~

co
.0

of evolution of structure
with vigorous agitation

Q.

,;:>--

0
u

.s::.

a initial dendritic fragment;


d ripened rosette; e spheroid

a.
a.>

E .~

(J)

(ij

ro

..c
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~ 'I

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<{ ~

<{<{<{

L!)

International

Materials Reviews

1994

Vol. 39

~co
a.
~a.

o
.;:>--

No.5

176

Kirkwood

Semisolid

metal processing
1.0 ,..--------------------.

YO=

w Yo = 230 5-1

o Yo = 350 5-1

z
~

initial
shear rate

6
N

1155-1
fs = 0,45
tu = 2 5
tr = 30 min

Yo = 1155-1

E
~

en

ffi

Yo

a:
....

0.5

en

'E

a:

en

z
~5

:c

en

en
o
o

~4
>
I-

Z
w

a:
~3
c,

<

6
2

100

200
SHEAR RATE y,

300

400

5-1

Pseudoplastic behaviour of 8n-15 wt-O/oPbslurries


showing effect of initial shear rate Yo (after Ref. 4)

solid particles, produced by collisions of favourably


orientated particles, is built up at low shear rates (or
at rest) which gives rise to higher viscosities. High
shear rates, on the other hand, break down these
agglomerates, reducing the viscosity. At any given
shear rate a dynamic equilibrium is achieved resulting
in a particular structural distribution and associated
viscosity (see the section 'Modelling of time dependent
behaviour' below). Recent experiments confirm this
view.l" and attribute the enhanced viscosity of
agglomerates primarily to the entrapped liquid associated with them.
It is important to note that there are two distinct
forms of structure involved in alloy slurries: the
agglomerate structure described above is reversible
(as is the viscosity), unlike the dendrite-spheroid
structure of the primary particles which is dependent
on slurry preparation and changes irreversibly with
time.
A further important aspect of the flow behaviour
of metal slurries was established by the work of Joly
and Mehrabian: that is, the time dependency of
viscosity sheared at constant rate referred to above,
known as thixotropy. This was originally demonstrated by them using cyclic shearing, in which the
slurry is subjected to a steadily increasing shear rate
to some arbitrary maximum value, followed by a
steady decrease back to zero. An example is given in
Fig. 6, showing the upward curve above the return
curve resulting in a hysteresis loop, the area of which
is a measure of the thixotropy of the material. Such
studies indicated that the degree of thixotropy
increased with fraction solid, with increasing change
International

Materials Reviews

1994

Vol. 39

No.5

50
SHEAR RATE

1,5-1

100

Effect of rest time t, on hysteresis loops displayed


by 8n-15 wt-OkPb; tu is time taken to increase
shear rate to its maximum value (after Ref. 6)

of the rate of shear, and with the increase of rest time


given to the slurry before shearing. All these effects
are consistent with the concept of reversible structure
within the slurry which builds up a rest inducing
higher viscosity, and breaks down on shearing to
produce shear thinning. However, the above experiments are not well suited to obtaining the kinetics of
such processes.
The general rheological behaviour of alloy slurries
as a function of fraction solid, shear rate, time, and
initial preparation conditions has been confirmed by
subsequent studies, both on Sn-Pb and aluminium
alloys. However, there are discrepancies in the measured data indicated in Table 1, which warrant further
consideration.
The work of Turng and Wang? also on Sn-15Pb
employed much higher shear rates during the production of the alloy slurry and this was shown to
result in a single relationship for steady state viscosity
as a function of shear rate for each fraction solid,
irrespective of the initial value (see Fig. 7). It is clear
that viscosity decreases with increasing shear rate as
indicated in earlier work, but the curve flattens out
to suggest a constant viscosity 1100 (i.e. newtonian
flow) at very high shear rates. Slurries generated
under these conditions are therefore quasi-equilibrium
structures (ignoring competitive growth of the solid
phase by Ostwald ripening) in which the rates of
structural buildup and breakdown at each shear
rate are equal. These authors present an empirical
relationship for the apparent steady state viscosity:
11 = 11 00 [1 + (y* /ytJm/a where m is 093 and a is 2 in
this alloy, and y* characterises the transition shear
rate between the power law and newtonian regions.
Extrapolation of this expression down to y = 200 S-l
gives a viscosity in reasonable agreement with the
earlier work as may be seen in Table 1. The very high
strain rates involved in semisolid forming processes
(> 1000 S-l) might seem to justify the use of such
data in modelling as suggested by the authors.
However, time dependent effects are not considered
and it cannot be expected that these are negligible

Kirkwood

0.8
C'.!

...

fs=0.47

D.-

0.6
D.-

en

0.4

U5
0
o
en
s
.... 0.2

z
W

0:

~n,
<t:

fs=0.17
0.1
'7

0.08

()

'tV

e
()

0.06
'7
'1V

0.04

\l

0.02 L- __
100

200

--L._~_--L----.L.

400

600 8001000

SHEAR RATE

metal processing

177

fraction solid 04 closely resemble skin cream or


yoghurt in their behaviour during flow. It must be
remembered though that thixoforming is carried out
at a much higher fraction solid.
In most cases the absolute values of apparent
viscosity of slurries determined at y = 200 S -1 and is =
045 are similar, even in the aluminium alloy slurries
allowing for the slightly smaller fraction solid. The
exception
to this is the work of Brown and
co-workers.v"
where significantly higher viscosities
(and shear stresses) were recorded. Further work is
needed to understand this anomaly as well as the
variation in power law index.

2
fs=0.57

Semisolid

--J

2000

1, 5-1

Steady state apparent viscosity


Sn-15 wt-%Pb (after Ref. 7)

v. shear rate in

under the very rapid shear rate changes which the


slurry will be subjected
to in actual forming
operations.
In the other studies listed in Table 1, the power law
index would appear to vary considerably, most indicating a small positive value though two negative
values are reported which are derived from work at
low shear rates using similar viscometers. The source
of this discrepancy is as yet unknown, but it may be
due to the small range of shear rates employed, to
different starting structures,
or perhaps to nonuniform shear across the gap particularly where low
radius ratios have been used. The extreme case of
non-uniform shear could occur by lack of adhesion
at the cylinder surface which should show up as an
unsteady stress output, or as a region of low viscosity
at the surface created either by local structural breakdown or particle migration. It is also possible that
viscous heating generated by shearing could be
responsible for transient melting, particularly at the
necks joining the agglomerates, to produce a lowering
of viscosity; however, there is no evidence of temperature change during sudden shear rate increases to
support
this hypothesis.
Notwithstanding
these
remarks, it has been pointed out by both Kumar
et a1.9 and McLelland et at.tO that the raw data of
shear stress v. shear rate do not follow a simple power
law relationship and therefore the derivation of power
indices may be inappropriate and misleading.
In a comparison with other common fluid materials
showing
shear thinning
(creams, greases, etc.),
Flemings" has shown, from the values of the consistency k and power index n, that alloy slurries with

Modelling of time dependent behaviour


In spite of the importance of thixotropy to the modelling and understanding of semisolid processing, little
fundamental work has been carried out so far on the
kinetics of the buildup and breakdown of internal
structure beyond establishing that breakdown occurs
much more rapidly." The cyclic test employed by Joly
and Mehrabian involves arbitrary variables, such as
the time taken to reach maximum strain rate and the
choice of the maximum itself; furthermore, the results
are not easily interpreted
to provide basic data
independent of experimental conditions.
Cheng and Evans'" (see also Cheng!") have proposed phenomenological
models of thixotropy which
allow experimental approaches to obtain the basic
thixotropic parameters. Two constitutive equations
are involved. First, an equation of state: r = r(y, A),
relating the shear stress to the shear rate and the
internal structure, represented by a single variable A;
and second, a kinetic equation describing the rate of
change of structure: dA/dt = g(y, A). The simplest
model they propose is the so-called Moore model for
the equation of state
r = (1100

+ CA)y

where C is a constant. At high y the structure becomes


fully broken down and A approaches zero with a
viscosity 1100; conversely at y~O, the structure builds
up with time so that A~ 1. If the rate of breakdown
is proportional
to the shear rate and to the present
degree of structure, and the rate of buildup to the
amount of structure to be recovered, we have

dA/dt = a( 1- A) - bAy
where a and b are kinetic constants. The steady state
condition occurs at dA/dt = 0, which leads to the
steady state equation of flow
r = [1100

+ c/( 1+ by/a)]y

It can be seen that even in such a simple model as


this, containing only four parameters, the apparent
viscosity 11 = [1100 + c/( 1 + by/a)] is not a simple power
function of y: it does, however, approach newtonian
behaviour at high y as required by the work of Turng
and Wang. More complex models are also given by
Cheng,!" in particular, flow equations containing yield
stress which may be more appropriate
for metal
slurries.
Figure 8a illustrates the behaviour of a Moore
model slurry, where straight lines of constant structure
International

Materials Reviews

1994

Vol. 39

No.5

178

Kirkwood

Semisolid

metal processing

~~

increaSing
structure

~~A.=1

~ ~~
~~~0

~ v~

~-'<.~u

~~":)-

~~~~

~ ~tO

~~

,'cP

,,

--.--~---:(b)

Schematic diagram showing possible rheological behaviour of slurries which conform to a the simple
Moore model, and b the isostructural Bingham model

= constant) emanate from the origin. Crossing these


lines is a curve representing the steady state condition
of a fluid whose viscosity' decreases with shear rate
as the structure breaks down (A decreases), exhibiting pseudoplastic or shear-thinning behaviour. The
second diagram (Fig. 8b) illustrates a situation in
which the constant structure slurry is represented by
a Bingham fluid (i.e. possessing a yield point). In this
case there is the possibility of the shear stress decreasing initially at low y in steady state flow, for which
there is some evidence available (McLelland et al.10).
Finally, Kumar et al.9 have presented evidence to
show that the constant structure curves in Sn- Pb
slurries are dilatant, or show shear thickening. They
point out that if this is correct, it has important
implications for the stability of flow fronts during
semisolid forming operations.
In principle, equations of this kind are capable of
predicting the flow behaviour of slurries as a function
of time under the action of a known applied external
force within a die of given geometry. However, much
research is still needed to establish the appropriate
forms of the equation of state and the structural
kinetic equation, as well as obtaining data on the
equation parameters. The theoretical work of Brown
et ai.8 considers the mechanisms involved in resisting
fluid flow in slurries, assuming that internal structure
occurs by the buildup and breakdown of particle
pairs only, and leads to an expression for effective
viscosity

(A

17 = A(C/Cm)1/3j[1-

(C/Cm)1/3]

+ DfsydA

and a kinetic equation for structural change


dA/dt=a(l-

A)-bA2y

where C is the effective volume fraction: C =


fs(1 +0'25A), which takes account of liquid trapped
within the particle pairs. A, D, a, b, and dare
parameters to be derived from material properties.
Such an approach is needed to complement the purely
phenomenological approach outlined above in order
to provide a deeper understanding of slurry flow
behaviour and to justify the forms of the relationships
even where the accurate calculation of the parameters
is not yet possible.
International

Materials Reviews

1994

Vol. 39

No.5

Rheology of high fraction solid slurries

It is difficult to use concentric cylinder viscometers


for rheological measurements in slurries containing
much above 05 fraction solid, since shear stresses
become too large. For this reason compression tests
between parallel plates have been used for high fraction solid slurries and interpreted in terms of the
power law relating apparent viscosity to average shear
rate.18,19Quite apart from the unsatisfactory application of equations derived for newtonian fluids being
employed for slurries having highly non-linear behaviour, it is only experimentally possible to investigate
by this means low shear rates (y < 10 S -1) that are of
little relevance to practical forming operations.
Nevertheless, the steady state viscosities derived from
such work appear to be consistent with results from
more reliable viscometer studies'" at higher shear
rates.
To obtain rheological data at the high shear rates
of industrial interest (YI"'V 103 S-l) and at fraction solids
usually employed in semisolid forming (0'7-0'8), it is
necessary to resort to tests similar to actual processing, namely forward or back extrusion,2o,21or to
the penetration of a rod indenter into a semisolid
slug.22 A constitutive equation of flow is chosen in a
computer simulation of the process and the prediction
matched to the actual experimental results to obtain
the equation parameters. However, these models do
not include any time dependent terms and to that
extent cannot be a complete description of flow,
though they may provide a useful guide in developing
process control and optimisation.
It should be added that at high fraction solid where
the particles are more or less in permanent contact
with one another and must move apart to slide past
each other, forces normal to the shear direction must
be taken into consideration. Little work has so far
been carried out on this effect and most experimental
conditions do not allow for its determination.
Mechanisms of primary particle generation
in slurries

The observation of large numbers of fine near spheroidal particles in vigorously stirred and rapidly

Kirkwood

Semisolid

metal processing

179

~,'
I

I
I
I
I

Jlfl
r-. r:

(a)

Small rounded grains appearing


surface after shearing (Ref. 1)

at

I
I

r-. r:
s

/
/
/

~
(b)

fracture

cooled alloys should not be taken necessarily as


evidence of continuous nucleation during solidification, either homogeneous or heterogeneous. It is
well established that in ingot solidification, large
numbers of grains are produced under conditions of
convective flow and low undercooling during solidification by a process of dendrite fragmentation (see
Ref. 23). Stimulation of flow by electromagnetic stirring, for example, generates dendrite crystals, whereas
a magnetic field which dampens flow eliminates the
equiaxed structure.
It seems likely therefore that fragmentation mechanisms are also responsible for the formation of the
spheroidal grains in stirred slurries. Direct evidence
of this appears in Spencer et al.,l where shearing has
taken place after partial solidification to establish
dendrites. It may be seen in the microstructure (Fig. 9)
that where shear has occurred locally, dendrites have
broken up to form small spheroids. It must be admitted that the conditions that exist in stirred slurries
are actually such as to encourage dendrite growth.i"
since solute buildup in the liquid at the growing
interface will be swept away by the convective flow,
resulting in a steeper solute gradient and greater
constitutional supercooling. These conditions will be
exacerbated by faster cooling rates leading to rapid
growth and greater undercooling in the slurry.
Growing spherical solids will, consequently, have
unstable interfaces which may break down eventually to a dendrite morphology. The results of
quenching an alloy during solidification with stirring
confirm that the solid particles do form initially as
dendrites.
Flemings" has listed a number of possible mechanisms whereby fragmentation of dendrite can occur,
which may be reduced to three main groupings:
1. Dendrite arms break off at the roots due to shear
forces. It is difficult to estimate the magnitude of these
forces which originate from the velocity gradient
along an arm belonging to a free floating dendrite."
It must be remembered that these dendrites, because
of their dimensions and growth conditions, are likely
to be initially near perfect crystals without dislocations or notches and therefore simple fracture could
be difficult.
2. Dendrite arms melt off at their roots. This occurs
as a result of the normal ripening process in which

(d)

(c)

a undeformed dendrite; b after bending; c reorganisation


of
lattice bending to give grain boundaries; d for Ygb> 2ys/" grain
boundaries have been wetted

10

Model
of
grain
boundary
mechanism (after Ref. 27)

fragmentation

the surface area is reduced and may be assisted by


fluid flow: (a) accelerating diffusion in the liquid,
(b) causing thermal fluctuations, or (c) generating
stresses at the root which aid melting. Higher solute
content in the solid at the roots will also lower the
melting point and encourage local melting there.
3. An entirely different mechanism has been proposed by Vogel et al." and discussed by Doherty
et a1.27 They suggest that dendrite arms bend under
the flow stresses and the plastic strain is accommodated by dislocation generation. At the melting
temperature, the dislocations can climb and coalesce
to form grain boundaries. When the misorientation
between grains across a boundary exceeds about 20,
the grain boundary energy exceeds twice the solidi
liquid interface energy: the liquid will now wet the
grain boundary and rapidly penetrate along it, separating the arm from its stalk, Fig. 10.
It may well be that all the above mechanisms
operate under different conditions. However, grain
boundary penetration by liquid has been observed to
occur in solid alloys which have been heated just
above the solidus to cause incipient melting and then
quenched, Fig. 11.28 This forms the basis of one
process for producing non-dendritic semisolid feedstock for semisolid forming (see below).
Fragments which have just become detached from
a larger dendrite crystal are not initially spheroidal
and will continue to grow dendritically if the conditions are favourable. However, coarsening or ripening processes leading to the reduction in surface area
will be operating whereby regions of high curvature
are eliminated or reduced by diffusion of solute in
the liquid. This process can be accelerated by stirring
since convective flow of the liquid relative to the solid
helps in the solute transport. As a result continued
International

Materials Reviews

1994

Vol. 39

No.5

180

Kirkwood

Semisolid metal processing

Een
z

en

~ 10-1

s
i-

shear rate, s-1

w
a:

~0-

a 180
540
.900

11

Grain boundary wetting


(Ref. 28)

0.2
VOLUME

shearing of the slurry promotes the change from


dendrite morphology, first, into rosettes, which still
contain entrapped liquid within the cellular arms
(Fig. 12a), and, eventually, into dense spheroidal
particles (Fig. 12b). In rapidly cooled slurries in which
well formed dendrites grow initially, the ripening
process can lead to islands of liquid trapped within
the solid spheroids unable to escape; under these
circumstances continued stirring can have no effect
and the reduction in viscosity will be limited.
This structural change of fragmented dendrite to
spheroidal particle driven by the need to reduce the
total surface energy is irreversible under isothermal
conditions. However, the other structural change
involves the formation of agglomerates of the primary
particles as mentioned previously, and is responsible
for the reversible pseudoplastic flow behaviour at
constant fraction solid.

12

10-2

in AI-45 wt-%Cu alloy

13

0.4

0.6

0.8

1.0

FRACTION PRIMARY SOLID PLUS


ENTRAPPED LIQUID

Apparent steady state viscosity v. volume


fraction of solid plus entrapped liquid for
AI-65 wt-%Si (after Ref. 15)

Agglomerates of primary particles are claimed to


have been observed in quenched slurries in many
alloy systems. It is clear that particles can only weld
together in an encounter if the relative orientation is
favourable such that low energy boundaries are
formed. Doherty et al.27 have examined such clusters
and have shown that the grain boundaries that exist
within them are, in fact, either low angle boundaries
or special coincidence site boundaries, both of which
have low energies and therefore confirm the above
view. More recently, Ito et al.15 have demonstrated
exactly how complex a particle agglomerate may be
in three dimensions by serial sectioning a quenched
aluminium alloy. By estimating the volume fraction

Effect of total time spent in liquid-solid region on structure of 5n-15 wt-%Pb alloy sheared continuously
at 2305-1 for a 13 min and b 40 min (Ref. 6)
x 50

International

Materials Reviews

1994

Vol. 39

No.5

Kirkwood

.4-----~"----wool

"'~.:.+----?7t'H------tr"r.-

crucible
rammed
a Ium ina

H!t----?"':o+-

shoe

rotating
roll

Fiberchrome
pad

stripper

semisolid

15
1If-H..;...:;--:-:-:-~~-alumina liner
!.':"':~:~~~l-induction coil
~;..e,.<T--alumina powder
Fiberfrax paper
induction coil
~~~~-thermocouples
~;"'...:b~+-exit port
~, ..,/"~Transite
shell

14

1~~~~>44--

gas tube

II~U=::::::~~-

Fiberfrax paper
alumina tube
alumina cement

Schematic of high temperature


rheocaster (after Ref. 29)

continuous

solid plus entrapped liquid in the cluster, they were


able to show that the steady state viscosity can be
represented (Fig. 13) as a function of this parameter
alone for all shear rates.

Production of non-dendritic feedstock


Liquid processing
Agitation processes

The original method for producing non-dendritic


slurries developed at MIT involved vigorous stirring
during solidification from the liquid state." This was
developed from a batch process into a continuous
process illustrated in Fig. 14, in which the superheated
liquid in the holding vessel flows down into an
annulus between the stirring rod and an outer cylinder
where it is simultaneously stirred and cooled. Slurry
flows from the bottom of the rheocaster either to be
cast directly to shape, as in a diecasting operation
(rheocasting), or to be solidified and at a later date
to be cut into slugs, partially remelted back to the
slurry state, and then shaped (see the section
'Semisolid metal forming' below). Efforts have been
made to scale up the continuous rheocaster to
industrial production level but apparently without
success. The reasons for this are the unacceptable
erosion of the ceramic stirrer (particularly with high
melting point alloys), the contamination of the slurry
by dross and gas entrapment, low productivity, and
the difficulty in process control.

181

{----~--_.

induction
coi I
square
alumina rotor

1H--~~----r'7+-

metal processing

stationary

gas tube
Fiberfrax

Transite
shell
H---i':fl--

Semisolid

Schematic
Ref. 30)

of shear-cooling

metal

roll process (after

A possible improvement in productivity of the


rhea caster above is the SCR process (shearing-cooling roll )30 in which slurry is generated by pouring
liquid metal between a rotating roll and a stationary
cooling 'shoe', Fig. 15. The shearing of the solidifying
melt within the gap produces a fine slurry in lead and
aluminium alloys, but how much contamination
occurs from oxygen pickup is not reported.
A different approach to direct agitation of the melt
is provided by the so-called passive stirring techniques.31-34 This is achieved by forcing the liquid
through a static mixing device whose geometry
ensures high shear in the fluid while heat is being
removed and solidification is occurring. The alloy
may be forced through the static mixer under gas
pressure or driven by an electromagnetic pump. One
such device involves passing the liquid through a
series of helical paths which alternate between lefthand and right-hand screws, providing very high
shearing of the alloy without turbulcnce.V'P Under
these conditions slurries containing 800/0 solid may
be formed with a viscosity of only 1 N s m -2 and
particle size of around 100 urn. Another design of
static mixer consists of a metal tube packed with
refractory spheres." Fig. 16, through which the liquid
alloy is forced under pressure and cooled. Other more
efficient mixers have also been developed. All these
mixers are cooled from the outside by an atomised
water spray and the alloy may be filtered before
entering the static mixer to provide a clean inclusion
free slurry. Industrial plants using this technology are
currently operating, producing billets of 100 mm
diameter, and it is claimed that a production rate
of 1000 kg/day of aluminium alloy is achieved in
a single shift.34
In order to overcome the problems associated with
direct mechanical stirring, a magnetohydrodynamic
stirring (MHD) process has been developed by ITT
in the USA, and described in a series of patents held
by Alumax Inc.s In this technique, high local shear is
generated by rotating electromagnetic fields within a
continuous casting mould, and continuous billets of
solidified non-dendritic alloy can be produced. The
stirring is deep in the sump of the liquid, which has
International

Materials Reviews

1994

Vol. 39

No.5

182

Kirkwood

Semisolid

metal processing
molten
metal

have been raised. A further possibility is to seed the


liquid metal with fine metal powder of a higher
melting point to form an in situ slurry: this may be
regarded as a variation of the mixed powder route
given below.
The spray casting of alloys (Osprey Process'"] in
which a stream of liquid metal is atomised by a gas
jet and deposited in the semisolid state on to a cooled
target, produces a non-dendritic structure. It has been
demonstrated
that on reheating spray formed alloy
back to the semisolid state, a thixoforgeable material
is generated. The spray forming process is in commercial operation and is able to deliver clean alloy with
controllable
grain size down to about 20 urn. A
present limitation of this route is the minimum size
of billet that may be sprayed, around 60 mm, though
this can be reduced by a further operation such as
extrusion. In total, this could be a more expensive
production route compared with, say MHD; however, it may have particular advantages with high
temperature alloys such as steels and superalloys.

11
heat
removal

semisolid
alloy
16

Schematic
Ref. 34)

of

passive

stirring

process

(after

previously been filtered and degassed, so that contamination


is virtually eliminated. This process is
essentially an additional element to a tried and tested
technology: it produces a fine grain (30 um), uniformly
distributed, material with little contamination. There
are two multistrand casters at present in operation in
the USA. A three-strand DC casting machine with
electromagnetic
stirring to create rotational
flow
about the billet axis has also been developed and
operated by Alusuisse " and is producing aluminium
alloy bar of 75 mm diameter with a non-dendritic
particle size of around 100 urn, An alternative electromagnetic stirring process involving axial rather than
rotational motion has been developed and patented
by Pechiney.
Non-agitation processes
A number of possibilities exist for producing nondendritic structure from liquid metals without agitation. In some alloy systems grain refiners added
before casting (e.g. Ti-B in aluminium alloys) can be
so potent as to suppress dendrite growth and on
reheating such castings to the semisolid state, thixoformable material is generated. This could be an
attractive route for the production
of inexpensive
starting material for semisolid forming and has been
investigated by several workers.36,37 Although suitable
structures have been produced in aluminium alloys
using higher additions of standard grain refiners, it
appears to be difficult to obtain grain sizes less than
100 urn and questions of recyclability of the alloys
International

Materials Reviews

1994

Vol. 39

No.5

Solid state processing


Another technique proved in the laboratory is to
form a compact of fine powder of two alloys having
different melting points.39,4o On heating above the
temperature of the lower melting constituent, a slurry
is produced of the appropriate
structure. This is
clearly an expensive operation but may have limited
use in the production of special parts.
A production
route which should show much
greater commercial potential involves the heating and
partial melting of recrystallised alloy. It has been
explained above that on the formation of the liquid
phase, high angle boundaries between solid grains
will, in general, be penetrated causing fragmentation.
If the material has been sufficiently deformed and
recrystallised
to genera te a fine grained microstructure, partial melting will then cause it to fragment
into an ideal slurry composed of well rounded solid
particles within a liquid matrix. The initial deformation may be carried out above the recrystallisation
temperature (hot working) followed by cold work at
room temperature' (stress induced, melt activated, or
SIMA process), or alternatively below the recrystallisation temperature
(warm working) to ensure the
maximum strain hardening is introduced into the
article,41,42 (recrystallisation
and partial melting, or
RAP process). Recrystallisation
occurs in the work
hardened alloy on reheating: if this can be induced
just before remelting occurs, little time for grain
growth is allowed before fragmentation begins and a
finer particulate structure of the slurry is obtained.
The particle can be as small as 30 urn, depending on
the degree of cold work and the rate of heating. A
minimum of 10% cold work would seem to be
required for effective fragmentation, which sets a limit
on the maximum
practical
billet achievable
by
extrusion to around 50 mm; however, it has been
shown that heavy forging processes may also be used
with success'" and this may allow larger billet diameters to be available for thixoforming. The solid
state production
route via recrystallisation
would
appear to offer a competitive route to the liquid

Kirkwood

~Mg

die clamp

//mOUld

Semisolid

metal processing

183

feedstock

thixotropic
Mg shot accumulator

CCCCJCc:::J~

c:::Jc:JO

non-return
valve

"'barrel

reciprocating
screw

rotary drive and


shot system

nozzle
17 Schematic of Dow Thixornolder"

(after Ref. 44)

MHD process, using simpler technology and equipment generally available. It must be noted, however,
that the optimum processing conditions for different
alloys are generally not well understood, though one
US company (ITT Cannon) has been producing parts
commercially for some time using SIMA feedstock.
Finally, a process which has much in common with
that above and with plastic injection moulding has
been developed by Dow Chernical?" for magnesium
alloys, which they term Thixomolding'P', This
involves feeding machined alloy chips or pellets into
a screw which rotates within a heated barrel, causing
the alloy to be sheared and partially melted before
being injected into the die cavity, Fig. 17. It has the
advantage of combining the slurry generation and die
filling in a single operation as well as avoiding the
safety hazards of melting and handling molten
magnesium.

methods, is that the time in which the liquid is in


contact with the ceramic surface, during which damaging brittle phases can be nucleated, is much reduced.
Techniques have also been developed for incorporating SiC fibres and whiskers into semisolid aluminium
alloy.50,51
It has been reported'" that the loading of aluminium alloy with angular particles such as SiC is restricted to about 20 vol.- %, after which the slurry becomes
too thick to DC cast. Owing to the different nature
of the process, spray forming is probably not so
restricted. However, using additions of fine 10 urn)
well rounded TiC particles manufactured by the XD
process, it has been possible to cast by MHD and
then thixoform a composite aluminium alloy containing up to 40 vol.- % TiC, which possesses the stiffness
of cast iron.

Semisolid metal forming


Production of metal matrix composites
It was recognised early by workers at MIT45,46 that
metal slurries were ideal environments in which to
incorporate ceramic particles to form composites. The
higher viscosity prevented settling or floating, and
allowed wetting and good bonding to occur between
particle and matrix. Furthermore,
these slurries of
ceramic and solid metal particles in a liquid proved
to be forgeable and castable (compocasting); in fact,
there is evidence'P-"? that for a given volume fraction
of solids, the apparent viscosity of the composite
slurry is lower than that of the equivalent alloy slurry
containing
no ceramic. Unfortunately,
the early
attempts to incorporate ceramic particles by mechanical mixing introduced as much oxide and dross as
particulate" so that potential improvements
in
properties were not realised.
With the development of other production routes,
the situation has changed: both the MHD and Osprey
spray forming processes allow particulate material to
be introduced without contamination.
This results
in a uniform dispersion within a fine grained alloy,
shown in Fig. 1849 for a co-sprayed billet of aluminium alloy containing 15 vol.-%SiC, which is unlike
the gross segregation of particulate often encountered
in conventionally cast composites. A further advantage that may be expected from the spray forming
route for making composite products over other

The process of forming a partially melted nondendritic alloy slug into a near net shape component
within metal dies has been termed thixocasting,
thixoforging,
or more
generally,
thixoforming.
Thixocasting
usually refers to the operation
of
injecting the slug into the die by a ram or plunger as
in diecasting, and in fact the early work on SSM
employed diecasting machines and dies. Placing the
slug within open dies and squeezing the two halves
together is often referred to as thixoforging (see

18

Microstructure of co-sprayed 2618 (AI-Cu) alloy


with 15 vol.-%SiC particles, after thixoforming
(Ref. 49)

International

Materials Reviews

1994

Vol. 39

No.5

184

Kirkwood

Semisolid

metal processing

000

charge related 0
to desired
'softness' 0

finished
forging

"

finished
casting

',;=oor""5""'7'-=:n. A
O~~~u

charge
loaded
into
forging
dies

charge is
forged

\
charge is
diecast
charge fed to
diecasting
machine

Thixoforging

19

Thixocasting

Semisolid metal forming processes

Fig. 19). However, the deformation and flow of the


semisolid alloy within the die is different from that of
pure liquid or pure solid in either process, and the
term thixoforming is generally to be preferred.

advantages when dealing with easily oxidised alloys


at high temperatures (e.g. steels).
In thixocasting, it is necessary to control the ram
velocity which determines the flowrate of the slurry
through the gate and into the die. Thixoforming maps

Forming operation

There are two separate stages involved in thixoforming a slug of the appropriate non-dendritic structure
into a shaped component within a die. The first is
the uniform heating and partial melting of the alloy
slug so that it is in the same condition throughout
before injection. In principle, a variety of heating
methods might be used, for instance, radiation and
convective heat transfer within a gas fired or electric
resistance muffle furnace. However, it is difficult to
avoid steep temperature gradients during rapid heating under such conditions since heat must be transferred through the slug surface. Induction heating by
contrast generates the heat within the slug with
minimum gradients and is generally the preferred
approach. Ideally, computer modelling of induction
heating should be carried out to establish the optimum conditions (coil design, current frequency, power
cycling, etc.) necessary for rapid and uniform partial
melting of the slug.52
When the slug is known to be in the correct
softened' condition, either by adopting a heating programme established experimentally, or by temperature measurement or some other non-contacting
device monitoring softness." the slug may be transferred to the die shot chamber by robot handling
where it is then injected into the die by a hydraulic
ram. Alternatively, the induction heating may be
carried out with the slug seated on a pedestal attached
to the ram, Fig. 20, and injected directly into the
die." This technique avoids handling of the semisolid
slug and the delay involved, and permits both heating
and injection to be carried out within a vacuum or
controlled atmosphere chamber; this has obvious
International

Materials Reviews

1994

Vol. 39

No.5

Top actuator

Vacuum
chamber

Heating
coil

Die
lift

Pedestal

Ram

20

Thixocasting machine with controlled atmosphere


(after Ref. 43)

Kirkwood

Semisolid

metal processing

185

co

~100
W

a:
::>
en
en

~ 80

Q..

i=
o
w
~ 60,/"""r.uF

acceptable surface and


internal quality

.F v:

eoe

-J

u:

xnon-fill,opoor surface finish,


acceptable.cunacceptable
internal porosity
5

10

15

20

25

30

METAL INGATE VELOCITY, m s-1

co

acceptable surface and


internal quality

~100
W
a:

::>
en
en

~
80
Q..
Z

i=
o
w

;t

60

-J

u:

D.

xnon-fill,opoor surface finish,


acceptable.cunacceptable
internal porosity
5

10

15

20

25

30

METAL INGATE VELOCIT'(, m s-1

21

Thixoforming maps for a copper alloy 905 (Cu-10Sn-2Zn)


solid 05-06, ingate cross-section 22 rnrn" (after Ref. 29)

(see Fig.21a

and b) have been constructed for the


primary operating variables of the press (the ram or
ingate flow velocity and the final pressure) which
demonstrate that if the flowrate is too low incomplete
die filling results, whereas at too high rates porosity
in the component appears because the smooth slurry
front breaks up and may atomise causing turbulence
and air entrapment. These extremes leave a window
of ram (or ingate) velocities within which satisfactory
thixocastings may be made: it is recommended that
the minimum velocity be employed consistent with
complete filling. It may also be seen from such maps
that final ram pressure has a less important effect on
the component
quality, especially above about
70 MPa, but this may depend on the complexity of
the die geometry. Specially built machines are now
available which provide close control of the injection
process and subsequent pressurisation to optimise the
thixocasting
process. 54 In the alternative process,
whereby the semisolid slug is forged between two die
halves (thixoforging), similar conditions will hold, but
it is more difficult to predict and control the flowrates
of the slurry in different regions of the closing dies,
The practice in thixocasting of aluminium and
copper alloys has been to use conventional die steels

and b 440C stainless steel (17%Cr); fraction

(H-13, H-21) preheated to 200-350C, and die lubricants to prevent sticking. These are the normal
operating conditions in diecasting and appear to work
satisfactorily.
Quenching
into water after a few
seconds at full ram load" appears to retain enough
solute in solution in many aluminium alloys that a
simple T5 aging treatment is sufficient to provide
enhanced mechanical properties. It is important to
note that heat treatment cannot be carried out on
conventional
diecastings
because air entrapment
within the pores would cause blistering and distortion.
The main causes of die deterioration arise from the
formation of fine cracks (heat checking) on the die
surface resulting from thermal cycling and fatigue,
and from wear due to local welding and mechanical
erosion. It has been demonstrated
by experimenr"
that in the case of bronze casting the surface temperature during thixocasting of semisolid alloy is reduced
by a factor of 4 compared with the superheated liquid
in diecasting, and thermal gradients at the surface are
reduced by a factor of 8. The lower surface temperature will result in less mechanical and chemical
erosion, and lower gradients in reduced heat checking,
and therefore the life of the die will be extended.
This supports the case for the economic feasibility of
International

Materials Reviews

1994

Vol. 39

No.5

186

Kirkwood

Semisolid

metal processing

casting of high temperature alloys since die costs


represent a large proportion of the production costs.
Further work on using dies of high thermal conductivity (copper-chromium alloy) has demonstrated that
the thermal shock associated with injection of semisolid slurries can be reduced yet further and could
provide a significantly enhanced die life in ferrous
thixoforming."

r-------------------

24

<,

20

th ixocasti ng
permanent mould
A sand casting

.
casting

pressure diecasting

~ 16

~
~
12
tU

::>

o
Defects in thixoformed

components

The thixoforming maps shown in Fig.21a and b


indicate two problems that can occur which are
related to the flowrate of the slurry into the die. At
low flowrates, below about 5 m s -1 at the ingate, die
filling is incomplete as a result of premature freezing;
the actual velocity will of course depend to some
extent on the size, temperature, and geometry of the
die. As well as by increasing the ram velocity, incomplete filling maybe overcome by increasing the fraction liquid in the slurry or preheating the dies. At
much higher ingate velocities (above", 20 m s -1) the
flow becomes turbulent and splashing may occur on
the entry of the fluid into the cavity, leading to the
entrapment of air; this will result in gas porosity in
the component which is the inevitable condition
of conventional diecastings. These effects may be
avoided by reducing filling rates or by increasing the
fraction solid to produce a slurry of higher viscosity.
Porosity in liquid metal castings also occurs from
solidification shrinkage and may be found in thixocastings in spite of the reduced amount of liquid. It
has been demonstrated that the amount of shrinkage
porosity in thixocasting is quite sensitive to the
volume fraction solid, and above 05 fraction solid for
copper alloy 905 it is virtually eliminated for a simple
component." It is clear, therefore, that the operating
conditions for optimum thixoforming depend sensitively on the fraction solid of the heated slug (controlling its apparent viscosity and solidification
shrinkage) and on the ram velocity (controlling the
ingate velocity), and to a lesser extent on the final
ram load. Having said this, die design will inevitably
affect local flow conditions, as a result for instance of
drastic change in section, leading to possible defects
in these regions.
Oxide will form on the surface of most heated alloy
slugs which may then become incorporated within
the thixocasting or thixoforging during the forming
operation. This defect can cause a serious deterioration in mechanical properties since oxide films may
act as effective cracks within the component. With
aluminium and magnesium alloys it is, of course,
inevitable that oxidation will occur on heating and
the rough vacuum achievable in practice in a thixoforming environment can only reduce growth rate.
For most commercial alloys, such as stainless steel, a
rough vacuum will prevent the formation of heavy
scale but it may be possible to avoid oxidation in a
slightly reducing atmosphere (e.g. N2-5%H2). Given
that oxide is generally present on a slug, it is important that it is removed by being directed into a separate
oxide trap designed into the die, or into regions in
the component where it can do little harm. The
smooth flow of slurry at low velocities allows the
International

Materials Reviews

1994

Vol. 39

No.5

-.------- ....

o
22

50

100
150
200
YIELD STRESS, MN

250

300

m-2

Mechanical properties of thixocast parts of A356


alloy (AI-7Si-O3Mg)
compared
with
other
production processes (after Ref. 35)

broken sheets of oxide film to be driven to the die


surface, whereas turbulent flow will distribute the
fragments randomly throughout the structure with
dire consequences, particularly for high strength, heat
treated alloys.
Other defects sometimes found in thixoforgings or
thixocastings, such as surface blisters, cold shuts, hot
tears, and flow lines - and their avoidance - are
discussed by Kenney et al. in Ref. 5.
Mechanical properties

Only a small amount of work has been carried out


to determine mechanical properties of thixoformed
products and this has been confined mainly to aluminium alloys used in casting processes, with less attention given to wrought alloys. Some available data are
given in Table 2, together with typical values from
the literature relating primarily to permanent mould
castings.
It is clearly apparent that for the 356 aluminium
alloy (AI-7Si-0'5 Mg) the thixocastings in the fully
heat treated state (T6 temper) are superior in all
mechanical properties to specimens produced by the
permanent mould route, and approach those achieved
in close die forging (see Table 2); the ductility of
thixoformed specimens is particularly noteworthy.
Also, simple aging without solution treatment (T5
temper) provides a very useful improvement in properties. The precise comparison of T6 properties is,
however, difficult in that they are affected by different
aging treatments. For instance, the higher aging temperature in the T7 temper compared with T6 (Ref. 35)
results in a higher yield stress with a loss in ductility.
This behaviour is shown in Fig. 22 for a number of
different heat treatments of A356 alloy and illustrates
the general improvement to be expected by thixoforming as against other casting processes. Measurement
of the fatigue properties of this alloy" in the T6
condition, Fig. 23, also shows considerable improvement in fatigue strength of thixocastings over other
conventional castings, which is attributed to the fine
uniform microstructure.
In the case of 357 aluminium alloys, the results
show that mechanical properties similar to those of

Kirkwood

Semisolid metal processing

187

300

250

E 200

en
(J)

~ 150
I-

pressure diecasting

(J)

100

50

105

107

106
CYCLES

23

Fatigue behaviour of A356 alloy (AI-7Si-O3Mg)

as thixocast, compared with other processes (after Ref. 35)

the permanent mould route are achievable, but again


with greater ductility. This suggests that modification
to the heat treatment might produce improved
strengths in this alloy by sacrificing some ductility.
Wrought aluminium alloys have not been as extensively investigated in the thixoformed condition but
Table 2

Mechanical properties

Alloy
Casting

of some aluminium

Process*

Temper

SSM
SSM
SSM
SSM
SSM
SSM
PM
CDF
PM

T6
T6
T6
T7
T5
T5
T6
T6
T51
T6

the indications are that they do not quite achieve the


highest strengths and ductility that these alloys are
potentially capable of in the wrought form. This may
reflect the presence of defects in the products, such
as residual porosity or oxide film inclusions, and
improved processing control or component design

alloys

Yield stress,
MN m-2

Tensile strength,
MN m ?

193

296
300
320
310
234
225
262
340

Elongation,

Hardness,
HB

Ref.

alloys

356
(AI-7Si-0'5

357, A357
(AI-7Si-0'3

Mg)

256
240
260
172
180
186
280
138

70
110
5-10

359
200

50
40

386
427

88
22

366
420
476
469
352
400

92
80
10

SSM
W
SSM
CDF

T4
T4
T6
T6

276
275
277
230

W
W
SSM
W

7075
7075

SSM
W
SSM
SSM
CDF

T6
T4
T8
T6
T6
T6
T6
T6
T6

393
324
310
260
290
275
421
361
420

330
310
496
405
560

7075

T6

505

570

Wrought alloys
2017 (AI-4Cu-Mg)
2017
2024 (AI-4Cu-1 Mg)
2024
2024
2024
2219 (AI-6Cu)
2219
6061 (AI-1 Mg-Si)
6061
7075 (AI-6Zn-Mg-Cu)

*CDF closed

die forging;

PM permanent

T5
T5

mould

casting;

SSM semisolid

metal

105
100

330
296
285

T6
T51

120
90
110
5-10
50
90
20
100
90

290
260
290
207
200
296
145

T6

90

186
358
330

SSM
SSM
SSM
SSM
SSM
PM
PM

Mg)

120
114

processing;

International

19
50
80
82
12

89
80
80

5
56
35
35
5
56
57

100
115

58
57
5
35

110
90
90
100

35
5
35
57
57

89
105

5
57
56

120
89

5
57

104

5
57
5
56
58
57

95
135

70
66
60
110

58
57
57

150

W wrought.

Materials Reviews

1994

Vol. 39

No.5

188

Kirkwood

Semisolid

metal processinq

may help overcome this. It is clearly an area of


research worthy of more attention.

Benefits of semisolid forming


Alloy slurries used in thixoforming may contain as
much as 80.lc> solid: this has a number of consequences for semisolid metal forming as compared
with conventional liquid metal casting into permanent
metal dies, leading to both technical and economic
benefits. Firstly, the heat content of the slurry is only
about 2/3 that of the superheated liquid melt used in
casting; secondly, the viscosity is a factor of at least
100 greater, and controllable; and finally, the solidification shrinkage is very much less. The advantages
that flow from these characteristics are:
an energy efficient process which is easily automated and controlled (resulting in consistency),
with production rates similar to pressure diecasting or better
smooth filling of the die, with no air entrapment
and low shrinkage porosity, giving parts of high
integrity and allowing the employment of heat
treatable alloys possessing superior mechanical
properties
less thermal shock to the die, resulting in longer
die life and the possibility of semisolid forming
of high melting point alloys such as steels and
superalloys
finer and more uniform microstructures, again
leading to enhanced properties
better yield from the raw slug and weight savings
in the components because of improved design.
These weight savings can be the decisive factor
in making the process cost effective.
Table 3 gives an example taken from Ref. 5 of a
comparison of an aluminium automobile wheel made
by two routes: semisolid forging and gravity diecasting. Many of the points above are well illustrated:
there is raw material weight saving of one third and
the greater integrity and superior alloy properties
have allowed the design weight to be reduced by
almost a third again; added to this the production
rate is increased by a factor of over 7. Other examples
are provided in this reference.
In comparing SSM with shaping in the solid state
(e.g. closed die forging, extrusion, etc.), the most
significant advantage is that the forming stresses are
perhaps 10-4 lower in the semisolid state. This means
that more intricate shapes can be formed faster, using
smaller presses, and with lower finishing costs. In
some cases (e.g. superalloys) it permits the shaping of
otherwise unforgeable alloys. Because the structure is
fine and uniform, equivalent or better mechanical
Table 3

properties are to be expected, but much research


remains to be done in this area to establish the
properties achievable under optimum processing
conditions.
In summary, semisolid forming provides a manufacturing route for producing alloy components of high
integrity to near net shape both rapidly and efficiently,
in a range from magnesium alloys to superalloys.
Although there will be initial extra capital costs
involved in providing specialised new equipment and
higher running costs in using specially prepared feedstock, there will be many applications where the
benefits cited above will ensure that semisolid forming
is a commercially viable manufacturing route. As well
as automobile wheels, these presently include aluminium master brake cylinders, fuel systems, electrical
connectors, and valve bodies, and brass plumbing
fittings complete with threads."
There is little information available on the exact
economic benefits to be gained using SSM, which will
clearly depend on the particular component, and on
the alternative route and material chosen for comparison. However, one manufacturer'" has claimed that
500/0 savings are achievable in producing fuel systems
by SSM technology, relative to the conventional
methods of production in steel or aluminium alloy.
They state that, 'this cost reduction is determined by
the high production rate (typical of the pressure
diecasting process) and above all by the possibility
of dramatically reducing subsequent machining
operations'.
Future

All the alloys which have been used to date for


thixoforming were developed originally for either
casting or forging operations, mainly the former.
There is a clear need to develop a range of alloys
specifically tailored for the needs of semisolid processing that will form an appropriate amount of liquid
on partial melting without being too sensitive to
temperature variations, and which are susceptible to
simple aging or tempering heat treatments after
quenching directly from the die.
Although there are now a number of different new
ways for producing the non-dendritic raw material,
including passive stirring, spray casting, and partial
melting of recrystallised alloy, the full potential of
these routes is yet to be developed (as with 'the MHD
process), and there is the further possibility that
entirely new techniques for producing non-dendritic
microstructures will yet be discovered. These developments will be important since at present the cost of
the raw material and availability from few sources

Comparison of semisolid forging (thixoforging) and gravity diecasting for production of aluminium
automobile wheels (Ref. 5)
Production
Weight from
mould/die,
kg

Process

Finished
part weight,
kg

rate per
mould/die
pieces, h-1

Aluminium
alloy

Heat
treatment

Tensile
strength,
MN m-2

Yield
strength,
MN m-2

Elongation,

forging

7'5

6'1

90

357
(AI-7Si-0'3Mg)

T5

290

214

10

Gravity diecasting
(permanent mould casting)

111

86

12

356
(AI-7Si-0'5Mg)

T6

221

152

Semisolid

International

Materials Reviews

1994

Vol. 39

No.5

Kirkwood

have been the greatest impediment to the widespread


application of this exciting new process. The properties of such fine grained material with minimal
segregation after heat treatment should prove an
interesting field of research.
It has been shown that the dies in SSM are not
subject to such severe conditions of thermal stress as
in diecasting, or of mechanical stress as in die forging.
This means that die materials of cheaper alloys might
be used which are easier to fabricate, for instance,
mild steel or copper alloy rather than traditional high
alloy die steels. Furthermore, improvements may be
made by including insulating ceramic inserts or constructing composite dies from metal and mouldable
ceramics.
The rheology of metal slurries containing nondendritic solid particles is still not fully understood.
This is an important area needing further research if
we are to understand exactly how slurry flows into a
die and how to avoid flow instabilities, such as
turbulence and splashing, and to be able to predict
where oxide films might collect within a component.

Acknowledgement
The author wishes to thank Dr Kenneth P. Young
for helpful discussions and advice in writing this
review.

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International

Materials Reviews

1994

Vol. 39

No.5