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Materials Science and Engineering A 535 (2012) 108114

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Materials Science and Engineering A

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/msea

Porosity reduction and mechanical properties improvement in die cast engine

M.A. Irfan a,,1 , D. Schwam b,2 , A. Karve c , R. Ryder c

Department of Mechanical Engineering, Qassim University, Saudi Arabia

Department of Material Science and Engineering, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, USA
Nemak USA High Pressure Die Casting Operations, Sylacauga, AL, USA

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 26 July 2011
Received in revised form 2 December 2011
Accepted 3 December 2011
Available online 19 December 2011
Mechanical characterization
Aluminum alloys

a b s t r a c t
This paper presents an experimental investigation into the reduction of porosity and improvement of
mechanical properties of die cast engine blocks. The focus of this research was to seek improvement in
mechanical properties of aluminum die cast engine blocks by a reduction in the secondary dendrite arm
spacing, modication of the acicular Si microstructure in the eutectic phase and reduction of porosity.
Introducing additional cooling in the thick sections of the casting resulted in reduction of secondary
dendrite arm spacing and consequent improvement of mechanical properties. However the effect of
increased cooling faded with increasing distance from the core. 3D porosity measurements using CT Scan
showed signicant reduction in porosity in sections incorporating a cooling core. Eutectic modication
was achieved by modication with Sr. A target modication of 140 ppm led to signicant improvements
in elongation.
2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
Aluminum alloys are a prime choice for the manufacture of
engine blocks because of their reduced weight leading to lesser
fuel consumption [13]. Different manufacturers are using various
casting processes for the manufacture of engine blocks. Some of the
most popular processes are die casting, precision sand casting and
lost foam casting. While die casting is very competitive for high volume production, porosity can affect mechanical properties unless
carefully controlled by optimizing the process parameters.
Aluminumsilicon alloys are widely used in automotive and
aerospace applications. They provide good uidity, strength and
ductility as well wear and corrosion resistance. Further improvement of mechanical properties is a high priority for the metal
casting industry. In the as cast state the microstructure of
AlSi alloys commonly displays a dendritic network, intermetallic
phases, Si particles as well as undesirable porosity and inclusions.
In addition there are grains and grain boundaries which are known
to affect the yield strength of most metals. However for the cast
metals, yield strength is not signicantly affected by grain size
reduction [4]. The improvement in mechanical properties can be
obtained primarily by reduction of dendrite arm spacing (DAS);
particularly secondary dendrite arm spacing (SDAS), reduction of

Corresponding author. Tel.: +966 5933 79840.

E-mail address: mairfan@qec.edu.sa (M.A. Irfan).
Country of origin: Pakistan.
Country of origin: USA.
0921-5093/$ see front matter 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

porosity and grain size and improvement of microstructure homogeneity of the nal product.
Thick-wall aluminum castings are often a viable alternative to
heavier iron castings in structural applications. Engine blocks are
among the most common automotive components to have been
converted from ferrous alloys to aluminum. Product design loading
requires these castings to provide acceptable mechanical properties in the thick sections. Die casting competes with Low Pressure,
Precision Sand and PRC/VRC in delivering these high integrity aluminum components at competitive prices. This paper presents an
experimental study to improve the mechanical properties of die
cast ADC 12 aluminum blocks. ADC 12 is a die cast alloy as per
Japan JIS5032 composition: Cu 1.53.5, Si 9.612.0, Mg 0.3 max, Zn
1.0 max, Fe 0.9 max, Mn 0.5 max, Sn 0.3 max, Al remainder. ADC
12 is primarily used for pressure die casting. It is similar to LM2 as
per BS 1490, Aluminum Association 384.0, ISO AlSi10 Cu2 Fe, and AC
46100 as per EN 1706. The engine blocks were heat treated to T5.
Production constraints limited the variables in the study to thermal control, heat treatment and alloy modication. The quality
improvements were documented with detailed mechanical property evaluation including tensile, yield, elongation and 3D porosity

1.1. The effect of cooling rates on dendrite arm spacing of

aluminum alloys
A number of researchers have associated mechanical property
improvements with reduction in dendrite arm spacing. Goulart

M.A. Irfan et al. / Materials Science and Engineering A 535 (2012) 108114

et al. [4] developed experimental expressions to correlate the

UTS with secondary DAS for AlSi hypoeutectic alloys. They have
shown that the dendrite neness can be of more importance in
improvement of mechanical properties than grain size. Improving
the DAS leads to a shorter periodicity of microsegregation. They
demonstrated an almost linear relationship between DAS and solidication time. The DAS increased from 20 m to 50 m when the
solidication time was increased from 10 to 100 s for an Al9 wt.%
Si. The UTS increased in a linear fashion with the decrease in DAS.
However the Yield Strength did not show a signicant improvement with the reduction in DAS.
Bamberger et al. [5] measured minimum solidication times of
30 s with a DAS of 50 m for Al9.55 wt.% Si alloy. They also showed
that the following relation holds for AlSiMg die castings.
 = a ts0.43


where  is the secondary dendrite arm spacing, ts is the local solidication time and a is a material constant. The values of a were
shown to be 15.5 for a Al5 wt.% Si and 11.5 for Al9 wt.% Si. Using
the above mathematical model on the variation of DAS with solidication time for the Al9 wt.% Si casting, it can be estimated that
solidication times of 6 s and 2 s correspond to DAS of 30 and 18 m
respectively. This relatively simple formulation enables the calculation of neness of microstructure directly from solidication times.
They further illustrated that heat ux from the casting to the chill
depends on the initial temperature of the chill and the thermal
diffusivities of the cast and chill material.
Zhang et al. [6,7] demonstrated a faster cooling technology using
a copper mold cooled by a phase transition medium (Sn) for solidication of cast aluminum 356 alloy. They demonstrated that DAS is
mainly affected by cooling rate. A higher cooling rate and a shorter
solidication time leads to a more rened microstructure. Their
experiments measured a DAS of 18 m at a cooling rate of 100 K/s
and a very ne DAS of 8 m at a cooling rate of 650 K/s. They further
elaborated that the coarser eutectic brous Si phase that surrounds
the -Al greatly deteriorates the ultimate strength and elongation
of the alloy. However with faster cooling rates the microstructure
obtained is more rened leading to improved UTS.
1.2. Factors affecting solidication rate
Solidication rate during casting depends on the rate of heat
dissipation. A number of factors inuence heat transfer during
solidication, which include (1) thermal diffusivity of the liquid
metal, (2) thermal diffusivity of the solidied metal, (3) the moldmetal interface heat transfer coefcient, (4) thermal conductivity
& diffusivity of the mold material (depends on the efciency of
externally cooled mold), and (5) convection and radiation of the
mold material to the atmosphere [8]. Although all of the above
listed factors contribute towards the rate of solidication, it is the
mold-metal interface that has the dominant thermal resistance.
By using equations of heat transfer the solidication time can
be modeled as [8]

h(Tf To )



where  and L are the density and latent heat of solidication of

the metal, h is the mold-metal interface heat transfer coefcient,
Tf and To are the solidication temperature and temperature of the
mold respectively. (V/A) is the ratio of volume to surface area and
represents the thickness solidied. It can be seen that for a given
metal-mold interface, the only variable that can be controlled is
the mold temperature To . Reduction of mold temperature To is the
most feasible way to reduce solidication time.
It should be noted that the mold-material interface is highly
dynamic (so is h); it starts with contact at a number of solidied


points, which decrease as the metal contracts during shrinkage.

Because of this volumetric shrinkage the mold-metal contact will
diminish during the later stages of cooling. The above equation is
therefore not valid throughout the solidication stages, but can
only be used as a rough theoretical estimate of solidication time.
In pressure assisted casting processes including die casting, the
mold-metal contact is improved.
The above literature conrms the effect of cooling rates on DAS
of aluminum alloys. High cooling rates lead to low solidication
times which in turn lead to smaller DAS. Smaller DAS have a benecial effect on UTS of die castings. In the die casting process, cooling
rates are mainly controlled by the amount of water owing through
the die cooling channels. Further experimentation/study is needed
to establish the correlation between efcient heat transfer mechanisms of die cooling and solidication times of die castings. Will
there be a cap on the maximum cooling rate that is physically
possible in a die casting system, is a question that needs further

1.3. Grain renement and eutectic modication

There are two approaches for improving the microstructure of
die cast alloys. First is grain renement which reduces the grain
size. The second is eutectic modication which reduces the needle shaped Si particles into ne brous and lamellar morphology.
The sharp Si needles are preferential sites for crack initiation and
propagation, thus leading to early failure of the material. Lozano
and Pena [9] studied the roles of Ti as a rener and Sr as a modier in Al12 % Si. Their studies indicated reduction in size of -Al
dendrites from 553 m2 to 204 m2 by an addition of 0.024% of Ti
to the commercial alloy. Addition of 0.02% Sr led to a reduction in
Si cuboid size from 3.7 m to 2.2 m. Addition of both Ti (0.04%)
and Sr (0.04%) led to a grain size of 307 m2 and Si cuboid size
of 2.4 m. In another study Lozano and Pena [10] illustrated that
addition of both Ti (0.05%) and Sr (0.05%) led to an improvement in
yield strength from 90 MPa in the control alloys to 128 MPa in the
rened and modied alloy. The yield strength improvement was
complimented by an increase in elongation from 1.77% in the control alloys to 4.31% in the rened and modied alloy. Eidhed [11]
demonstrated that the addition of Sr also leads to reduction of Al5FeSi phase. The -Al5FeSi phase normally occurs as plates and
is known to obstruct inter-dendritic feeding which in turn leads to
formation of porosity.
Finer grain structures, with equiaxed grain size, brous Si needles and smaller iron rich plates lead to many benets, including
improved metal feeding and uniform distribution of second phases
and microporosity. All these factor have a benecial effect on the
yield strength, tensile strength and percentage elongation of die
castings. Ti as a grain rener and Sr as a microstructure modier
have shown to substantially improve the mechanical properties of

2. Initial mechanical testing, porosity and microstructural

2.1. Mechanical testing
Tensile samples were extracted from V-6 engine block saddles
as shown in Figs. 1 and 2. These tensile tests were carried out as per
ASTM E-8 on round, threaded samples. The mechanical properties
of samples taken from ve engine blocks are summarized in Table 1.
The average Ultimate Tensile Strength (UTS), average Yield Strength
(YS) and average percentage elongation was 200 MPa, 158 MPa and
0.8% respectively. The average is based on a sample size of 30 tests.


M.A. Irfan et al. / Materials Science and Engineering A 535 (2012) 108114

Fig. 1. Front (a) and bottom (b) views of a die cast engine block.

Fig. 2. (a) Location of tensile sample taken from the saddle. (b) A broken tensile sample.

2.2. Area porosity measurements

2.3. Secondary dendrite arm spacing (SDAS)

Tensile samples returned from the mechanical tests were

sectioned, mounted for metallography, ground and polished successively to 0.5 m nish. For each sample 10 micrographs were
taken across the diameters. Pores greater than 20 m were measured using an image analysis software. The results of percentage
porosity and their correlation with mechanical properties are
shown in Fig. 3. Due to the scatter in data it is hard to make any
meaningful conclusions based on this data. The porosity measurements are taken on one particular section of the tensile sample that
may not representative of the whole volume of the tensile sample.
Mechanical deformation is a volumetric process (3D) and may not
correlate well to area measurements (2D). It might be noted that
the scatter in much less when the UTS is measured against SDAS as
shown in Fig. 4.

Secondary dendrite arm spacing (SDAS) was a measured on the

polished samples using image analysis software. Five micrographs
were taken for each tensile sample and three measurements were
taken on each micrograph, thus each data point in Fig. 4 is an average of 15 measurements. SDAS correlates relatively well with the
Ultimate Tensile Strength (UTS) of the samples. Similar results were
obtained for the Yield Strength (YS) and percentage elongation. It
should be noted that a reduction of 5 m in SDAS can lead to an
improvement of 50 MPa in UTS.
SDAS is basically a function of cooling rate. Different casting processes having different cooling rates will yield a range of SDAS. A
literature survey was carried out to nd out the SDAS obtained

Table 1
Mechanical properties of V6 engine blocks.


TS (MPa)

YS (MPa)

% Elong.




Fig. 3. Variation of ultimate tensile strength with the percentage pore area.

M.A. Irfan et al. / Materials Science and Engineering A 535 (2012) 108114


3. Effect of cooling rates on SDAS

3.1. Introduction of cooling core

Fig. 4. Variation of UTS with SDAS.

through various casting processes [6,1214]. Fig. 5 illustrates SDAS

reported for different casting processes. The second bar corresponds to the values obtained in the experimental measurements of
this project. Die casting stands out among various casting processes
for its low SDAS and hence better mechanical properties.
2.4. Microstructure
In order to gain a better understanding of the material response,
Scanning Electron Microscopy and Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy
were carried out on samples obtained from the engine block. Fig. 6a
depicts a typical microstructure obtained from a die cast ADC12
sample. There are three features to be noted. First, the acicular
structure of the Si known to be detrimental to mechanical properties. Second, the iron rich phase (Fig. 6b) that appears as plates
and poses an obstruction to inter-dendritic metal ow during solidication, leading to micro-shrinkage porosity. Finally, the irregular
shaped Cu-Mg that forms a discontinuous interface giving rise to
shrinkage porosity.
2.5. Fractography
Fractography was carried out on the broken tensile samples
using Scanning Electron Microscopy. It can be seen in Fig. 7, that
the fracture surface is generally brittle, with limited evidence of
ductility. The fracture surface also reveals a few relatively large
pores, indicating volumetric growth of pre-existing pores during
the tensile test.

Having established an improvement in mechanical properties

due to reduction in SDAS (Fig. 4), the next logical step was to seek
reduction of SDAS in the thicker section of the castings (saddles) by
the substitution of the solid steel core with a water-cooled core as
shown in Fig. 8.
Saddles from blocks cast with the water-cooled H13 steel core
were sampled for testing. The sectioned saddle was cut into three
pieces and the pieces were ground and polished for microscopy.
Fig. 9 shows the variation of SDAS in the middle piece of the saddle measured at 3 O clock position. The SDAS in the cooled core
was a few microns smaller than measured in the solid core. Even a
reduction of a few microns in SDAS can lead to an improvement of
1020 MPa in the UTS. However, the cooling effect fades at increasing distance form the core. The mechanical properties of the engine
blocks with un-cooled core and with a cooled core are summarized
in Table 2. The advantages of using a cooled core can clearly be seen
from the improved mechanical properties.
Fig. 10 shows a comparison of SDAS obtained in different engine
blocks studied in this research. Three different types of engine
blocks are represented in this test. First is the 4-cylinder (I-4) engine
block with a cooling core, second is the 4-cylinder (I-4) engine block
without a cooling core and third is a V6 engine block also without a
cooling core. For each of the tensile samples taken from these blocks
the average SDAS was measured. The minimum SDAS and hence
the maximum mechanical properties are obtained in the smaller
engine block with the water-cooled core.
3.2. Volumetric porosity measurements around cooling core
Volumetric porosity was measured by using a 3D Computed
Tomography Scan. The volumetric porosity data is given in Table 3.
It is clearly evident that a cooled core reduces the volumetric porosity almost by half as compared to the porosity in an un-cooled
4. Effect of eutectic modication
Having studied the effects of cooling core on mechanical property improvements it was decided to further study effect of eutectic

Fig. 5. Comparison of SDAS reported for various casting processes (Irfan [13], Oswalt and Misra [12], Radhakrishna et al. [14], Zhang et al. [6]).


M.A. Irfan et al. / Materials Science and Engineering A 535 (2012) 108114

Fig. 6. (a) SEM micrograph of ADC 12 die cast microstructure. (b) -Phase iron plates.

Fig. 7. SEM micrographs of the fracture surface.

modication on mechanical properties and nally compare the cost

versus benet of the above mentioned interventions.
4.1. Trials at production facility
After conducting some initial trials at Case it was decided to
try eutectic modication in die cast engine blocks at the production facility in Nemak. The rst modication was attempted on I-4
Engine blocks. Five pounds of Master alloy Al15Sr was added to
7000 pound holding furnace for a target modication of 140 ppm
of Sr. The well geometry was not conducive to efcient mixing and
the ow from the lauder was not stopped. On-line measurement
of eutectic modication was carried out by using Alu-Delta apparatus. The chemistry sample conrmed 101 ppm of Sr which was
less than the target modication. The mixing technique developed
at Case was carefully followed.

Fig. 8. Section of a saddle showing location of the cooling core.

Table 4 shows the comparison of mechanical properties of I4 engine blocks with and without Sr addition. The base line for
comparison is the previous data [13] from Design of Experiments
is summarized in the bottom row. It might be noted that the target
modication of 140 ppm could not be achieved and the resultant
Sr in the melt was about 100 ppm. The improvement in UTS and
elongation was not substantial in this case.
Next modication was attempted on V-6 engine blocks. The
same mixing technique was carried out. However the metal ow
from the launder was blocked in this case to achieve controlled
modication. Ten pounds of master alloy was added to 7000 lbs
of holding furnace. Alu-Delta readings conrmed successful

Fig. 9. Variation of SDAS with distance from the cooling core.

M.A. Irfan et al. / Materials Science and Engineering A 535 (2012) 108114
Table 2
Mechanical properties of I-4 engine blocks with and without a cooling core.

Table 3
Volumetric porosity data.

Engine block with un-cooled core

38406: Un-cooled core


Tensile (MPa)

Yield (MPa)

% Elong.







Engine block with water cooled core


Tensile (MPa)

Yield (MPa)

% Elong.








Only piece with good yield, all others broke prior to 0.2% offset.
115 MPa, an outlier, not included in nding the average.

Material volume (mm3 )

Pore volume (mm3 )
Volumetric porosity (%)


38407: Cooled core


Table 4
Summary of mechanical properties with and without modication of I-4 blocks.
Specimen ID

(Target 0.014%)


YS (MPa)

% Elong.

Block # 08
Block # 26
Previous DOE data:
average from 4
engine blocks

w/o Sr
w/ Sr (0.0101%)




Table 5
Summary of mechanical properties with and without modication of V-6 blocks.
Specimen ID

(Target 0.014%)


YS (MPa)

% Elong.

Block # 30
Block # 35
Previous data: Table 1

w/o Sr
w/ Sr (0.0155%)
w/o Sr




of this improvement can be attributed to breaking down of acicular

Si needles into brous structure as shown in Fig. 11.
5. Conclusions

Fig. 10. A comparison of SDAS and UTS obtained with different engine blocks.

modication and the chemistry samples indicated 155 ppm Sr

modication. With a more controlled modication in the V-6 blocks
the improvement in elongation was three times as shown in Table 5.
Here the target modication of 140 ppm was well achieved. Much

The water cooled core reduces SDAS and porosity thus improving mechanical properties. However the cooling effect diminishes
with increasing distance from the core. Higher cooling rates and
deeper penetration can be achieved by using cores made of higher
thermal conductivity alloys and/or higher cooling water ow rates.
SDAS can effectively be used as a predictor of mechanical properties. Percent Area Porosity (2D) is not a reliable predictor of
mechanical properties due to the probabilistic and random nature
of porosity at the section under observation. For a better correlation with mechanical properties (which are volumetric in
nature) it is recommended to measure volumetric porosity (3D)
Addition of Sr is effective in die casting for modifying the acicular Si needles into a brous structure. Addition of 0.0155% Sr
(target 0.014%) showed an improvement in elongation from 0.5% to
1.5%. Among the two possible directions for mechanical property
improvements, i.e. vent core cooling and Sr addition, the former is

Fig. 11. (a) Microstructure of ADC-12 without the modication. (b) Microstructure of ADC-12 with Sr renement.


M.A. Irfan et al. / Materials Science and Engineering A 535 (2012) 108114

more suitable for a production process as it reduces cycle time and

does not add cost.
The authors wish to acknowledge the 3D porosity CT scan and
analysis done by Varian Inc. Financial support by North American Die Casting Association (NADCA) and Fulbright Organization
is gratefully acknowledged.
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