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Understanding Quality in Aluminum Castings

G. K. Sigworth
Foseco, Cleveland, OH, USA

Copyright 2011 American Foundry Society

ABSTRACT with a grain of salt, since little is said about the casting
process or melt treatment used.
The concept of metal quality has been pervasive, yet
elusive. Everyone uses the term, but few are able to offer a Considering this problem, how can we develop better
precise definition for it. One approach has been to use a engineering information for casting users? And how do we
standard mold to evaluate metal quality. The two most get the best quality? One approach is to use a test casting.
commonly used in North America are the ASTM B108 test This may be a production casting with a great deal of past
bar, and a step casting proposed by the Aluminum history. It may also be a standardized casting produced
Association (AA). Some results with these molds are given using a specified mold design.
for A356-T6 alloy. It is seen that better degassing practices
have resulted in significant improvements in casting Standard Molds--Aluminum Association Casting
quality over the last thirty years. Iron is shown to be The Aluminum Association (AA) mold was introduced
detrimental to quality. A numerical index is proposed to almost thirty years ago.1 The mold and the resulting
define the quality of castings, which describes the casting are shown in Figure 1. This mold was used by the
combinations of strength and elongation possible in heat AA to develop property data in six different alloys. Tensile
treated castings. This quality index is considered in detail, test samples were taken from five areas, each having a
and equations are presented which give the mechanical different solidification rate and section thickness. Section 4
properties of castings as a function of defect concentration. has the fastest solidification rate. The available tensile
An estimate is also given of quality in defect free property data may be found in a report published by the
castings. When considering tensile properties in AA.2 The data tabulated for A356-T62 alloy castings is
commercial aerospace castings, solidification rate is found given in Table 1, together with properties for separately
to be especially important, because it determines the size cast test bars. The dendrite arm spacing (DAS) observed at
and amount of microporosity (and brittle phases) in the each of the five locations is also given. This DAS has been
casting. Mechanical property data are presented and used to estimate the local solidification times from
rationalized in the form of casting quality plots for published correlations.3 It is readily seen that the
different casting and heat treatment conditions. The role elongation and ultimate tensile strength (UTS) decrease as
of porosity on fatigue properties and the use of Weibull the solidification time increases.
statistics to evaluate quality are also considered.
It should be emphasized that these are average values
Keywords: aluminum castings, casting quality, obtained when the same mold was sent to a number of
degassing, defects, melt treatment, oxides, porosity, fatigue different foundries. It is useful to consider the range of
life alloy compositions used and tensile properties obtained.
Table 2 shows the minimum and maximum values
INTRODUCTION recorded.

When one talks with buyers of castings, it is common to Some foundries evidently had much better practices than
hear the following story. A cast component is obtained others. There was a significant difference in tensile
from foundry A with good results. However, after some properties, especially elongation. This variability in quality
time the purchase agent puts the part out for bid and is a good example of the problem one faces when
foundry X comes in with a lower price. The order is mechanical property data lacks the proper pedigree
awarded to X, but the mechanical properties are found to regarding melting and casting practices. There is no
be significantly lower when castings are delivered. What information about the degassing process used, if any, in the
has caused this change? We are using the same alloy. We AA report. Likewise, other important treatments are
might even be using the same tooling. Why are the unknown, such as filtration, grain refinement and
material properties different? This story illustrates why modification. These all may have an influence on
net-shaped castings sometimes have a poor reputation mechanical properties.
compared to wrought products. It also illustrates why most
handbook values for mechanical properties should be taken

1
Figure 1. AA permanent mold test casting (Location of tensile test samples is shown on the right).

Table 1. Average Tensile Properties of A356-T62 Alloy in the AA Mold


Location UTS Yield Elongation Dendrite arm spacing Solidification time3
(Thickness) (MPa) (MPa) (%) inches microns (sec)
1 (1-3/8) 246 216 2.7 0.0020 51 100
2 (2) 252 221 3.0 0.0018 46 63
3 (7/8) 274 230 4.6 0.0015 38 36
5 (3/8) 274 229 4.9 0.0013 33 25
4 (1/2) 288 233 6.5 0.0010 25 11
test bars 294 242 4.8 0.0012 30 20

2
Table 2. Minimum/Maximum Values for A356-T62 Alloy in AA Study
% Si % Fe % Mg
UTS (MPa) YS (MPa) Elongation (%) Location
235/276 166/242 1.8/4 1
231/283 166/242 1.5/4.5 2
6.8/7.45 0.12/0.18 0.28/0.40 252/297 173/162 3/7.7 3
248/293 173/162 3/7.5 5
259/314 166/269 3.5/9.5 4

The above information is interesting, but what does it crucible. The metal temperature inside the crucible was
really mean? Is it possible to do better? To find out it will held between 1350 and 1380F (730 to 750C). The metal
be useful to compare these results with castings having a was modified with strontium and grain refined with small
better pedigree. additions of 5Ti-1B rod. Thermal analysis samples were
taken every 30 minutes to ensure that the grain refinement
We first consider castings produced at Stahl Specialty and modification were not lost. The resulting castings
Company.4 A heat of A356 alloy with 0.07 % Fe, 0.36 % were solution heat treated for six hours at 1000F (538C)
Mg and 0.08 % Ti was melted in a double chamber dry and water quenched. After a 24 hour hold at room
hearth furnace. The metal in the dip out well was temperature the castings were aged for 6 hours at 310F
degassed by porous plugs and maintained at a low gas (160C). Table 3 shows the resulting mechanical property
level, as determined by reduced pressure samples taken data (average of ten samples for each location). The
every thirty minutes. A filter crucible was placed in the tensile properties were considerably improved over those
furnace dip out well and all metal was ladled from this found in the AA study.

2
Values of quality index were calculated and shown in An analysis of the resulting tensile data showed that the
Table 3. This index will be considered in more detail later. dissolved Ti content and the boron addition had no
Here we only note here that the index was proposed by significant effect on casting quality. The average values
French foundrymen5 and is defined by the formula: (56 samples for each location) and the 1 deviation of the
Q = UTS + 150 log E Equation 1 tensile properties are given in Table 5.The three sets of
tensile property data (from Tables 1, 3 and 5) have been
where Q and UTS are given in MPa and the elongation to plotted in Figure 2. The elongation is shown on a
fracture, E, is in percent. The quality index drops by about logarithmic scale, so that constant values of quality (in
20 % (100 MPa) at longer solidification times. It should MPa, as defined by Equation 1) appear as diagonal,
be noted that the properties of the AA castings in Table 1 straight lines. The results from the Aluminum Association
had a significantly lower overall level of quality index. report (Table 1) are labeled AA. The Stahl Specialty data
(290 to 380 MPa, depending on section thickness). (Table 3) is labeled SS and the most recent results from
castings poured at Littlestown Hardware and Foundry
More recently, casting trials with the AA mold were (Table 5) are labeled LHF.
conducted by Alcoa at Littlestown Hardware and
Foundry.6 The chemistry of the base alloy used is given in The important effect of melt treatment on casting quality
Table 4. should be obvious from this plot. The AA data is for
castings produced 25-30 years ago, when degassing was a
The dissolved Ti level was varied between 0.01 and 0.15 haphazard affair and the need for melt treatment was not
wt. % by adding Al-6% Ti rod and waiting a half hour for widely known. At this time many foundrymen melted
the Ti to dissolve. Further grain refiner additions were ingot and poured the metal into the mold without any
either not made, or made as Al-3Ti-1B rod at an addition treatment. Many shops did not even do a chemical
level of 20 ppm B. The melt was degassed 30 minutes with analysis. The castings produced at Stahl Specialty (SS)
a rotary impeller degasser. Gas samples were taken at the were filtered and degassed, and showed a significant
beginning and end of each cast with a copper Ransley improvement in properties. However, Stahl Specialty used
mold and analyzed for hydrogen by a LECO analyzer. The only a short degassing treatment with a porous plug. The
measured gas content of all the melt samples was between most recent castings (LHF) used a 30 minute treatment
0.08 and 0.14 cc/100 grams. Castings were solution heat using a rotary impeller degasser. Very low gas contents
treated for six hours at 540C, quenched into 60C water, were found in this metal and the highest mechanical
held 8-9 hours at room temperature, and aged six hours at properties were obtained.
155C.

4
Table 3. Tensile Properties of A356-T6 Alloy (Stahl Specialty)
Location UTS Yield Elongation DAS Quality Index
(Thickness) (MPa) (MPa) (%) (microns) (MPa)
1 (1-3/8) 270 193 6.2 51 389
2 (2) 269 197 6.2 46 388
3 (7/8) 292 197 12.3 38 455
5 (3/8) 290 198 10.1 33 440
4 (1/2) 308 210 14.3 25 481

Table 4. Chemistry of Base A356 Alloy

Si Fe Mn Cu Mg Ti Sr V
7.13 0.07 0.001 0.009 0.34 0.01 0.012 0.007

Table 5. A356-T6 Alloy Tensile Properties in Aluminum Association Mold


Location Yield (MPa) UTS (MPa) Elongation (%) Quality Index (MPa)
1 236.3 4.2 304.3 10.9 7.9 2.2 433.3 31.8
2 235.4 3.1 312.1 5.9 10.7 1.9 463.8 18.3
3 236.3 3.7 318.8 4.0 14.3 1.7 491.1 10.8
5 238.5 3.6 321.7 3.4 14.3 1.5 494.2 8.8
4 240.2 3.6 325.2 3.4 15.5 2.0 502.9 10.9

3
350
50

500
450
Q=
400
UTS F
LH
(MPa)

350
45
300 UTS
300 (ksi)
40

SS
AA
250
35
1 4 10 20
Elongation (%)
Figure 2. A356-T6 alloy tensile properties in AA test casting.

Standard molds--ASTM B108 test bar aged 24 hours at room temperature, and then aged for
times between 2 and 18 hours at 310F (155C). The tensile
Another standard mold commonly used in North America
properties obtained are plotted in Figure 4. The iron
is specified in ASTM B108. This is a gravity-fed
content of the alloy and the aging time used are shown in
permanent mold casting. (Figure 3.) An example will show
black numbers. The lines of constant quality index (Q) are
how the mold may be used to evaluate metal quality.4 An
indicated in red, and blue lines show the yield strength
A356 alloy containing 7.0% Si, 0.03 % Fe, 0.36% Mg,
(YS) of the material.
0.02% Zn, 0.08% Ti and 0.0002% P was melted in a
reverbatory furnace, degassed, and filtered. The Cu and
Figure 4 shows how aging time determines the trade-off
Mn in this alloy were below the limits of detection. The
between strength and elongation, and how heat treatment
alloy was modified with 0.012% strontium and grain
may be changed to produce desired properties in a casting.
refined with a 5Ti-1B master alloy. Duplicate heats were
The loss of elongation and strength with increased iron is
made by adding small amounts of Fe to the base alloy.
also clear.

In general, there are four factors which have an important


influence on the tensile properties of a casting:
melt treatment and pouring procedures
heat treatment
alloy composition
solidification time, or freezing rate
The first three were considered in the results shown above
for the two standard molds. We now consider the effect
of solidification rate.

Effect of Solidification Time


Many studies have shown that the rate of solidification has
a significant influence on the properties of castings.
Castings that freeze quickly can tolerate quite high
contents of gas. Slowly cooled castings, however, easily
form significant amounts of porosity. 7 The freezing rate
Figure 3. ASTM B108 test bar mold. also determines the relative size of silicon particles 8 and
All test bar castings were given a T4 solution heat iron intermetallics9 that form during freezing. The practical
treatment (8 hours at 1000F, 538C), water quenched, pre-

4
implication is simple: Casting quality depends strongly on areas having different section thickness to determine the
solidification time. effect of freezing rate on tensile properties. The DAS was
used to characterize the solidification rate of each sample.
This is best seen by considering data tabulated in an
Different aging times (2, 4 and 8 hours) were employed to
extensive study of aerospace castings by Oswalt and
obtain different strength levels in each alloy. The resulting
Misra.10 They cut test bar samples from A356 (0.35% Mg
tensile properties are plotted in Figure 5.
and 0.11% Fe) and A357 (0.56% Mg, 0.14% Fe and 0.04%
Be) alloy castings. Sample locations were selected from

350
50
Q 18 hr
=4 18
0 0 Q
18 =4
46 18 5 0 6 hr

ksi 6 6 300
42 6.5
S =3 Pa)
6
Y 2M 2 hr
(25 0.085 si 2
n= 1k ) 12
38 =3 a 2 <0.
YS 4 MP 5
UTS (21 0.11 2 0.1 UTS
n= 0.3
0 250
(ksi) Fe
34 5k
si 0 wt.
% (MPa)
22. 0.5
YS
= Pa)
5M
(15 0.165
n=
30
200
26

22 150
1 4 10 20
Elongation (%)
Figure 4. Mechanical properties of 356 alloy containing various iron levels and aged
4
2, 6 and 18 hours at 310F (155C). (Data supplied by Stahl Specialty. )

480 70
(A 357 alloy , aged 2-8 hours at 330 F)
Q=
(A 356 alloy , aged 2-8 hours at 310 F) 60
0
ns)
( m icro 60
Q= 40 8 hr
400 40
0 DA
S
56 4h
r UTS
UTS MP
a
r (ksi)
32
2 2h
(MPa) 100
a
0 MP Q= 50
Q= 30 50
30 0
0 a
5 MP
300 26

5 M Pa
12 255 25 40
a 5
3 ns)
8 hr MP
210 ro
a 56 S ( m ic
4h
r MP DA
177
2 hr 30
200
0.4 1 4 10 20
Elongation (%)
10
Figure 5. Tensile strength and quality of A356-T6 and A357-T6 alloy castings.

5
There are several features of this plot worth noting. examples of the French quality plot, where the ultimate
Following Drouzy, Richard and Jacob, a logarithmic scale tensile strength was plotted versus the logarithm of the
has been used for the elongation. As a consequence, the elongation to fracture. Equation [1] is the formula
values of both constant quality index and yield strength developed empirically by Drouzy, Jacob and Richard to
appear as straight lines. This type of plot is extremely calculate the Quality Index. It can be seen that the change
valuable. It shows all of the important tensile properties of tensile properties versus aging time in Figures 4 and 5
(yield strength, ultimate tensile strength, and elongation) as follow closely lines of constant quality index.
well as the Quality Index. This figure also shows the
combined effect of three important process variables: heat This result has important ramifications:
treatment, alloy composition and solidification rate. Once The Quality Index describes the relative trade-off
this plot is understood, you will know how the alloy used, between strength and elongation. If we need to
the heat treatment, and the casting process can be increase the strength or the elongation in a casting,
controlled to provide the mechanical properties desired for this behavior allows us to change the heat treatment
any particular application. accordingly. (The same effect may also be obtained by
increasing or decreasing the Mg content.)
In practice, one may strengthen a casting by increasing the The Quality Index allows us to compare two different
aging time or adding magnesium; or by doing both. The castings, which may have received different heat
primary difference between these two alloys is the fact that treatments, or whose chemical composition (especially
A357 has more magnesium. By adjusting the magnesium %Mg) are different.
level and the aging time it is possible obtain a yield The Quality Index gives an indication of
strength anywhere between 170 and 320 MPa (24-46 ksi) improvements that might be made in any particular
and a UTS (for rapid solidification rates) between 260 and casting.
400 MPa (38-58 ksi). The iso-quality and iso-yield strength contours appear
as straight lines in the quality plots developed by the
The solidification rate is indicated in Figure 5 by the French. Thus, the quality plot shows all important
numerical values for the secondary DAS. For A356 alloy tensile properties.
the smallest DAS was 25 microns, which corresponds to a
local solidification time of about 20 seconds and produces Cceres11, 12 has developed a more general framework for
a quality index of 475-500 MPa. The largest DAS was 125 the concept of quality index, based on the notion that the
microns, which corresponds to a freezing time of 20 maximum attainable ductility and strength of a tensile bar
minutes. This produced a casting quality just under 300 are determined by the onset of necking. The onset of
MPa. The important effect of freezing rate on elongation necking thus represents the maximum theoretical quality
and tensile strength is clearly seen from these results. for any given alloy and temper. He began with the
equation:
It may be worth noting again the data shown in Figure 2 n
for the AA test casting. The freezing rates in this casting =K Equation 2
varied from 20 seconds to 2 minutes. Better degassing which relates the true stress ( ) and true strain ( ) observed
practices (in LHF) helped to limit the loss of quality during a tensile test. K is a material constant, and n is the
observed in the thick sections of this casting. The data in strain hardening coefficient:
Figure 5 was for aerospace castings produced nearly 30
years ago. It would be interesting to repeat this study now, d Equation 3
n
to see if improved degassing practices reduce the loss in d
casting quality observed with slow solidification. Equation [2] represents the experimental curves reasonably
well. A single value of K is used, and n is varied to
We now consider some of the theoretical underpinnings of represent different heat treatments. Examples of
casting quality. experimental flow curves are given in Figure 6 for an Al-
7%Si-0.4%Mg alloy.
THEORETICAL BASIS FOR QUALITY INDEX
Curves 4 and 5 in Figure 6 are for T4 bars; curve 6 is for a
There are a number of ways to define the quality of net- casting aged 1 hr at 170C; and curves 1-3 are for samples
shaped castings, but the one most commonly used was first aged 6 hr at 170C (a traditional T6 treatment). Dashed
proposed by French foundrymen.5 They studied the effects lines were calculated with K = 430 MPa and the values of
of casting conditions, metal composition, and aging time n as indicated in the figure. Note that the solidification rate
on the mechanical properties of Al-Si-Mg (356 type) (or DAS) controls the elongation in these castings for each
alloys. As they analyzed the aging process, they noticed temper, but does not affect the yield strength or the strain
that for a given quality of casting; as determined by hardening rate (value of n).
freezing rate (DAS), porosity and iron content; the T6
aging process produced tensile properties that followed a
straight line on a certain type of plot. Figures 4 and 5 give

6
Another indication of relative quality is the elongation to
fracture. When this is equal to n, the elongation to fracture
is 100% of that theoretically possible. The practical
significance of this relationship may be seen by
considering Figure 4 once more. The lower blue curve is
for material aged two hours, which has a yield strength of
22,500 psi or 155 MPa. This yield strength corresponds to
a value of n equal to 0.165 (16.5%). The elongation to
fracture of these castings was nearly 16%, very close to the
value expected from theory. There is a similar agreement
for the two other curves shown (for aging times of 6 and
18 hours), between the value of the strain hardening
coefficient and the elongation to fracture. In other words,
these castings appear to have a quality close to the
maximum theoretically possible (q 1).
12 nominal strain (%)
Figure 6. Stress-strain curves for A356 alloy. 1 10
0.2
350

q=
q=

0.2

q=
q=
0.1

5
q=

1
0.5
In the castings having the highest ductility, tensile failure

4
0.0
7
involves necking. Necking will occur when the Considre

q=
n=0.08

nominal stress (MPa)

0.0
criterion is met; or when 300 n=0.10

Q=
1

45
1d

0
Equation 4 n=0.14
1

Q=
35
d

0
n=0.20
Comparing equations [3] and [4], it is obvious that necking 250

Q=
will occur when = n. In other words, the strain hardening

25
0
50
exponent, n, determines the maximum uniform strain =2
YS 4
possible in the tensile sample.
200
0.002 0.01 0.1
The condition where = n represents the maximum nominal strain
ductility. This is the best quality possible. Samples failing 12
Figure 7. The Quality Index map of Cceres
earlier have a lower ductility and quality. Cceres
consequently defined a relative quality factor by the This theoretical approach to quality is important, because it
relationship: allows a foundry engineer or casting user to establish the
absolute quality of a casting; which is imposed by the
Ef onset of necking; and to determine whether further
q Equation 5
n n improvements are possible. It also allows us to understand
better, from a scientific point of view, what microstructural
where the indicates that the difference between true and features determine casting quality.
nominal strain has been ignored. Considering the level of
ductility found in most casting alloys, this is an excellent Effect of Inclusions and Porosity on Quality
approximation. Equations [2] and [5] were used to
generate the quality curves shown by solid lines in Figure A detailed study of the tensile properties of copper
7, for a value of K equal to 430 Mpa. The dashed lines in containing second phase particles and porosity defects was
Figure 7 show the lines of constant quality and yield presented in 1962 by Edelson and Baldwin. 13 Controlled
strength originally proposed by Drouzy, Richard and amounts of porosity (and other defects) were introduced
Jacob. The theoretical curves (solid lines) are seen to into copper-based alloys, produced by sintering metal
correspond closely to the empirical (dashed) lines powders. A detailed analysis of their results showed that
established by the French. the volume fraction of defects was the governing variable.
The size or the shape of defects was not important.
Cceres12 also showed that the maximum possible quality Furthermore, the most sensitive indicator of defect
for a material (when q = 1) occurs when Q is numerically concentration was the elongation to fracture in tensile
equal to 1.11 K. For Al-Si-Mg casting alloys 1.11K 1.11 specimens. A figure from their study is reproduced in
x 430 477 MPa. From the results shown above, this Figure 8. It shows the relative loss in ductility as a
value is very close to what is found empirically in the best function of the volume fraction of defects. The ductility
quality castings (Q=480-500 MPa). was determined from the reduction in area of the tensile

7
specimen, and compared to a standard sample having a one present, f. Considering equation [2], the resulting loss in
percent concentration of defects (i.e., f = 0.01). tensile strength is equal to:
qn Equation 7
max

Figure 9 shows a plot of these two equations for A356-T6


alloy (that is, for a value of n equal to 0.1). Note that even
very small amounts of defects in a material have a
significant effect on elongation. The ultimate tensile
strength is affected much less. For example, a
concentration of defects of only 0.1% (f = 0.001) results in
a loss of 15% in elongation, while the reduction in UTS is
hardly measurable. With 1% area fraction of defects (f =
0.01) the elongation is reduced by 40%, but the ultimate
tensile strength is decreased by only 5 %.

Unfortunately, this plot has limited predictive value, since


the area fraction of defects on the fracture surface is only a
post mortem value. However, it shows foundrymen the
dangers of even small amounts of porosity; and it informs
us as to the metal cleanliness needed to produce the
highest quality castings. It also shows clearly that
elongation to fracture is the most sensitive indicator for the
presence of porosity or other defects in castings.
13

Re l a ti ve Te n si l e Stre n g th
Figure 8. Loss of elongation associated with defects 1 .0 1 .0
Relative Elongation

0 .8 0 .8
This result shows that the elongation to fracture (and
quality) is extremely sensitive to the presence of defects,
but it suffers from two limitations. Firstly, the form of the 0 .6 0 .6
plot does not allow us to estimate accurately the quality of
relatively defect free material. Secondly, it is not clear 0 .4 0 .4
that this result applies to high quality, net-shaped castings.
Cceres and Selling14 have shown that the tensile 0 .2 0 .2
properties of castings do not correlate well with
measurements of volumetric porosity content. In
0 0
commercial castings the distribution of porosity and other
0 .0 0 0 1 0 .0 0 1 0 .0 1 0 .1
defects is non uniform, and tensile failure occurs at the
weakest spot. As a consequence, the concentration of Are a fra c ti o n o f d e fe c ts , f
defects found on the fracture surface may be three to Figure 9. Theoretical effect of defect concentration (f)
twenty times the average volumetric concentration. on elongation and UTS.
Another approach is needed.
Fatigue Failure
Cceres and Selling presented a model for the growth of a
plastic instability inside a tensile specimen, when a certain Aluminum castings are often used in structural
area fraction (f) of porosity was present on a planar section components subject to cycles of applied stress. Over their
of an otherwise defect-free material. An equation was commercial lifetime millions of stress cycles may occur. In
derived for the loss of elongation and strength caused by these applications it is important to characterize their
these defects. Their equation correlated well with fatigue life. This is especially true for safety critical
experimental measurements of the elongation to fracture applications, such as automotive suspension components.
and the area fraction of defects found on the fracture
surface of Al-Si-Mg alloy samples. These results were The commercial importance of fatigue has provided the
later extended by Caceres and Sigworth,15 who derived the motivation for extensive studies by automotive and
equation: university researchers. What follows is, by necessity, a
(1-f) = qnen(1-q) Equation 6 simplified approach to the problem of fatigue failure. The
intention is to offer practical guidelines for design
This equation relates the relative loss in ductility of a engineers, so they know what to look and ask for in a
tensile sample (value of q) to the area fraction of defects casting.

8
We consider a simple case, illustrated in Figure 10. This m
N f Ai( m 2) / 4
B Equation 11
a
shows a piece of material subjected to a tensile stress in the
vertical direction (arrows). In the center is a circular- where m is equal to 4.2 and log B is 16, when one uses
shaped crack. Because the crack provides no mechanical units of MPa, m2 and cycles for stress, defect area and
strength, stress accumulates there. The stress intensity fatigue life, respectively.
parameter is:
1
2
a Equation 8
K 2

where a is the crack radius and is the applied stress.


When the load is applied cyclically to the material, the
crack grows a little bit each time the load is applied. We
want to know how fast the crack grows, and how long it
will take for failure to occur. The growth of the crack with
each cycle is usually represented by this equation:
da n
Equation 9
C K
dN
where N represents the number of times the stress has been
applied and C is an empirical constant. Equation [9]
applies to the intermediate region (stage II) of crack
growth, and is called the Paris Equation. For aluminum
alloys the exponent (n) is very nearly equal to four, which
means that:
da 2
Equation 10
C a
dN
In other words, the crack growth rate is proportional to the Figure 10. Crack in fatigue failure.
square of the radius, or to the area of the crack.

Now suppose we have two cracks present in the material.


The larger crack is twice as large as the smaller one. From
equation [10] we find that the larger crack will grow four
times as fast as the smaller crack and as it becomes larger
with each fatigue cycle, it continues to grow faster and
faster. The practical implication is obvious: Fatigue life is
controlled by the largest 'crack'. In most commercial
castings, this is the largest pore. For all practical purposes,
large pores are built-in cracks.

An example of how a pore may nucleate a fatigue failure is


shown in Figure 11. (This fatigue test specimen was taken
from an A356-T6 alloy casting.)16

The effect of pore size on fatigue has been shown clearly


in several recent studies. Fatigue tests were made with
Figure 11. Fracture surface of fatigue specimen
A356-T6 alloy at a stress ratio, R = -1. Several types of 16
showing incipient pore.
castings were studied: two gravity poured castings, a
squeeze casting and a semi-solid metal (SSM) casting.
These castings exhibited a range of defect sizes; the high The relationship given in equation [11] appears to have a
pressure die cast (squeeze and SSM) components having wide range of validity. For example, in the study by
the smallest size of pores. The fracture surface of all Couper et al.,20 several different heat treatments were
specimens were examined under a microscope, to applied to vary the strength. This had no significant effect
determine the size of the defect initiating fatigue crack on the fatigue life. The size of defects controlled fatigue
growth. The measured fatigue life, Nf, the stress amplitude life in all conditions. Similar results were found when the
(maximum applied stress), a, and the defect area, Ai, were solution time was changed.21 There are also recent studies
related by the equation:17 , 18 , 19 of commercial grade automotive castings. 22 In these
materials the largest defect was almost always a pore;
which controlled the rate of fatigue failure.
9
Above we considered the effect of solidification rate on the Hence, grain refinement and rapid solidification contribute
tensile properties. It will now be useful to consider the to smaller pores and an improved fatigue life.
effect of freezing rate on pore size and fatigue strength.
Looking at the data from the study by Fang and Granger, 7 These considerations have been confirmed experimentally.
we find the results in Figure 12. Pore diameter is reduced Figure 13 gives an example of how fatigue life relates to
by rapid solidification. Also, by comparing curves (1) and pore size and to solidification rate in a casting.
(3), we see that grain refinement reduces the pore size.

7
Figure 12. Pore size in A356 alloy castings

10 7 10 7
0.7 Minute Avg. Solidification Time

10 6 10 6
Cycles To Failure

Cycles To Failure

10 5 10 5

10 4 16.1 Minute Avg. 10 4


Solidification Time 43.4 Minute Avg.
Solidification Time

10 3 10 3
100 500 1000 2000
Diameter Of Initiating Pore ( m)
22
Figure 13. Measured Fatigue Life of W319 Alloy at Alternating Stress of 96.5 MPa

10
Equation 11 and the results plotted in Figure 13 were test specimens. The magnitude of the coefficient of the
obtained from failed fatigue specimens. That is, the size of third term (1100 MPa) shows the importance of silicon
the pore initiating fatigue failure was measured on the particle shape (AR) on casting quality.
fracture surface. Unfortunately, determining the size of
the largest pore by standard metallographic examination Control of the silicon phase may be accomplished by rapid
is not straightforward. As noted above, the distribution of solidification, by heat treatment, and/or by small additions
porosity in commercial castings is non uniform. This of Na or Sr, which modify the morphology of the silicon
problem was considered by Wang and Jones, who offered in the eutectic phase. Modification is a fascinating,
a solution provided by the use of extreme value statistics. 23 complex subject; one that is extremely important for best
quality in Al-Si casting alloys. It will not be considered
From a practical point of view, however, the implications here, however, since it has been reviewed elsewhere. 25
are clear. Control of porosity is the single most important
factor in obtaining good fatigue life in net-shaped castings. In general, the most serious problem facing foundrymen is
Compared to porosity, the strength level of the alloy (as porosity. For this reason, it is worth while considering in
determined by heat treatment or alloy composition) is less detail. The amount of porosity in a casting depends on
important. This means that best results are obtained by: several factors. Listed roughly in order of importance they
-good degassing and melt treatment are:
-effective grain refinement solidification rate
-proper modification practice, and gas content
-rapid solidification metal cleanliness
Also, some new casting processes apply pressure to pressure in the casting
solidifying castings, to reduce the amount of porosity and modification, and
the size of the resulting pores. grain refinement.
It is also possible to reduce porosity in castings by the use Four of the above factors were studied by Fang and
of Hot Isostatic Pressure treatment (HIPing). Numerous Granger.7 Their castings had a water-cooled chill at one
studies have shown that fatigue life can be improved in end and were solidified directionally, so feeding was more
this way. than adequate to prevent shrinkage. The amount of
porosity and the average size of the pores were measured
It will now be instructive to consider the sources of casting by quantitative metallography at various distances from the
defects. chill. The solidification rate at these locations was
determined by thermocouples in the mold. The amount of
SOURCES OF CASTING DEFECTS porosity formed in their castings is plotted in Figure 14.
In Figure 4 we saw that iron in Al-7Si-0.3Mg alloy Oxide films are also an import source of casting defects. A
castings resulted in a significant loss in elongation and thin oxide film forms on the surface as soon as liquid
tensile strength. Iron has low solubility in solid aluminum, aluminum comes in contact with air. If the liquid is
so most of the iron in the liquid metal forms brittle quiescent, this oxide stays on the surface and does not
intermetallic compounds. In Al-Si casting alloys Al5FeSi affect metal quality. But if there is any turbulence or
plates are found. These act as defects. Because of the splashing, the oxide film is mixed (or folded) into the melt;
stochiometry of the compound, and the results shown in and the quality of the casting suffers. The generation of
Figure 9, even small amounts of iron have a significant oxide films has been studied in great detail by Campbell
effect: At 0.3% Fe one-half of the elongation is lost. Thus, and his associates. An excellent review26 of their research
iron contents must be held to low levels for best quality. has been published and is highly recommended. This work
clearly establishes the importance of 'folded in' oxides,
Silicon may also form large, brittle flakes in Al-Si-based which have aptly been called bi-films by Campbell.
casting alloys. This is especially true in large, slowly
cooled castings. When best elongation and highest strength One important practical implication on metal quality is that
are desired, one must control the shape of the silicon oxide films assist in porosity formation. Hydrogen has low
phase. This was shown most clearly in a study of quality solubility in solid metalonly 6% of the gas soluble in the
in aerospace A357 alloy castings. 24 It was found that the liquidso it tends to form dispersed micro-pores during
Quality Index was well represented by the equation: solidification. Because of the high surface tension of liquid
N 0.5 1100 metal, it is not possible for pores to nucleate
Q 101 N 0.5 129 98 P 0.5 570 Eq. 12 homogeneously, so gas pores form on oxide films in the
AR AR
melt. In fact, if the metal is filtered carefully, no porosity
where Q is the quality index (in MPa), N is the cell count will form, even if significant amounts of gas are dissolved
(aluminum cells per 0.0001 square inches), AR is the in the metal. This phenomenon was first documented by
average aspect ratio of the silicon particles, and P is the Brondyke and Hess27 and Rooy and Fischer.28
area percent of porosity found on the polished surface of

11
200x
(A)

Figure 15. Pore nucleating on oxide film in A356 alloy.

EFFECT OF MOLTEN METAL TREATMENT AND


METAL TRANSFER ON QUALITY

(B) In many foundries it is possible to see this sequence of


operations. Metal is pumped into a crucible. The crucible
is then transferred by fork lift or crane, whereupon the
metal is poured into a holding furnace. Then a ladle is used
to dip out of the holding furnace, and to pour metal into the
mold. Each transfer of liquid metal produces an aluminum
'waterfall'. The resulting splashing generates oxide films,
which are folded into the liquid and carried into the
casting.
In contrast to the above, a level-pour transfer has been
employed for many years by primary aluminum suppliers.
A launder (or trough) carries liquid metal from the melting
furnace to the casting pit. Once the launder is filled, the
metal flows in the lower part of the channel, and the
surface is quiescent. Because the transfer is level, there are
no 'waterfalls', and oxide films are not folded into the
melt. Normally the metal also passes through an in-line
degasser and a filter box. As a result of these metal transfer
Figure 14. Volume fraction porosity in Al-7Si-0.3Mg and treatment practices, it is possible to produce castings
7
(A356) alloy castings. which are very low in gas, and nearly free from oxide
films or other inclusions.
If one looks carefully at pores found in aluminum castings
under a microscope, one usually sees remnants of an oxide A good example of the quality produced in this way is can
film. An example of an oxide in contact with a pore is stock. Can producers take large 3xxx alloy slabs and roll
shown in Figure 15. In this case, it is clear that an oxide them into thin sheet, which is drawn into shapes needed for
on the surface of the metal was folded into the bath, by the can body. If you crush an empty aluminum can, you
excessive metal turbulence and/or splashing. will quickly appreciate how thin the body of the can has
become. If there are inclusions in the cast metal, they
To sum up the preceding discussion, not only do oxide cause pin-holes in the wall of the can. Each can is tested
films act as defects in their own right, but they also are a for holes before filling with a beverage. When I first came
necessary precursor for the formation of porosity. In both into the aluminum industry, the 'standard' reject rate for
cases, they have a significant deleterious effect on quality. can stock was one in ten thousand. Now it is closer to 20
With these concepts firmly in mind, it will be instructive to ppm. The level-pour transfer system (and the associated
consider how practices in the foundry determine casting melt treatment) is the main reason for the high level of
quality. quality associated with wrought aluminum products.

12
This suggests that improved metal handling in the foundry m/sec. This was in excess of the critical flow velocity
would significantly improve aluminum castings; and of 0.5 m/sec, so there was potential for metal
moreover, produce a consistency of quality and reliability turbulence and oxide production.
normally associated with wrought alloys. Unfortunately, 2. Bottom Filled and Unfiltered: These castings were
before realizing this improvement, there is one last hurdle bottom filled, but no precautions were taken to
to clear. The metal must enter and fill the mold in a way eliminate turbulence, and no filters were used in the
that does not produce additional oxides, or other defects. mold.
The importance of quiescent metal flow was demonstrated
3. Bottom Filled and Filtered: A filter was placed in
clearly by the pioneering research of Campbell and co-
the runner. This ensured that the metal flow into the
workers,29 who established that the metal gate velocity
mold was not turbulent. This was confirmed by real
must be less than a critical value (0.5 m/sec) to avoid the
time, high speed radiography of the mold during
formation of oxide films. Subsequent studies demonstrated
filling.
the importance of runner design30,31 on tensile32 and
fatigue33 properties of aluminum castings. In a sense, this 4. Bottom Filled, Filtered and Sr Modified: This
problem represents the last frontier for aluminum condition was the same as (3) above, except the melt
foundrymen. Solving it would allow us to produce oxide- was modified with Sr.
free, net-shaped castings having the same reliability as
forgings and machined wrought alloy components. The quality of each casting was determined by calculating
the Weibull modulus associated with the distribution of
This objective is probably best accomplished when the ultimate tensile strength of the bars. The modulus is
metal transfer/treatment system and the casting process are determined by using the equation:
considered and designed together, to avoid the problem of m
oxide film generation. One example is the Cosworth low- X Equation 13
FX 1 exp
pressure sand casting process,34 designed to eliminate
metal turbulence during mold filling. Metal is transferred
via an electromagnetic pump into the bottom of the mold, where FX is the cumulative fraction of tensile failures that
minimizing the generation and entrapment of oxides occurred at X, a specific value of the mechanical property
caused by falling metal. Very low porosity and a high under consideration (in this case, tensile strength), and
casting quality are obtained. This process was used for is the value of X at which 37% (1-1/e) of the samples
many years by Cosworth to produce Formula 1 and CART survive, and m is a material constant, which determines
racing engines. It was later adapted by Ford to produce the width (or spread) of values. This is called the modulus.
engine blocks. Another approach is a level pour transfer
system with in-line degassing and filtration stations. This The results obtained for the four different designs of the
type of metal delivery system is now being used by a casting are plotted in Figure 16.
number of foundries.35 But most cast shops have not
completely solved the challenge of filling the mold without
generating oxides. It is common practice to place a holding
furnace with a dip-out well at the end of the launder, and
ladle metal into the mold with a robot. The ladling
operation will generate some oxide films. One solution,
adapted at Littlestown Hardware and Foundry, 36 is to use a
molten metal pump. It is also possible to place a dosing
furnace at the end of the level pour transfer system. This
approach was taken by Nemak.37

It will now be instructive to consider an example of how


metal transfer and mold design affect the casting quality.
What follows is taken from the 1994 study of Green and
Campbell.32 They made simple round bar castings having
a diameter of 12 mm (1/2 inch). These were poured from a
heat of Al-7Si-0.42Mg (356) alloy containing 0.30% Fe
and 0.17% Mn. They poured sand castings under four 32
Figure 16. Weibull plot of normalized tensile data.
different conditions:
In many respects the Weibull modulus is a better measure
1. Top Poured and Unfiltered: 12 mm bars were of material reliability than conventional statistics.38 In the
poured from the top of the mold, using a pour cup, latter a Gaussian distribution is assumed and variation
down sprue and no filtration in the mold. In this about the mean is determined. This is the approach
casting, the fall of metal was in excess of 150 mm. commonly taken by automotive companies, who specify
So, the theoretical maximum metal velocity was 1.7

13
minimum properties using 3 . However, the distribution slip bands. It can be seen that removing porosity in a
of mechanical properties is not really Gaussian. It is casting increases the fatigue life by about six times.
skewed. On one side we have the 'maximum' quality Removing the oxides increased it further by almost ten
possible, associated with defect-free areas. On the other times. In other words, the fatigue life of average
side there are areas (or volumes) of material which contain commercial castings may be improved by 50 times. 41
flaws. The Weibull analysis has been used for many years
to describe the probability of fracture in ceramics, Another example of the improvement possible with better
considering the distribution and size of flaws in the casting practices is given in the study by Nyahumwa,
material. Taking the same approach in castings appears to Green and Campbell,42 who tested the fatigue properties of
offer several benefits. Firstly, Weibull plots clearly the bottom filled (non-modified) bar castings, whose
establish the quality of each casting process. Also, with the tensile strengths were plotted in Figure 16. Their results
Weibull modulus it is easier to predict the probability of are shown in Figure 18 using the Weibull format. As
failure, at some reduced level of stress. The modulus is expected, filtering the metal gave a significant
also a way to compare components made by different improvement in fatigue life (cycles to failure, Nf). They
processes. For example, the best casting design shown in also HIPed unfiltered castings, which gave the best fatigue
Figure 16 had a Weibull modulus of 50, which is close to resistance.
values reported for aerospace forgings.32

As noted above, and shown in Figures 8 and 9, the


elongation to fracture is a more sensitive indicator of
casting quality. So, calculating the Weibull modulus for
the elongation to fracture is probably the best way to
determine material quality for safety critical applications.

Possible Improvements in Fatigue Life

In the above we found that good melt treatment (especially


degassing), pouring practices and optimum mold design
can produce castings having a tensile properties close to a
theoretically predicted maximum value. But what about
fatigue life? Are we reasonably close to a maximum
theoretical value? Or is significant progress still possible?

Earlier we saw that fatigue life in commercial castings is


usually controlled by pore size (equation 11). But the
amount of porosity and the size of the pores can be
Figure 17. Weibull plot for fatigue life of Sr-modified
reduced by rapid solidification and good degassing. It is 356 alloy containing different defects.
40
also possible to HIP a casting after solidification. In
practice, however, it may be sufficient to reduce the
maximum pore size to a reasonably small value, less than
about 30-50 microns equivalent diameter. 39

Now, once pores have been removed as a source of fatigue


cracks, we are left with the seemingly ubiquitous oxide
films. These take over as the largest flaw in the metal. Can
these be removed? The answer is: "Yes." Careful filtration
of the metal is possible. Certain fluxing practices are also
efficient at removing oxides. So fatigue life can be
improved still further. What happens when we do this?
Fatigue cracks then form on slip bands, which accumulate
at the surface of the metal during application of cyclic
stresses. This case presumably represents the 'ultimate'
fatigue strength of cast aluminum.

A recent study40 measured how different defects in the


metal determined fatigue life in Sr-modified A356-T6
alloy castings. Figure 17 shows a Weibull plot of the Figure 18. Fatigue life of 356 alloy castings.
42

measured fatigue life for three cases: crack initiation on (Maximum applied stress was 240 MPa, R=0.1)
pores, crack initiation on oxides, and crack formation on

14
Finally, there is the interesting study by Wang and objective of better understanding the melt treatment, metal
Crepeau at General Motors and their colleagues at handling and casting procedures that must be undertaken
Nemak.43 They presented a case study of the successful to produce the highest quality castings. In other words,
pilot plant development of an engine block, which this analysis was primarily intended to develop a strong
experienced quality problems after it went into production. scientific case for improving our foundry practices. Our
A detailed investigation then began, and changes were intent was not to provide an in-depth analysis of the failure
made to melting and casting practices in order to realize an mechanisms of metals, or of metal fatigue. The analyses
improvement in fatigue strength. presented were by necessity somewhat simplified. For
example, it should be noted that others have taken a
CONCLUDING REMARKS different approach to establishing a scientific basis for
quality.44 It is possible that one of these approaches may
In this review we have tried to establish a scientific basis eventually provide a better understanding of metal failure
to evaluate the quality of net-shaped castings. This mechanisms, and how we might reach an ultimate level
approach to quality is important, because it allows a of casting quality.
foundry engineer or casting user to establish a value for the
absolute or relative quality of a casting, and to know Finally, the use of Weibull statistics appears to be an
whether further improvements are possible. extremely powerful and valuable tool to help us evaluate
the quality of castings produced by a specific combination
Experimental information and theoretical equations show of foundry practices and mold design. Further studies
that even small quantities of defects result in a significant along these lines are encouraged.
loss of ductility and tensile strength. This observation
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pending.

17