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The RSF Technology - A Possible Breakthrough for Semi-solid Casting


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THE RSF TECHNOLOGY – A POSSIBLE
BREAKTHROUGH FOR SEMI-SOLID
CASTING PROCESSES

Magnus Wessén and Haiping Cao


Jönköping University, Div Component Technology - S - 551 11 Jönköping, Sweden

Abstract Riassunto
Semi-solid forming is a promising process for La formatura allo stato semisolido è un promettente processo di fabbricazione di
manufacturing metal components. In this paper, a componenti metallici.
In questa memoria viene descritto un processo sviluppato recentemente e denominato
newly developed semi-solid forming process called
RSF (Rapid Slurry Forming). Il processo RSF si basa sullo scambio entalpico fra almeno
the Rapid Slurry Forming (RSF) process is due sistemi di lega (di cui almeno uno solido ed uno liquido) con differente entalpia, allo
introduced. The RSF process is based on the scopo di ottenere un miscuglio metallico (slurry) allo stato semisolido. Con questo
enthalpy exchange between at least two alloy processo possono ottenersi in breve tempo grandi quantità di slurry di elevata qualità.
systems having different enthalpies, with the aim La sperimentazione è stata effettuata su una vasta serie di sistemi di lega fra cui Mg-Al,
of forming a semi-solid metal slurry. By using this Al-Si, e Cu-Zn.
Utilizzando il processo RSF non è più necessario un controllo accurato del flusso termico
process large amounts of high quality metal slurry
verso i mezzi circostanti come crogiolo, stampo ecc. che è invece indispensabile in molti
can be produced in a short time. Experimental altri processi. Lo stato del miscuglio semisolido viene infatti controllato dalle quantità
work has been done to produce metal slurries relative di lega solida e liquida aggiunte. In tal modo è possibile produrre slurries metallici
from a vide variety of alloy systems including Mg- anche di leghe con intervallo di solidificazione molto piccolo o di composizione eutettica.
Al,Al-Si and Cu-Zn. Using the RSF-process it is no I soddisfacenti risultati ottenuti hanno dimostrato che il processo RSF è idoneo a produrre
more necessary to accurately control the heat flux slurries di elevata qualità e a basso costo e ciò può portare ad una svolta significativa
per i processi di fonderia in semisolido.
to any surrounding media such as a crucible or
mould or likewise; as in most other processes.
Instead, the state of the slurry is controlled by the
relative added amounts of the alloy systems used.
In this way it is also possible to produce metal
slurries of alloys having very small solidification
intervals, such as eutectic compositions. Satisfied
results were achieved, which demonstrated that
the RSF process is suitable for producing high
quality metal slurries at low cost, and which
possibly could lead to a breakthrough for semi-
solid casting processes.

KEYWORDS

Semi-solid, RSF, enthalpy exchange, rheocasting,


thixocasting,
22 - Metallurgical Science and Technology
INTRODUCTION that semi-solid formed 7075 alloy (Al-6%Zn-
2Cu-3Mg), after T6 treatment, has about 500
Metal working is an historic art which can go back at least 10000 years. MPa yield strength, 570 MPa UTS and 11%
Almost all metal shaping has been done when the metal was either in fully elongation [4]. Applying such high strength
liquid state, as in normal casting processes, or in the fully solid state as in alloys for semi-solid processes, opens up large
forging, extrusion and rolling process. Only in the early 1970’s [1], a third possibilities for component weight savings.
option called semi-solid metal (SSM) forming was introduced, where metal • High productivity and increased tool life. Semi-
is shaped in partially solid and partially liquid state. solid slurries normally contain about 50% solid
The use of SSM based processes is generally associated with several benefits fraction before it enters into the die cavity.
which are briefly summarized below. Therefore, only about 50% of the latent heat
• Semi-solid formed components can be nearly free from shrinkage porosity. will be released during solidification inside the
Semi-solid slurry normally contains up to 50% solid before it is pressed die. This will shorten the cycle time of the
into the die cavity. Much less solidification shrinkage needs to be production and improve the productivity.
compensated for during further solidification of the casting. Furthermore, the less heat content of SSM
Furthermore, normally a high intensification pressure is applied to the slurries will decrease the thermal shocks on
mould cavity after injection. This further compensates some of the the die, thereby improving die life. This can
solidification shrinkage. Therefore, even thickwalled components can be of very large importance in die casting of
be produced which are nearly free from shrinkage porosity. It also high melting point metals, such as e.g. copper
implies that a complex component with large thickness variation in based alloys.
different parts can be shaped with high integrity. From the above listed technical advantages, it is
• Semi-solid formed components can be nearly free from gas porosity. Semi- clear that there would be of large commercial
solid slurries normally have much higher viscosity than the liquid metal interest to find a cost efficient SSM casting process,
due to the high solid fraction of the slurry. Therefore, the cavity filling which could be applied to a wide variety of alloys.
pattern of semi-solid slurry is laminar even at relatively high filling An SSM slurry suitable for casting processes should
velocities, and consequently there is a less risk for air entrapment. contain small and round grains well dispersed in
• Less macrosegregation and hot-tearing tendency.The high viscosity as well the melt. Additionally, it is necessary to be able to
as the even distribution of solid particles inside the casting will also control the solid fraction accurately before the
dramatically decrease the intensity of natural convection inside the slurr y is injected into the mould cavity.
casting, thereby effectively eliminating problems with macro segregation. Consequently, there are some key issues which
A dramatic decrease in the tendency to form hot-tears in some alloys should be considered in the production of slurries.
has also been reported. For example, some creep resistant Mg-Zn-Al- Firstly, ensure to have a good nucleation potential.
Ca alloys have high susceptibility for hot tearing, but it was found that This can e.g. be achieved by cooling a melt rapidly
these alloys are suitable for semi-solid forming without hot tear and/or adding some kind of inoculant or grain
problems [2]. refiner to the melt. Secondly, in order to avoid
• Good heat treatability. Due to the low content of gas porosities, SSM dendritic growth it is necessary to impose strong
cast components can usually be heat treated without formation of convection in the melt during the slurr y
blisters on the casting surface. This is in contrast to normal pressure preparation step.This is most commonly achieved
die cast components, where the expansion of the entrapped gas leads by some kind of mechanical stirring/shearing of
to reject of castings after heat treatment. Heat treatment is a very the melt/slurry. Thirdly, it is necessary to control
important process in improving the mechanical properties. It has been the heat flux to the surrounding media very
shown that the yield strength of semi-solid cast Al alloy A356 in the accurately in order to reach a predetermined
fully heat treated condition (T6) is about 260 MPa, which is more than temperature in the slurry, which via the phase
twice the yield strength in the as-thixocast condition (around 120 MPa) diagram can be related to the solid fraction of the
[3]. slurry.
• Weight saving potential and near-net-shape. The high integrity (low defect The above mentioned issues have been considered
content) and possibility for heat treatment (high mechanical properties) by various successes in existing SSM casting
permits the design of products characterized by lower weight and processes.
near-net shape. Some conventional wrought Al alloys, which have much This paper will introduce some of the principles
higher mechanical properties after heat treatment than conventional and advantages of a recently invented process for
casting alloys, can be formed by semi-solid processes. It has been shown SSM casting called the RSF-process [5].

23 - Metallurgical Science and Technology


1. PROCESS DESCRIPTION of feedstock material which thereafter can be reheated into a semi-solid
state for thixoforming.
The RSF process is based on the enthalpy
exchanges between alloy systems in controlling The principle of enthalpy exchange in the RSF process can be roughly
the final solid fraction of the slurry: that is at least formulated as:
two predetermined alloy systems (normally two,
one liquid and one solid) with different enthalpy The energy release of the original melt is
are mixed together by the help of stirring to form dQout = ρmelt • Cpmelt • Vmelt • (T0L - Tsemi) +∆Hmelt • ρmelt • (1-fmelts) • Vmelt (1)
a new alloy system with required enthalpy and solid
fraction.This is fundamentally different from most where:
other SSM processes where heat extraction (outer T0L = the initial temperature of the melt
cooling) and precise temperature control of the Tsemi= the final temperature of slurry in semi-solid state
melt is important for controlling the solid fraction fsmelts = the solid fraction of the melt at
of the slurry.
One example of application of the RSF process is The energy absorbed by the EEM is
illustrated in Fig. 1 [5]. A liquid metal is poured dQin = ρEEM • CpEEM • VEEM • (Tsemi - T0EEM) +∆HEEM • ρEEM • (1-fsEEM) • VEEM (2)
into an insulated container.Then a certain amount
of solid alloy is added to the melt and at same where:
time the melt is stirred. The added solid alloy is
normally relatively cold, i.e. having a relatively low TEEM = the initial temperature of the EEM
enthalpy. Consequently, it will absorb the heat from fsEEM = the solid fraction of the EEM at
the melt (exchange enthalpy with melt), and will
partially or totally melt away and finally mix evenly dQout = dQin (3)
with the original melt to form a new alloy system
with desired enthalpy or solid fraction. Therefore, From these equations, it is possible to calculate the volume or mass ratio
the added solid material is also called Enthalpy between the melt and the EEM provided that the desired solid fraction of
Exchange Material (EEM) in this paper.The original the slurry is given. The final temperature of the slurry can be derived from
temperature and composition of the melt and the the desired solid fraction according to the phase diagram. The equations
EEM as well as the added percentage of the EEM above also make clear that it is the mass ratio between the melt and EEM
will determine the final solid fraction of the slurry. which is important in the determination of the final solid fraction of the
The slurry can then be directly used for shaping slurry. This means that a large volume charge of slurry can be produced in
of a component (rheocasting), or used for casting a big container without any outer cooling.

Fig. 1: Schematic illustration of one example of the RSF process [5]

24 - Metallurgical Science and Technology


2. EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS

In this section some examples of experiments performed using the RSF


process will be shortly reviewed.The aim is to demonstrate the possibilities
with, and the versatility of the RSF process rather than going into details
about the experimental conditions in each case. In all experiments the EEM
was cast onto a steel rod, as schematically shown in Fig. 1. The EEM was
rotated at various speeds. Further, the amount of EEM added, the melt
superheat, the temperature of the EEM as well as other process parameters
have varied between the experiments discussed in this section.

Aluminium A356 alloy – Laboratory scale experiment


The absolute majority of experimental work‘performed about SSM casting
processes has been‘done using the Aluminium A356 alloy (or similar alloys)
having a composition around 7% Si and 0.4% Mg. This alloy is ideally suited
for SSM processes since it contains around 50% eutectic structure. When Fig. 2: Microstructure in an A356-alloy slurry quenched
cooling a A356-melt, or heating a A356-solid, to a temperature just above in water
the eutectic point, a solid fraction of around 50% is obtained. Furthermore,
the solid fraction is not very sensitive for temperature variations in this
temperature range, meaning that the heat flux need not be very accurately
controlled.
In Fig. 2 the microstructure in a quenched sample of an A356 alloy-slurry is
shown. In this experiment the initial melt as well as the EEM consisted of is very similar to plastic injection moulding. Today
A356.The grains are relatively rounded and the grain sizes obtained typically this process can only be used for thin walled
ranges between 50 and 100 µm, using different process parameter settings. components such as laptop and camera housings.
The effect of the amount of added EEM as well as the holding time of the By using the RSF-process high quality slurries can
slurry on the grain size for the A356 alloy has been thoroughly investigated be easily produced from most Mg-alloys. Fig. 3a
in Ref. [6].
shows the microstructure in an AM60 slurry
produced from an AM60 melt and an AM60 EEM
Magnesium AZ91 and AM60 alloys – Laboratory scale
[8]. In Fig. 3b a corresponding microstructure in
experiments an AZ91 alloy is shown [8]. The AZ91 slurry was
Available SSM techniques for casting Mg-alloys are today rather limited. in this case produced by combining a Mg-9%Al
The only commercially used process today is Thixomoulding [7], where melt with an EEM made out of Mg-15%Zn. Again,
solid Mg-chips are gradually heated in a barrel and sheared by a screw, to the solid phase has a rounded shape and no traces
form a slurry, which thereafter is injected into the mould cavity. The process of dendritic solidification can be observed.

Figs. 3a,b: Microstructures in AM60 (left) and AZ91(right) slurries quenched in water [8]

25 - Metallurgical Science and Technology


Eutectic Aluminium-Silicon alloy –
Laboratory scale experiment
Using other proposed SSM casting techniques, it
has not been possible to produce metal slurries
from principally eutectic alloy compositions. The
reason is of course that the small solidification
intervals of such alloys would require that the heat
flux be very accurately controlled if a slurry with
a predetermined solid fraction should be
produced.
Since there is no need to accurately control any
external heat flux using the RSF-process; the heat
flux takes place inside the metal system, this process
now makes it possible to produce such slurries.
However, in order to have a sufficient driving force
for the dissolution of the EEM it is necessary that
it has a slightly lower melting point than the melt;
which can be achieved by adding some third
alloying element. An experiment was performed
where a binary Al-12%Si melt was combined with Fig. 4: Microstructure in a principally eutectic Al-Si slurry quenched in water
an EEM consisting of the ternary alloy Al-12%Si-
5%Cu. In this ternary alloy the Al-Si eutectic melts
gradually in the range 530 to 570 C, whereas the
binary eutectic temperature is around 575 C.
During slurry preparation, ~5% EEM was used
meaning that the composition of the final slurry
produced was 12% Si and 0.25% Cu.The resulting
microstructure in a water quenched sample of the
slurry is shown in Fig. 4. It is interesting to note
that the eutectic is divorced and that the α-Al
particles, which also in this case have a rounded
shape, are significantly smaller than what was
obtained for the A356 alloy; see Fig. 2.

Cu-Zn based alloy (Ametal) –


Laboratory scale experiment
When pressure die casting copper based alloys
the die life is usually very low due to the high
temperatures involved. Consequently, for such
components the die cost is a major factor for the
total cost of the component. It is well known that
a very efficient way to increase the die life is to
decrease the casting temperature. Using SSM Fig. 5: Microstructure in an Ametal slurry (Cu-Zn based alloy) quenched in water
techniques significantly would lower the casting
temperature, but what is maybe even more
important is that only part of the latent heat
(typically about 50%) will be taken up by the die, An attempt was made to produce a metal slurry from a Cu-Zn based alloy
thereby strongly decreasing the heat impact. (Ametal); where the same material was used for the melt as well as for the
Consequently, there is a large potential for using EEM. The slurry formed quickly, as for all the other alloy systems tested,
SSM based techniques for Cu-based alloys. and the resulting microstructure is shown in Fig. 5.

26 - Metallurgical Science and Technology


Aluminium A356 alloy – Industry
scale experiment
The RSF-process can be used to produce large
quantities of metal slurries in short time. This is
possible since all heat exchange takes place within
the metal system where the heat transfer rate
between the melt and the EEM is very high due to
the strong convection induced by the stirring
motion.
The device used in the laboratory scale
experiments was scaled up such as to be able to
treat up to about 150Kg of aluminium melt. An
experiment was made at Stena Aluminium in
Älmhult, Sweden, where about 120Kg of A356
metal slurry was produced. The time from
submerging the EEM until the slurry had formed
was less than 30 seconds. A micrograph of the
quenched slurry is shown in Fig. 6. As can be seen,
the morphology of the α-Al grains is still very
Fig. 6: Microstructure in an A356-alloy slurry produced as a 120 Kg batch rounded even though some agglomeration has
taken place. It is believed that a homogeneous
dispersion of the solid phase can be achieved by
optimizing the process parameters. The average
grain size is around 80 µm.

3. DISCUSSION into the melt. Therefore very high local


cooling rates can be obtained; especially at
Tests were made with the RSF-process for producing semi-solid metal the beginning of stirring the EEM. It can be
slurries from a variety of alloy systems. In all cases the EEM dissolved within assumed that nucleation takes place in the
30 seconds and a “seemingly nice slurry” was formed. The rheological melt on the outer surface or near the outer
characteristics of a slurry produced by the RSF-process have not yet been surface of the EEM. However, due to the
investigated. However, the microstructure of quenched samples taken from rotation of the EEM, newly formed nuclei will
the slurries, together with the general characteristics of the process, indicates be thrown away from the surface and at the
that the RSF-process has many advantages as compared to other same time new hot melt will flush in where
technologies developed. Below, the major advantages are briefly discussed. repeated nucleation may take place. This
• Fast process.The RSF process makes use of enthalpy exchange between explains why the resulting grain sizes can be
a solid (low enthalpy) and a liquid (high enthalpy).The final solid fraction as low as 50-60 µm in many cases. The grain
of the slurry mainly depends on the relative amounts of the liquid and nucleation in the RSF-process is further
the solid material. In most cases any heat exchange with the discussed in ref. [8]. Further, due to the
surroundings can be neglected. This “internal cooling” is significantly efficient stirring, the grains normally have a
faster than in other processes where typically external cooling or very high roundness.
heating is used.This means that large amounts of SSM slurries (possibly • Simple and versatile process. It is well known
several tons) can be produced in very short time (typically less than that precise temperature measurements and
30 seconds). control are key concerns in controlling the
• High quality slurry. The primary grain size of the slurry is mainly solid fraction of the slurry in other semi-solid
determined by the cooling rate of the melt. In the RSF-process the forming methods. This can be very difficult
solid stays in very good contact with the melt when it is submerged for some alloys with short solidification

27 - Metallurgical Science and Technology


ranges. In the RSF-process, the final solid • Cost effective process. The simplicity and the efficiency of the RSF-process
fraction is mainly controlled by the enthalpy make it possible to produce large amounts of semi-solid metal slurries
of the systems instead of the temperature, at low cost in short time. Further, considering the increased production
and consequently no precise temperature rate and the improved die life, indicate that the total cost of components
control is needed.Therefore, slurries of most produced by the RSF-process could end up in the same level as for
metals and alloys may be produced with ordinary pressure die cast components.
desired solid fractions by using the RSF-
process.

4. CONCLUSIONS 5. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

A new process called the RSF-process, for forming The authors wish to express their sincere gratitude to Finnveden Metal
semi-solid metal slurries has been proposed. It was Structures AB, Stena Aluminium AB, Husqvarna AB and Tour Andersson AB
shown that it is capable of producing high quality for support and providing materials for experiments, and to the Swedish
metal slurries from a variety of alloy systems. Such Agency for Innovation Systems (VINNOVA) for financially sponsoring the
slurries can be used for a number of metal shaping project. Olof Granath and Leif Andersson are also gratefully acknowledged
operations including rheocasting and thixocasting. for their active involvement in some of the experiments.
The process and cost efficiency of this process,
could lead to a possible breakthrough for semi-
solid casting processes.

REFERENCES [4] D. Liu, H.V.Atkinson, P. Kapranos,W. Jirattiticharoean and H. Jones, Mat.


Sci. and eng. A, 361, (1-2), (2003), pp. 213-224.
[1] D.B. Spencer, PhD thesis, MIT, Cambridge, MA, [5] H. Cao and M.Wessén, International patent application No. PCT/SE2005/
(1971). 001889.
[2] R.D. Carnahan, R.F. Decker, E.A. Nyberg, R.H. [6] O. Granath, M. Wessén and H. Cao, These proceedings.
Jones and S.G. Pitman, Proc. Magnesium [7] J.N. Pennington, Modern Metals, (1992), pp. 30-44.
Technology 2000 as held at the TMS Annual
Meeting, Nashville (2000), USA, pp. 403-409. [8] H. Cao, M.Wessén and O. Granath, These proceedings.
[3] J.C. Lee, H.K. Seok and H.I. Lee, Metals and
Materials International, 9, (4), (2003), pp. 351-
357.

28 - Metallurgical Science and Technology

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