Journal of Materials Processing Technology 161 (2005) 430–434

Intelligent evaluation of melt iron quality by pattern recognition of thermal analysis cooling curves
Yanxiang Li∗ , Qiang Wang
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing, PR China Received 7 January 2002; received in revised form 3 September 2003; accepted 17 July 2004

Abstract The quality of an iron melt which refers to the soundness of melting and subsequent treatments of the melt can be identified and recognized with its thermal analysis cooling curve. To compare two cooling curves, both the separating distance of the two curves and the shape similarity of the curves should be considered. A comprehensive parameter Ω can be used to identify the difference of the two cooling curves. When Ω is at minimum, the two curves must be the closest couple among all cooling curves. It is found that the difference of every feature related to melt iron quality converges to zero when the value of Ω approaches zero. Two databases of grey and nodular cast irons have been set up, in which the thermal analysis cooling curves, composition, microstructure and mechanical properties are included. For the prediction of nodularity of ductile irons, an accuracy of 5% is realized if the value of Ω of the two matching cooling curves is less than 2 ◦ C. This method is self-adaptive to the production condition and has been adopted in several foundries. © 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Thermal analysis; Melt iron features; Cooling curve recognition

1. Introduction The quality of melt iron refers to the soundness of melting and subsequent treatments which include chemical composition, temperature, efficiency of inoculation and/or nodularization, the tendency of chill and shrinkage, etc. These features determine the solidification process, microstructure and mechanical properties of cast irons. The main methods of evaluation of melt iron quality in the foundry floor include thermal analysis, chemical composition analysis, chill test and metallographic examination. Among them, thermal analysis possesses the advantages of fast, high resolution, flexibility and reliability. Thermal analysis technique for the evaluation of melt iron quality came into being in the early 1960s. BCIRA firstly used a thermal analysis method to measure the carbon equivalent (CE) of melt iron [1]. As we know, CE is a very important parameter in determining the characteristics of grey cast iron, as the Brinell hardness and machinability, etc. The quick mea∗

Corresponding author. Tel.: +86 10 6277 3640; fax: +86 10 6277 0190. E-mail address: yanxiang@tsinghua.edu.cn (Y. Li).

surement of CE has great importance. About 10 years later, Ford developed an especial CE Cooling Curve Computer [2]. The Te-treated sample cup to measure C% and Si% of melt iron separately is a significant progress in the development of thermal analysis techniques for the evaluation of melt iron quality. Later, special instruments for quick measurements of C%, Si% and CE of melt iron on the foundry floor were invented. These instruments are still widely used in foundries up to now. Further development of thermal analysis in casting production depends on the comprehensive evaluation of melt iron quality. Research results show that the shape of a cooling curve measured by a thermal couple mounted in the thermal analysis sample cup reflects the solidification process of melt iron in the sample cup [3–7]. So it is clear that all kinds of factors influencing the solidification process, such as normal chemical composition and trace elements, inoculation and nodularization treatment, etc., influence the shape of the cooling curve. The solidification procedure determines the microstructure and mechanical properties of cast iron. Any tiny differentiation in the melt iron quality will give rise to changing of the shape of the cooling curve. By measuring the

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Y. Li, Q. Wang / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 161 (2005) 430–434

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shape of the cooling curve, a comprehensively evaluation to the quality of melting and subsequent treatments can be made, and the microstructure and mechanical properties of the cast component can be predicted. Quite a lot of different parameters have been adapted as the characteristics of a cooling curve. By using regression analysis, some relation patterns between the indexes of melt iron quality and the characteristics of a cooling curve can be set up. Then, some prediction of melt iron quality can be realized. For grey cast iron, the prediction of graphite morphology, chill tendency, hardness and tensile strength is needed. For nodular cast iron, judgement of the nodularity and tendency of shrinkage is the most important factor. To accurately and directly measure the characteristic parameters of a cooling curve, many improvements to the thermal analysis instruments have been made. For example, the addition of the first and second derivatives of a cooling curve, using double cup (with and without Te-treatment) or triple cup (Te-treated cup, inoculated and non-inoculated plain cup), etc. The fundamentals of these improvements are the regression relationship between the quality indexes and the characteristic parameters of a cooling curve. But this regression relationship is always obtained under some special experimental or production condition, so it has less sensitivity to casting conditions, and is difficult to be adapted to various production conditions of different foundries [8,9]. Recently, a computer-aided intelligence technique is being introduced to the recognition of thermal analysis cooling curves and control of melt iron quality [10]. It brings the thermal analysis technique for evaluation and control of melt iron quality to a new stage. According to prior research achievements, there exist corresponding relationships between the shape of thermal analysis cooling curve and the composition, microstructure and mechanical properties of special castings under a fixed production condition. So, the aim of the present research is to set up a relation database of thermal analysis cooling curves, composition, microstructure and properties of various cast irons under fixed production conditions. Using the pattern recognition technique, it is possible to evaluate the melt iron quality and predict corresponding casting properties by recognition of a special thermal analysis cooling curve [11]. This method is self-adaptive to the production condition. The evaluation contents may include composition, graphite morphology, nodularity, chill tendency, shrinkage problem and mechanical properties of a casting. The evaluation items can be adjusted according to the foundry requirements.

2.1. Area method In a temperature–time coordinate, the difference between two curves can be expressed by the following equation: A= | Ti | ti (1)

where Ti = Ti −Ti at time ti and ti is the time step. It can be seen from Eq. (1) that the value of A is really the area of the figure sounded by the two cooling curves at a given time interval t. The closer the two curves, the smaller the value of A. 2.2. Deviation method In this approach, the difference between two curves is expressed by the following equation: S= ( Ti − T )2 n−1
1/2

(2)

2. Theory of cooling curve comparison To compare curves is to determine the difference between two curves or to find the curve from a curve database that most matches the given one. According to the fundamental principles of pattern recognition [12], there are two approaches to compare curves. They are the so called “area method” and “deviation method”. According to the following schematic diagram, the two methods can be expressed.

where Ti =Ti − Ti , T = ( Ti )/n. The more similar the two curves, the smaller the value of S. When the above two methods are applied to comparing cooling curves in a database, different results can be obtained at some conditions. There exists conflict as to find the most matching curve. So, a more detailed study is needed to apply the pattern recognition principle to cooling curve recognition. For the area method, if A is divided by t, it is found that the curve difference is expressed by the average distance between the two curves in this approach. The shape of the curves is not considered. But in the second method, the deviation value expresses the shape similarity of two curves. The distance between the two curves is neglected. As we know, when two curves are the closest among a group, their distance should be the minimum and their shape similarity should be the best at the same time. Based on this, a new method to analyses the curve difference is developed. The total differ-

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ence between two curves can be expressed with the following comprehensive parameter Ω: Ω= | n Ti | +S (3)

when Ω is a minimum, the two curves must be the closest couple.

3. Experiments A thermal analysis system was developed for evaluating melt iron quality. In the system, two databases have been established experimentally, one for the ductile cast iron, and the other for the grey iron. The chemical composition of ductile irons is 3.7–3.9% C, 2.3–2.7% Si, 0.3–0.7% Mn, 0.03–0.05% P, and 0.01–0.02% S, and that of grey irons is 3.2–3.5% C, 1.9–2.5% Si, 0.3–0.7% Mn, 0.03–0.05% P, and about 0.09% S. For each database, about 100 records were recorded. The first field of both databases is a cooling curve. It is really a cooling curve segment during the freezing stage from the liquidus temperature to the end of eutectic solidification. Because it is only this segment of a cooling curve that is determined by the solidification procedure and related to the solidified microstructure of the sample melt. Temperature was measured with a K-type thermocouple. The temperature collecting speed was 2 data per second. The total cooling time was about 4 min, which allowed the sample to cool from the pouring temperature to the solidus temperature. Thermal analysis was sampled just before pouring the iron melt into the moulds. Other fields in a record are different for the ductile cast iron and for the grey cast iron. For the ductile cast iron, it includes composition, graphite nodularity and nodule density. For grey cast iron it includes chemical composition, graphite type, its intensity, and mechanical properties of the solidified samples.

Fig. 1. The cooling curve difference (Ω) vs. the difference of nodularity ( Q) in nodular cast irons. The envelope line is converged to zero when Ω → 0.

Fig. 2. The cooling curve difference (Ω) vs. the difference of nodule count density ( N) in nodular cast irons.

4. Results and discussion For ductile cast irons, the relationships between the difference in nodularity ( Q), nodule count density ( N), average nodule diameter ( D), and the cooling curve difference Ω are shown in Figs. 1–3. It is clear that when the value of Ω approaches zero, Q, N and D all converge to zero. That is to say that when two melts of nodular cast iron have similar thermal analysis cooling curves (Ω is small), the two nodular irons must have similar solidified microstructures under the same solidifying condition, or the two melts must have similar quality features. From Fig. 1, it can be clearly seen that Q will not be over 5% when Ω is less than 2 ◦ C. For grey cast irons, the relationship between the cooling curve difference Ω and the difference of the percentage of graphite type is mainly analyzed, because the percentage of different graphite types (e.g. A, B, D and E type) is one of the

Fig. 3. The cooling curve difference (Ω) vs. the difference of average nodule diameter ( D) in nodular cast irons.

Y. Li, Q. Wang / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 161 (2005) 430–434 Table 1 The chemical composition of samples a and b shown in Fig. 5 Sample a b Elements (wt.%) C Si Mn 3.76 3.76 2.62 2.81 0.28 0.28 P 0.042 0.039 S 0.015 0.013 Mg 0.044 0.039

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Ce 0.023 0.021

Table 2 The chemical composition of samples a and b shown in Fig. 6 Sample a b Elements (wt.%) C Si 3.33 3.29 1.85 1.90 Mn 0.71 0.75 P 0.042 0.039 S 0.112 0.094

Fig. 4. The cooling curve difference (Ω) vs. the difference of percentage of graphite type A ( SA ) in grey cast irons.

most important factors indicating the inoculation effectiveness. Fig. 4 shows the result that how the difference of the percentage of graphite type A ( A) changes with Ω. A similar behavior to that observed in features of ductile cast iron has also been found that the difference of the percentage of graphite type A ( A) converges to zero when Ω approaches zero. From Figs. 1–4, it can be seen that when the cooling curve difference Ω of two iron melts is small enough, the difference of cast iron features converges to zero. These results suggest that the melt features of another iron in the database can be used to evaluate that of the measuring one when their cooling curve difference Ω is small enough. For example, the nodularity predicting accuracy is better than 5% if Ω is lower than 2 ◦ C. This analysis can also be confirmed from Fig. 5, where the graphite morphology of two nodular cast iron samples (the chemical compositions are listed in Table 1) with very

similar cooling curves (Ω = 1.2 ◦ C) has been shown, respectively. This behavior can also be found in grey cast irons (the chemical compositions are listed in Table 2). Fig. 6 shows the microstructure of two grey cast iron samples with small Ω (Ω = 2.4 ◦ C). The microstructure is very similar for the percentage of graphite type A and graphite length. It is well known that the shape of a cooling curve is mainly determined by three factors, which are the chemical composition, cooling condition and melt quality. For a standard test cup, the cooling condition is constant if considering the pouring temperature as one of melt quality parameters. For two samples, it is only if both the chemical composition and melt quality are very similar that the matching cooling curves have a very small Ω. This is the reason why the difference of features relating to melt quality converges to zero when Ω approaches zero. For cooling curves with large Ω, although all the factors mentioned above can not be similar at the same time, one single factor, such as the nodularity, nodule count density or average nodule average diameter can be similar because of some factors being in-

Fig. 5. The graphite morphology of two nodular cast irons with similar cooling curves (Ω = 1.2 ◦ C).

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Fig. 6. The microstructure of two grey cast irons with similar cooling curves (Ω = 2.4 ◦ C).

dependent. This analysis can explain why the difference of a single feature can be very low even when the value of Ω is high.

5. Conclusion The quality of an iron melt which refers to the soundness of melting and subsequent treatments of the melt can be identified and recognized with its thermal analysis cooling curve. To compare two cooling curves, both the separating distance of the two curves and the shape similarity of the curves should be considered. An comprehensive parameter Ω can be used to identify the difference of the two cooling curves (Ω = 1/2 | Ti |/n + S, S = [ ( Ti − T )2 /(n − 1)] ). When Ω is a minimum, the two curves must be the closest couple among all cooling curves. It is found that the difference of every feature related to melt iron quality converges to zero when the value of Ω approaches zero.

References
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