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Materials and Design 58 (2014) 332–338

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Evaluation of mechanical properties of aluminium alloy–alumina–boron
carbide metal matrix composites
B. Vijaya Ramnath a,⇑, C. Elanchezhian a, M. Jaivignesh a, S. Rajesh a, C. Parswajinan b,1,
A. Siddique Ahmed Ghias c,1

Department of Mechanical Engineering, Sri Sai Ram Engineering College, Chennai 600 044, India
Department of Mechanical Engineering, SCSVMV University, Kanchipuram 631 561, India
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Vels University, Chennai 600117, India

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 13 September 2013
Accepted 29 January 2014
Available online 11 February 2014

a b s t r a c t
This paper deals with the fabrication and mechanical investigation of aluminium alloy, alumina (Al2O3)
and boron carbide metal matrix composites. Aluminium is the matrix metal having properties like light
weight, high strength and ease of machinability. Alumina which has better wear resistance, high strength,
hardness and boron carbide which has excellent hardness and fracture toughness are added as reinforcements. Here, the fabrication is done by stir casting which involves mixing the required quantities of additives into stirred molten aluminium. After solidification, the samples are prepared and tested to find the
various mechanical properties like tensile, flexural, impact and hardness. The internal structure of the
composite is observed using Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM).
Ó 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
Nowadays, Metal Matrix Composites (MMCs) are under serious
consideration to replace conventional materials for a large number
of structural applications such as those in the aeronautical/aerospace, transportation, defence and sports industries because of
their superior properties. The excellent mechanical properties
and the comparatively low cost make them as an attractive option
[1,2]. A large number of fabrication techniques are currently used
to manufacture the MMC materials according to the type of reinforcement used like stir casting (or compocasting) [3], liquid metal
infiltration [4], squeeze casting [5] and spray co-deposition [6].
Compocasting process involves the agitation of particulate reinforcement and semisolid metal (SSM). Rajan et al. [7] studied the
effect of three different stir casting routes on the structure and
properties of fine fly ash particles in reinforced aluminium silicon
alloy composite and found that the separation of fly ash particles
and its dispersion are more effective in compocasting method than
in liquid metal stir casting due to the shearing of fly ash particles.
Similarly, Rosso presented a paper on ceramic and metal matrix
composites which focussed on different technologies involved,
applications and future of advanced ceramics, metal matrix and
ceramic matrix composites [8].
⇑ Corresponding author. Tel.: +91 9841446655.

E-mail address: (B. Vijaya Ramnath).
Research Scholar.
0261-3069/Ó 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

High homogeneity is required to attain optimum mechanical
properties for the composite material. Therefore, the important
parameters controlling the process must be identified and corrected in order to achieve a good quality composite. Tzamtzis
et al. [9] worked on processing of advanced Al/SiC particulate metal matrix composites under intensive shearing and found that the
distribution of the SiC particles in the metal matrix was improved
significantly when the composites were produced using the Rheoprocess. CFD with finite element analysis is also used to improve
the distribution of the reinforcement in the matrix. Hashim et al.
[10] investigated the effect of stirrer position in the crucible and
stirring speed, on the flow pattern of particles using computer simulation and compared it with visualisation experiment results
using glycerol and polystyrene particles in order to disperse reinforcement particles in the molten matrix as uniformly as possible.
However, there are some problems associated with the fabrication
of reinforced composites like the uneven distribution of the reinforcement in the matrix. The current processing methods often
produce agglomerated particles in the ductile matrix and thus they
exhibit extremely low ductility [11,12].
The microstructure is also a very important parameter which
influences the properties of the composite. It was done earlier by
trial and error methods which were later replaced by scientific
based techniques. One such trial and error method was used by
Rabiei et al. [13], who experimentally tested aluminium matrix
composites with various particle reinforcements, to evaluate their
fracture toughness and compare the experimental results with the

20]. A decrease in the reinforcement particle size to the nanometer range can improve mechanical and tribological properties of the aluminium matrix composites [26]. alumina and boron carbide in powder form are used as the reinforcements. It has good nuclear properties. Its hardness makes it suitable for use as an abrasive and also as a cutting tool. near net shaping. in addition particles agglomeration did not exist in their final composite [22].2. Accumulative Roll Bonding (ARB) process is used to develop Al/B4C composites. In order to overcome the above problems. including high strength.1. Also. The replacement of a part of aluminium or magnesium by fly ash provides significant energy savings [19. Higher reinforcement content in the nanocomposite promotes stronger material transfer from the counterface and oxidation reaction.2 261 3. Aluminium alloy ingot is cut into small pieces of 1 cm  1 cm  3 mm. The various advantages of stir casting are simplicity. The heat treated alloy has fairly good machining properties. Boron carbide has stability to ionizing radiation. 2. 2. Fabrication procedure The schematic diagram of stir casting for production of MMC is shown in Fig. low density. The resulting mixture is poured into the die and allowed to solidify. lower cost of processing and easier control of matrix structure.3.68 2. leading to the lower wear rate. applicability to large quantity. non-uniform distribution and poor wettability of reinforcement used in squeeze or stir casting. Experimental details 2.1. 2. Different techniques have been used for fabrication of Al–B4C composites such as liquid phase methods [25] and solidstate consolidation (powder metallurgy). Material Tensile strength (MPa) Density (g/cm3) Coefficient of thermal expansion (10 6/°C) Aluminium alloy LM 25 grade Al2O3 B4C 190–250 2. The first process in the experiment is preheating.1. of the nanocomposites increased significantly by increasing the B4C content in pure Al powder. Similarly. Al2O3 is an electrical insulator but has a relatively high thermal conductivity (30 W m 1 K 1) like ceramic material. Vijaya Ramnath et al. It is difficult to sinter to high relative densities without the use of sintering aids. / Materials and Design 58 (2014) 332–338 fracture toughness estimates using the Hahn–Rosenfield model and found that there was a close agreement between the experimental results and the predicted toughness using the modified fracture model.3–2. [23] mixed B4C nanoparticles with pure Al powder by ball milling to produce Al–B4C powder. Materials In this work for preparing metal–matrix composite. [14].2. The formation of a mechanically mixed layer (MML) can act as an effective insulation layer that prevents metal to metal contact. Narayana Murty et al. 2. alumina and boron carbide are shown in Table 1. Boron carbide having 220 mesh size. This whirlpool technique provides high strength and homogeneous set of aluminium composite materials.1. In this work. aluminium alloy (LM 25) is used as base material. manufacturing cost of MMCs produced by the above method is high due to expensive equipment and complex processing routes.333 B. namely boron carbide and alumina powders are heated separately to a temperature close to that of the main process temperature. It is commonly called alumina. They are of high resistance to corrosive attack by sea water and marine atmospheres. aluminium oxide and aluminium alloy ingot are required for the preparation. The melting of the aluminium alloy (95%) ingot is carried out in the graphite crucible inside the 2. Raj [15] developed Ashby’s concept of maps to construct a processing map. Table 1 Properties of material used. The properties of aluminium alloy (LM 25).1. 1. Boron carbide Boron carbide is one of the most promising ceramic materials due to its attractive properties.98 2. Here. Aluminium oxide or alumina Aluminium oxide is a chemical compound of aluminium and oxygen having chemical formula Al2O3. which represent the limiting for cavity formation at hard particles in a soft matrix occurring at lower temperatures and higher strain rates and vice versa. The use of fly ash reduces the amount of waste product that would normally need to be disposed by the electrical industry in MMCs since the manufacture of aluminium and magnesium is energy-intensive. stir-casting method is used for preparing aluminium metal–matrix composite. ultimate compressive strength and wear resistance. The agglomeration. good chemical stability and neutron absorption capability [24]. Its feasibility was studied by Rohatgi et al. so that it can be easily placed in graphite crucible for melting. Sharifi et al. Fly ash can also be combined with aluminium and magnesium alloys to produce a new type of MMCs called syntactic foams or Ash alloys [16–18]. Al–B4C powders containing different amounts of B4C were subsequently hot pressed to produce bulk nanocomposite samples. extremely high hardness (the third hardest material after diamond and boron nitride). Aluminium alloy (LM 25) The tensile properties of aluminium alloy (LM 25) at elevated temperatures are influenced by the condition (heat treatment) of the castings and the duration at the elevated temperatures. [21] and it was found that the process of incorporating fly ash cenospheres in die cast magnesium alloy showed refinement in microstructure. which can be only dissolved by vigorous stirring at high temperature.2 71 255. It has toughness similar to diamond. 3. Experimentation The experimental arrangement consists of the main furnace and components along with four mild steel stirrer blades. in which the particles were distributed evenly throughout the matrix. This has also been confirmed by research findings [27]. worked on the hot working characteristics of 6061Al–SiC and 6061–Al2O3 particulate reinforced metal matrix composites for the development of processing maps. In stir-casting.2 380 362 Modulus of elasticity (GPa) .55 7. flexibility. and consequently causes faster formation of more protective MML with higher thickness and higher amount of oxide compounds content on the worn surface. spray forming and powder metallurgy techniques diminish the mechanical and electrical properties of the fabricated composites. the particles often tend to form agglomerates. Stir casting is a primary process of composite production in which continuous stirring of molten base metal is done followed by introduction of reinforcements. The hardness. the empty crucible and the reinforcement powders. A simple instability condition for assessing the extent of plastic deformation in a work piece is derived based on the Ziegler’s continuum principles.4 3.

4 shows the comparison of break load. [23].1. sample 1 contains aluminium alloy—95%. maximum displacement and percentage elongation. 5. Tensile test The tensile test is done using universal testing machine and the specimens are cut as per the ASTM: B-557M standard. / Materials and Design 58 (2014) 332–338 4. 5. 4. Tested specimen is shown in Fig. sample 2 contains aluminium alloy—95%. the flexural strength of sample 3 is higher than other two samples because of presence of aluminium alloy. 3 shows the comparison of Force Vs Stroke for the three samples. .334 B. Similar to tensile strength. This test measures the behaviour of materials subjected to simple bending loads. Apart from the above compositions.2. The vigorous automatic stirring of the material takes place for 10 min with 550 rpm of stirring rate. Sample 3 has the maximum values of break load. the ingot was preheated for 3–4 h at 550 °C. five specimens from each sample is test. Comparison of flexural properties for different composites Fig. 5. For each composition. Brinell hardness test is carried out in this work to find out the deformation of the composite under constant compressive load from an object which is sharp. The stirring mechanism is lowered into the crucible inside the furnace and set at the required depth. The sample 1 has greater break load and percentage elongation than sample 2 whereas sample 2 has greater displacement than sample 1. This test measures the amount of energy absorbed by the specimen for the rupture in joules. Charpy impact test is carried out in this work.1. Impact test The Charpy test is performed by preparing the specimens as per standard IS 1757. Vijaya Ramnath et al. It can be noted that sample 1 has the highest value of force for the same values of stroke followed by sample 2 and sample 3. 1. 5.2. 6 shows Force Vs Stroke graph for three samples of flexural test.1. From Fig. The results obtained are furnished in Table 2.3. furnace. The tensile test specimen is shown in Fig.2. the crucible with aluminium alloy is heated to 830 °C while the preheated powders are mechanically mixed with each other below their melting points. Fabrication of MMC using stir casting method. This metal–matrix is then kept into the furnace at the same temperature. Sample 1 has a higher break load than sample 2 whereas sample 2 has greater deflection than sample 1. 5 and flexural properties are furnished in Table 3. 2. Flexural test 4. alumina—2% and boron carbide—3% and sample 3 contains aluminium alloy only. 7 shows the values of break load and maximum deflection for three samples. The flexural test is done using three point flexural testing machine and the specimen was cut using ASTM: A-370 standard. Comparison of tensile properties for different composites Fig. This experiment is repeatedly done by varying the compositions of the composite powder.3. The specimen is prepared as per IS: 1757 standard. Then. In this work the tensile test is carried out using a universal testing machine. The degasser removes all the trapped gases from the mixture in the crucible and ensures that the temperature of the mixture in the crucible does not get transferred easily to the atmosphere. In this paper. Fig. Results and discussion The results of the test are discussed in this section. At the same time boron carbide and alumina powders are also preheated to 400 °C in the respective containers. Mechanical testing plays an important role in evaluating the fundamental properties of engineering materials as well as in developing new composite materials and to control the quality of materials used in design and construction. a total of 1. alumina—3% and boron carbide—2%. thereby uniformly dispersing the additive powders in the aluminium alloy matrix.1. The specimen is prepared as per ASTM: B-557M standards. Initially. 5. In this paper. The hardness test measures the resistance of a solid to permanent shape change when a force is applied. 7 it can be seen that sample 3 has the highest break load and maximum deflection.5 kg (1500 g) material mix is used for preparing the samples. maximum displacement and percentage elongation for three samples. The furnace completely melts the pieces of aluminium alloy and the powders of alumina and boron carbide. Flexural test The use of flexural test is to determine the flexural property of composite. 4. Impact test Impact testing involves the sudden and dynamic application of the load on the composite specimen. The specimen is prepared as per ASTM: A-370 standard. Hardness test Fig. The temperature rate of the furnace should be controlled at 830 ± 10 °C in final mixing process. Fig.4. Tensile test The ability of a material to withstand a static load can be determined by testing the material in tension or compression.1. Since sample 3 contains aluminium alloy only the tensile strength of that sample is higher than other two samples. the aluminum alloy [LM 25] alone is melted and solidified in dies. 4. Testing The following tests are conducted on the aluminium composites to know their mechanical properties. It can be noted that sample 1 has the highest value of force for the same values of stroke followed by sample 2 and sample 3. 5.

39 Sample 3 Aluminium alloy 9.37 Sample 2 Aluminium alloy—95% Alumina—2% Boron carbide—3% 6.85 Sample 3 Aluminium alloy 4. Sample Composition of composite Specimen Flexural break load (kN) Maximum deflection (mm) Flexural strength (N/mm2) Sample 1 Aluminium alloy—95% Alumina—3% Boron carbide—2% 3.00 1. 6.47 6. 4.5 54. Tensile test specimen.43 8. Sample Composition of composite specimen Break load (kN) Maximum displacement (mm) Tensile strength (MPa) Elongation (%) Tensile modulus (Gpa) Sample 1 Aluminium alloy—95% Alumina—3% Boron carbide—2% 7.22 5. .335 B. Fig. 2. / Materials and Design 58 (2014) 332–338 Table 2 Tensile properties of composites. 5. maximum displacement and percentage elongation (tensile test). Break load and maximum deflection (flexural test). Flexural test specimen of sample 1. Vijaya Ramnath et al.75 3.84 Fig. Break load.2 68.60 4. 3.40 2. Force Vs Stroke graph for tensile test. Fig. Fig.39 199.00 1. Force Vs Stroke graph for flexural test.52 Sample 2 Aluminium alloy—95% Alumina—2% Boron carbide—3% 3. 7.71 Table 3 Flexural properties of composites.12 193. Fig.71 1.4 51.98 226.24 4.76 2. Fig.87 0.

The sample holder stub is cleaned with acetone and dried in the sputter coater machine with 240 volts. The general arrangement of aluminium molecules and reinforcements of the aluminium alloy are faintly visible in the image.9 52.4. 10. 9. Microstructure of samples Fig.9 52. Impact test specimen of sample 1. its microstructure is analysed using SEM.336 B. Scanning Electron Microscope setup. Fig. From Table 4 and Fig. 6. 8 shows the tested specimen of impact test. Fig.9 37.18 Sample 2 Aluminium alloy—95% Alumina—2% Boron carbide—3% 2.42 Sample 3 Aluminium alloy 2 Fig. Fig. 12 shows the microstructure of the fractured surface of tensile test of sample 1 at 100 magnification. 6. Fig. / Materials and Design 58 (2014) 332–338 Table 4 Impact properties of composites.6 48. Brinell hardness test The Brinell hardness test is carried out on the three samples and the results are furnished in Table 5. The darker particles are boron carbide and the lighter ones are aluminium. Brinell hardness number (hardness test). Sample Composition of composite specimen Trail 1 (BHN) Trial 2 (BHN) Trial 3 (BHN) Average hardness (BHN) Sample 1 Aluminium alloy—95% Alumina—3% Boron carbide—2% 48. Fig. The main principle of SEM is the bombarding of electrons and the secondary electrons which are reflected are formed as an image.53 Sample 2 Aluminium alloy—95% Alumina—2% Boron carbide—3% 52.80 Sample 3 Aluminium alloy 37. The Table 5 Hardness values of composites [in BHN]. 5. 11 shows the setup of a Supra 55 Scanning Electron Microscope. Energy absorbed (impact test). Vijaya Ramnath et al. it is clear that sample 2 absorbs more energy followed by samples 1 and 3. Morphological analysis using Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) Fig. It can be noted that sample 2 has the maximum hardness followed by sample 1 and sample 3 in all the trials.6 52. 9.83 . After the sample is prepared. The Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) uses electrons instead of light to form an image.4 48. The ball shaped indenter made of hardened tungsten is used for this test. The diameter of ball shaped indenter is 10 mm and the load applied is 500 Kgf.9 37.7 37. 10 shows the hardness value of three samples.6 48. Sample Composition of composite specimen Energy absorbed (J) Sample 1 Aluminium alloy—95% Alumina—3% Boron carbide—2% 2.1. 11. 8.

only a few debonding particles are observed compared to sample 1. 14 reveals the fractured surface of the sample 2 after tensile test at 108 magnification. Fig. From Fig. The specimen shows a ductile fracture appearance with shearing effects on the surface. copper. Typical examples of crack paths on the specimen surface of the composites are seen in the image. Sample 3 at 250. 15 shows the microstructure of sample 2 with a magnification of 500. 15. It is seen that the reinforcements of the matrix are predominantly located in the centre of the image and aluminium molecules at the outer region. Vijaya Ramnath et al. Fig. the images of sample 3 can be clearly distinguished from those of samples 1 and 2 as these images lack the . silicon. Sample 1 at 500. magnesium. suggesting that the reinforcements are unevenly distributed in the matrix. The picture shows the inner surface of sample 3 which consist of aluminium and other components like Fig. Fig. Sample 2 at 500. However. / Materials and Design 58 (2014) 332–338 337 Fig. The uneven distribution of the matrix and reinforcement is attributed to poor stirring during the manufacturing of the sample. 13. elliptically shaped aluminium particles in the matrix are more clearly visible at a magnification of 500 as shown in Fig. 13. The general arrangement of the composite is clearly visible in the image. 12. 16 shows the microstructure of sample 3 which consist of aluminium alloy [LM 25]. Fig. It consists of tighter packing than the other composites which explains the better tensile and flexural properties of the sample 3 compared to samples 2 and 3. etc. 17. Fig. 16. Many micro cracks and porous sites are observed in the sample which is attributed to poor manufacturing and improper stirring of the composite.B. Sample 1 at 100. Fig. Sample 2 at 108. 14.

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