You are on page 1of 4

Solidification of Al-Cu alloys

Observant people may have noticed that the Al-Cu phase diagram shown only goes up to around 60%, by
weight, of Copper. The Al-Cu phase diagram is split at around 54wt%Cu by a particular phase. This "split"
means that the two parts of the diagram can be considered separately. The diagram up to the 54% point
is very similar to the "standard" phase diagram.

When a phase diagram, such as this one, has an intermetallic phase it is not named alpha or beta but is
assigned another Greek letter. Unfortunately there is no system to this naming, it is purely convention.
Here the "right" hand phase is named theta but other than its name it is dealt with in exactly the same
way as a beta phase..

Solidification of Al-Cu alloys


Consider two Al-Cu alloys, one of composition 33 wt%Cu and the other of 20wt%Cu.

Examining the phase diagram:

 the 33wt%Cu alloy is of eutecticcomposition and


 the 20wt%Cu alloy is hypoeutectic as it is to the left of the eutectic point.

So, first considering the Al-33 % Cu alloy:


Solidification of Al-Cu alloys
The eutectic reaction, at 33% Cu can be shown as:

Liquid > alpha + theta

So, the two phases grow simultaneously as an interconnected structure - the eutectic phase.
The lamellar nature of the eutectic mixture as it solidifies ensures that diffusion fields ahead of the
liquid-solid interface are limited (i.e. the atoms do not have to travel vast distances for the two
phases to form simultaneously)

Solidification of Al-Cu alloys


Now, the Al-20wt%Cu alloy is hypoeutectic. The liquid alloy initially contains a higher percentage of Al
than that corresponding to the eutectic composition; the primary solid phase that forms is
therefore alpha.

Formation of the alpha phase, however, depletes the remaining liquid in Aluminium (Al) and the
liquid composition shifts toward the eutectic composition. When the composition reaches eutectic
(33%Cu for this phase diagram) the remaining liquid follows the eutectic reaction.

So, at room temperature, the microstructure consists of primary alpha dendritessurrounded by a finely
divided eutectic mixture of two solid phases (alpha+theta).
Now, the question presents itself : "Why do I want to know this ?"

Well, microstructural changes strongly influence the engineering properties of an alloy.


The lamellar nature of the eutectic phase, for instance, impedes dislocation movement through
the alloy. If dislocations cannot move easily then the material won't yield until a higher stress is
applied, i.e. the strength of the alloy is increased.

So, by understanding how phase diagrams work we can predict and refine alloys to give us the
properties we require.

Micrograph of Al-20%wtCu alloy Micrograph of Al-20%wtCu alloy


This specimen has been metallographically This specimen has been metallographically
prepared (mounted, ground and polished) and prepared (mounted, ground and polished) and
then etched in dilute (10%) nitric acid which stains then etched in dilute (10%) nitric acid which stains
the surface of the theta phase brown/black whilst the surface of the theta phase brown/black whilst
leaving the alpha phase unattacked - thus leaving the alpha phase unattacked - thus
appearing white. The specimen was then appearing white. The specimen was then
photographed under a microscope. The scale is photographed under a microscope. The scale is
shown in the bottom corner of the micrograph. shown in the bottom corner of the micrograph.