Spray forming, also known as spray casting, spray deposition and in-situ compaction, is a method of casting metal components with homogeneous microstructures via the deposition of semi-solid sprayed droplets onto a shaped substrate. In spray forming the molten metal exits the furnace as a thin free-falling stream and is broken up into droplets by an annular array of gas jets, these droplets then proceed downwards, accelerated by the gas jets to impact onto a substrate. The process is arranged such that the droplets strike the substrate whilst in the semi-solid condition, this provides sufficient liquid fraction to ‘stick’ the solid fraction together. Deposition continues, gradually building up a spray formed billet of metal on the substrate.
PSI supplies various configurations of manipulators to suit the requirements and applications of our customers, the two shown here are for the deposition of billet material and for cylinder coating.
Spray forming has found applications in numerous industries such as: stainless steel cladding of incinerator tubes; nickel superalloy discs and rings for aerospace engines; aluminium-titanium, aluminium-neodymium and aluminium sputter targets; aluminium-silicon alloys for cylinder liners and high speed steels.
Spray forming offers certain advantages over both conventional ingot metallurgy and more specialised techniques such as powder metallurgy. Firstly, it is a flexible process and can be used to manufacture a wide range of materials, some of which are difficult to produce by other methods, e.g. Al-5wt% Li alloys or Al-SiC, Al-Al2O3 metal matrix composites (MMCs). The atomization of the melt stream into droplets of 10-500 µm diameter, some of which, depending on diameter, cool quickly to the solid and semi-solid state provide a large number of nucleants for the residual liquid fraction of the spray formed material on the billet top surface. The combination of rapid cooling in the spray and the generation of a large population of solid nucleants in the impacting spray leads to a fine equiaxed microstructure, typically in the range 10–100 µm, with low levels and short length scales of internal solute partitioning. These microstructural aspects offer advantages in material strength because of fine grain size, refined distribution of dispersoid and/or secondary precipitate phases, as well as tolerance to impurity ‘tramp’ elements. This fine structure in the ‘as sprayed’ condition means homogenising heat treatments can often be avoided.
Because of the complex solidification path (i.e. the rapid transition from superheated melt to solid, liquid or semi-solid droplet to temperature equilibration at semi-solid billet top and final slow cooling to fully solid) of the spray formed material, extended solubility of alloying elements and the formation of metastable and quasi-crystalline phases has also been reported.
One of the major attractions of spray forming is the potential economic benefit to be gained from reducing the number of process steps between melt and finished product. Spray forming can be used to produce strip, tube, ring, clad bar / roll and cylindrical extrusion feed stock products, in each case with a relatively fine-scale microstructure even in large cross-sections. The benefits of gas atomized spray forming over powder metallurgy accrue from the reduced number of process steps where powder sieving, pressing, de-gassing and handling steps and their attendant safety and contamination issues may be removed.