Moving beyond standard alloys helps satisfy strict requirements
When specifying materials for a project, companies can choose from many different types of standard alloys. In some cases, though, they might need to develop a custom alloy in order to achieve the best-possible performance.
Research is ongoing to create new, advanced alloys that can satisfy the growing need for robust metals capable of handling demanding requirements. Much of this R&D is being done at universities and focuses on innovative subjects like entropy-stabilized alloys (materials that remain chemically and mechanically stable at extremely high temperatures); aluminum alloys that are tailored specifically for additive manufacturing of aircraft structures; or ultra-hard combinations of titanium and gold that could possibly result in durable, longer-lasting medical implants.
These studies often involve partnerships with alloy manufacturers, end users and government laboratories to help inform the work. In addition, they sometimes result in new methods and new equipment to test the alloys, especially in the case of high-temperature materials where the testing equipment possibly could begin to melt before the alloy reaches its melting point.
Beyond cutting-edge research, custom alloys also are formulated to achieve specific characteristics, such as automotive parts that need to resist corrosion, jewelry alloys that must match a certain color, alloys with the correct melting point for soldering or ones with exceptional casting characteristics, and materials that can be used in the manufacturing of defense equipment.
Alloy manufacturers, like Brooklyn, New York-based Belmont Metals often help their customers create new alloys; in fact, Belmont Metals has been developing custom alloys for customers around the globe since its founding in 1896. The company offers more than 3,000 formulas and more than 30 shapes in its product line, and the ability to manufacture this wide variety of alloys and materials for alloying has provided Belmont with a vast range of metallurgical experience. Belmont Metals’ test furnaces are capable of producing small order quantities (5- to 10-pound samples) for R&D purposes and for companies evaluating the properties and feasibility of various alloy families. In addition, once the desired specifications are met, Belmont can scale up production of the newly created alloy.
New alloys can become widely used—far beyond their original purpose. Belmont Metals worked with a watch manufacturer to solve an ongoing issue with the company’s brass watch bezels. The cast pins that stick out from the bezels and hold the strap in place were breaking about 50 percent of the time. Belmont helped the manufacturer develop a red-metal alloy that was not only more ductile but also had the same color and castability of the original alloy. The new alloy reduced the failure rate of the castings to less than 1 percent and became a staple in the watch-making industry.
Case-studies like this one illustrate the collaborative process necessary for custom alloy development. Companies, researchers, engineers and metallurgists evaluate a number of combinations, testing the material’s temperature and strength requirements, toughness, resistance to fatigue and corrosion, and then they tweak the melt accordingly until they ultimately come up with a suitable combination for their product’s needs.