LIFT, Materion project to develop cost-effective metal-matrix composites

One component of the project will be the investigation of several product forms, including extrusions, 3D near-net-shape HIP, press and sinter parts and thin sheet.

Lightweight Innovations For Tomorrow (LIFT, Detroit) and Materion Corp. (Mayfield Heights, Ohio) have teamed with industry experts and university researchers on a two-year project to develop more cost-effective means to manufacture lightweight aluminum metal matrix composites (MMCs) for use in large-scale automotive and aerospace platforms. The initiative will examine the consolidation and metalworking methods necessary to fabricate advanced mechanically alloyed powder metal derived MMC’s.

To help reduce current costs of producing MMCs, the project team will explore alternatives to the hot-isostatic press (HIP) manufacturing process in which powders are compressed into solid materials by simultaneously applying isostatic high pressure and temperature. The team expects alternative processes to reduce production time and costs while still meeting high specific modulus and strength-to-weight ratio required by today’s aerospace and automotive industries. One component of the project will be the investigation of several product forms, including extrusions, 3D near-net-shape HIP, press and sinter parts and thin sheet.

“Right now, too much time and money is tied up in a production process which we believe can be improved upon through other methods,” says Keith Smith, vice president of technology and government business development at Materion. “By pulling this team of experts together through LIFT, we will explore and refine those new methods to benefit not only our work, but that of the entire industry.”

As a result, reduced production costs should allow these MMCs to be a more viable choice for additional industrial automotive and aerospace products in the short term and additional transportation platforms in the future.

Along with Materion, the primary investigator, the project team includes industry members: Boeing, Lockheed Martin and GKN. Academic research partners include: Case Western Reserve University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Tennessee and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and governmental partner Oak Ridge National Labs.

“As a global engineering company serving both aerospace and vehicle manufacturers, we see real potential in Powder Metal Aluminum Metal Matrix Composites for lightweighting in many transportation applications," says Alan Taylor, vice president of lightweight technology for GKN Powder metallurgy.

LIFT, one of the founding members of Manufacturing USA, is a public-private partnership committed to the development and deployment of advanced lightweight metal manufacturing technologies, is managing the project.

“Helping our members take a lightweighting idea that has had some success on a small scale and helping ramp it up to be mass produced on a large scale is at the core of what we do at LIFT,” says Alan Taub, chief technology officer at LIFT. “This project will help us deliver a new way of consolidating powder to the marketplace for use in a wide array of industrial products.”

At the end of the project, slated to run through 2018, the team will validate the new manufacturing processes through a series of production trials for the components as defined by the industry partners. The initiative will also work to develop the capacity for high-volume production to meet the demands of the aerospace and automotive materials markets.