Speeding up the discovery of new alloys

Dr James Goddin

Project Manager

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Granta recently wrapped-up its participation in Accelerated Metallurgy, a European Union (EU) collaborative project focused on speeding up discovery of new alloys. What lessons did we learn?

Alloys have been vital throughout human civilization – think of the importance of brass and bronze in ancient times. Today, production and use of alloys accounts for an amazing 46% of all European Union manufacturing value and 11% of the EU’s total GDP, contributing over €1.5 trillion annually to the EU economy. It’s a long way from the Bronze Age to modern super alloys, yet we are still a very long way from exploring all of the possible combinations of today’s 61 commercially-available metals. The reason is that current approaches to manufacturing and testing potential alloys are time-consuming, labour intensive, and expensive – making comprehensive studies unsustainable.

Accelerated Metallurgy was a response to this, a consortium of 32 partners (Airbus, Renishaw, Rolls Royce and SINTEF to name a few) from six technology areas: lightweight alloys (aero & auto), high temperature alloys (rockets, turbines, nuclear fusion), high-Tc superconductors (electrical applications), thermoelectric alloys (heat scavenging), magnetic alloys (motors & refrigeration), and phase change alloys (electronics).  It aimed to speed up research into new alloys by marrying simulation, to identify the most promising combinations, with new ‘high throughput’ manufacturing machines, to rapidly manufacture alloy samples for testing. Of course, such a program to test (virtually and in reality) tens of thousands of materials required careful, systematic information management.

Accelerated Metallurgy consortium partners

This was Granta’s role—we created and managed a ‘Virtual Alloy Library’, which captured the results of computational modeling that produced over 14,000 virtual specimens.  Then we facilitated the comparison of this data with experimental results. The experimental work used innovative techniques—for example, a new  process which was developed by the University of Birmingham and Renishaw that enabled the creation of a new target specimen every 20 second. The Granta information system managed alloy production data, the resulting test and characterization data, supported specimen tracking data, enabled standardisation across the many project partners, and provided the inputs for industrial and environmental analysis of the alloys. Bringing together the project data in one place also enhanced the project exploitation by highlighting promising results across the different end users – several of the commercially promising alloys discovered were produced for an entirely different intended purpose and perhaps would have remained undiscovered had the data not been made visible to other stakeholders within the project.

ACCMET – Accelerated Metallurgy project logo

By enhancing the visibility and retention of project data both during and after the project we boosted the value of the project as a whole – too often collaborative projects fail to manage the value of their results effectively by having an end point where the project data is scattered usually irretrievably across the consortium, never to be used again. This is a huge waste of the value generated by these projects and a significant waste of public and private research value. Accelerated Metallurgy has demonstrated how this can be rectified in a cost-effective manner and the partners now all benefit from having continuing access to all of the project data.

The results? Well, dozens of high quality published papers were written, and a lot of practical lessons were learned. More importantly, a number of promising potential alloys were found and these, plus the data generated by the project, will form the basis of further work by the partners and future projects. The project was a valuable case study in the importance of combining simulation and experiment – and the need for the right information management strategy when doing so.

2 thoughts on “Speeding up the discovery of new alloys

  1. Bernard Clyde

    I did not realize how big of a role alloys played in our lives, or how big of a role it plays in European manufacturing. It’s amazing how much we can learn from alloys and how many more metals we are discovering. It is good to hear that we are making efforts to be able to study and learn more about these alloys with organizations and metallurgy.

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  2. Prof. Rupendra M. Anklekar

    Physical Metallurgy acts as the basis for all the fundamental concepts used in Materials Science & Engineering. The development of new alloys is very critical for not only progress in the field of Materials Science & Engineering but to various other engineering disciplines as well. For example, development of special alloys such as austenitic stainless steels, high strength low alloy (HSLA) steels, maraging steels, shape memory alloys, superalloys, etc. has produced major impact on the progress of other engineering fields requiring specific engineered materials without which this would not be possible. The foundation for discovery of new alloys rests on simple Hume-Rothery rules that dictate the criteria for forming a solid solution but this gives only general direction but the actual discovery is more related to practical experimentation and coming up with newer and better alloys by combining different metals as well as non-metals.

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