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Nmerical and experimental investigation of directional solidification in vacuum investment casting of superalloys

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posted on 26.07.2019 by Ekaterina Rzyankina
High temperatures encountered in combustion chambers of jet engines has demanded the creation of new technologies and new materials for the construction of one of the most critical elements of these systems - the stator and rotor turbine blades. They have to withstand extreme temperatures for extended periods without the loss of mechanical strength, conditions under which many steels and alloys fail. Such failure is ascribed to the combination of high temperatures and high centrifugal forces, resulting in creep.
The high temperature creep mechanism of grain boundary sliding has limited the operation capability of fine-grained equiaxed castings. Higher operating temperatures were achieved with higher alloy contents and coarse-grained equiaxed castings. This is especially prevalent in multi-crystalline structures in which grain boundaries present weaknesses in the structure. However, notwithstanding these improvements, high temperature resistant alloys formed as single crystal structures offer the necessary material properties for safe performance under these extreme conditions.
Damage to turbine blade surfaces is often caused by oxidation and hot corrosion. For this reason, turbine blades are coated with a thermal barrier coating (TBC), which consists of ceramic materials that reduce the heat flux through the airfoil.
In this research work, modelling and simulation techniques were initially used to study the directional solidification (DS) of crystal structures during vacuum investment casting. The modelling of the solidification process was implemented using a Finite Element casting simulation software, ProCAST, to predict thermal and flow profiles.
These models allowed the study of the dendritic growth rate, the formation of new grains ahead of the solid/liquid interface and the morphology of the dendritic microstructure. These studies indicated the opportunity to optimise the velocity of the solidification front (solidification rate) for single crystal structures.
The aim of this research was therefore to investigate the effect of the solidification rate (or withdrawal velocity) on the quality of SC castings. The investigations were carried out for nickel-based superalloy CMSX-4 turbine blade casts and rods using the Bridgman process for vacuum investment casting. The SC castings were heat treated to improve the grain structure for enhanced creep resistance. The heat treated SC castings were inspected by Xray diffraction to analyse crystallographic orientation and chemical composition; and by SEM, OP (optical microscopy) and microprobe analysis to analyse the microstructure; in addition to macrostructural investigations.
In the experimental analysis, the formation of new grains ahead of the solidi/liquid interface and the effect of dendrite packing patterns on the primary dendrite spacing were investigated.
Creep tests were conducted to compare the creep properties of the SC castings for different withdrawal rates, and to draw conclusions regarding the effect of withdrawal rate on the microstructure (and hence the creep properties) of SC castings

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