The new conference format is called “1st HEA Symposium: Potentials for industrial application”. Prof. Christoph Leyens, head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology IWS and director of the Institute for Materials Science at the Technical University of Dresden, explains: “We want to connect basic researchers and users. Because we keep noticing that many companies are not even aware of this new class of materials. High entropy alloys have great economic and technological potential.” Classical alloys such as steel have been known since ancient times and produced industrially for over 150 years. In addition to iron, steel contains small amounts of carbon, manganese, nickel, vanadium and other elements. These tiny admixtures influence the hardness, elasticity, forgeability and other properties of steel.
Quintet of elements
High entropy alloys, on the other hand, have only been in the research and engineering focus since 2004. They consist of at least five different components, each in high proportions. These can be aluminium, titanium, iron, chromium or nickel, for example, but also completely different elements, also in combination with nitrogen or carbon – then ceramics are produced. “Some of these alloys, consisting of elements such as aluminum, titanium, niobium, hafnium and vanadium, are suitable high-temperature materials for turbines,” says organizer of HEA Symposium, Dr. Jörg Kaspar, who heads the research group for Materials and Failure Analysis at IWS. “This enables more efficient power plants and aircrafts to be designed that consume less gas or fuel. Other compounds are more suitable for lightweight construction”. Ceramic HEA coatings would also make the enormous sheet metal forming tools in the automotive industry more resistant to wear and heat.
Manual brewery would take thousands of years
However, there are still some technological problems to be solved before such alloys become suitable for mass production - and this is where the expertise of IWS researchers comes into play. “High entropy alloys are conceivable in many variations,” explains Jörg Kaspar. “Anyone who wanted to test them all individually would need several thousand years to do so.” The Dresden-based Fraunhofer analysts have therefore further developed methods to quickly produce samples from various HEA compositions and automatically determine hardness, strength and other properties. This is made possible by “additive production facilities” that transport their HEA ingredients from several containers with iron, chromium, nickel and other elementary powders. A laser melts these substances and carries the desired mixture onto a sample plate. The machine then takes, for example, less iron and more chromium for the next sample, tests the influence on the hardness of the new HEA, and subsequently varies the recipe again. The system changes the composition in the following steps until the test series is completed.
IWS engineers draw on profound experience with these and other HEA technologies: They also master materials that are difficult to process, which otherwise become brittle and susceptible to cracking at room temperature and air influences, in high quality. In addition, they contribute their expertise in the use of various additive manufacturing processes: These include laser metal deposition systems that expect ingredients in form of powders or wire, but also metal printers or systems that shape metal alloys using polymer support structures. “Many institutes and companies around the world are working on high-temperature alloys. But in this technological depth like ours, not many can. Especially in HEA processing using additive manufacturing methods, I see ourselves ahead,” summarizes Jörg Kaspar.