The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Metallurgy is a domain of materials science and of materials engineering that studies the physical and chemical behavior of metallic elements and their mixtures, which are called alloys.


Extractive metallurgy

Extractive metallurgy is the practice of separating metals from their ore, and refining them into a pure metal. In order to convert a metal oxide or sulfide to a metal, the metal oxide must be reduced either chemically or electrolytically.

Metallurgy in production engineering

Metallurgy, in production engineering, is concerned with the production of metallic components for use in consumer or engineering products. This involves the production of alloys, the shaping, the heat treatment and the surface treatment of the product. The task of the metallurgist is to achieve design criteria specified by the mechanical engineer, such as cost, weight, strength, toughness, hardness, corrosion resistance and performance in extremes of temperature.

Common engineering metals are aluminium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, nickel, titanium and zinc. These are most often used as alloys. Much effort has been placed on understanding one very important alloy system, that of purified iron, which has carbon dissolved in it, better known as steel. Normal steel is used in low cost, high strength applications where weight and corrosion are not a problem. Cast irons, including ductile iron are also part of this system.

Stainless steel is used where resistance to corrosion is important. Aluminium alloys and magnesium alloys are used for applications where strength and lightness are required.

Most engineering metals are stronger than most plastics and are tougher than most ceramics. Composites of plastics and materials such as glass fibre and carbon fibre rival metals in applications requiring high tensile strength with little weight. Concrete rivals metals in applications requiring high compressive strength and resistance to the effects of water. Wood rivals metal in applications requiring low cost and availability of materials and low cost of construction.

The operating environment of the product is very important; a well-designed material will resist expected failure modes such as corrosion, stress concentration, metal fatigue, creep and environmental stress fracture . Ferrous metals and some aluminium alloys in water and especially in an electrolytic solution such as seawater, corrode quickly. Metals in cold or cryogenic conditions tend to lose their toughness becoming more brittle and prone to cracking. Metals under continual cyclic loading can suffer from metal fatigue. Metals under constant stress in hot conditions can creep.

Production engineering of metals

Metals are shaped by processes such as casting, forging, rolling, extrusion, sintering, metalworking, machining and fabrication. With casting, molten metal is poured into a shaped mould. With forging, a red-hot billet is hammered into shape. With rolling, a billet is passed through successively narrower rollers to create a sheet. With extrusion, a hot and malleable metal is forced under pressure through a die, which shapes it before it cools. With sintering, a powdered metal is compressed into a die at high temperature. With machining, lathes, milling machines, planing machines and drills are used to cut the cold metal to shape. With fabrication, sheets of metal are cut with guillotines or gas cutters and bent into shape.

"Cold working" processes, such as rolling and fabrication, where the product’s shape is altered while the product is cold, can increase the strength of the product by a process called work hardening. Work hardening creates microscopic defects in the metal, which resist further changes of shape.

Welding is a technique for joining certain ferrous metals and certain aluminium alloys. The metals in the weld and on both sides of the join are generally similar alloys. Brazing is a technique for joining copper-based metals.

Metals can be heat-treated by annealing, quenching and case hardening to alter properties of toughness, hardness or resistance to corrosion. Annealing is used to make a shaped product tougher by reducing the effects of work hardening. Quenching and case hardening are used to make a shaped product harder.

Electroplating is the main surface treatment technique and involves bonding a thin layer of another protective metal such as gold, silver, chromium or zinc to the surface of the product to reduce corrosion.

Electrical and electronic engineering

Metallurgy is also applied to electrical and electronic materials where as metals such as aluminum, copper, tin and gold are used in power lines, wires, printed circuit boards and integrated circuits.

Soldering is a method of joining metallic electrical conductors where high strength is not required.

Metallurgical techniques

Metallurgists study the microscopic mechanisms that cause a metal or alloy to behave in the way that it does, i.e. the changes that occur on the atomic level that affect the metal's (or alloy's) macroscopic properties. Examples of tools used for microscopic examination of metals are optical and electron microscopes and mass spectrometers.

Metallurgists study crystallography, the effects of temperature and heat treatment on the component phases of alloys, such as the eutectic and the properties of those alloy phases.

The macroscopic properties of metals are tested using machines and devices that measure tensile strength, compressive strength and hardness.

See also

Last updated: 09-01-2005 09:41:00