Redefining metal alloy processing and Canada’s role in themetallurgical industry

Professor Matthias Militzer, one of the influential innovators in Canadian materials engineering.
Professor Matthias Militzer, one of the influential innovators in Canadian materials engineering with Research Associate Thomas Garcin.

Professor Matthias Militzer, one of the influential innovators in Canadian materials engineering, conducts research that will impact thecompetitiveness of Canada’s manufacturing industry. With the use of cutting-edge laser ultrasonics technology and by developing innovative metal alloys, Militzer and his research team have the potential to redefine the nature of metal and alloy processing. He is confident that such innovation will bring Canada to the forefront of the metallurgical industry.

What major challenge does your research address?

It is of critical importance for the long-term economic health of the Canadian metallurgical industry to develop new advanced steel products and light metal alloys that have a high added value. These materials are critical for sustainable growth in vital sectors of Canada’s economy including energy and transportation, particularly within the automotive and aerospace industries. For example, introducing improved steels and light metal alloys into modern vehicle designs will enable significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions; mass savings of 15-20% can improve fuel economy by 10-15%.

Our research is designed to aid the metallurgical industries and their customers to remain globally competitive by developing innovative alloys and optimized processing routes to make them. This is a crucial aspect for Canada’s manufacturing industry and will enable to retain wealth and skilled workers in Canada.

Describe your solution. What is innovative about it?

In our research we focus on process simulation in the laboratory, with an emphasis on thermo-mechanical processing, which is essentially the heat treatment and forming operations required to obtain a metal sheet or plate. Based on these laboratory simulations, process models are developed to predict the microstructures, which result from processing and determine the unique properties of a material.

The process models provide engineers in the industry with a predictive tool for computational process simulation. This research and development approach can be significantly expedited by measuring microstructure evolutionin-situ, i.e. while processing the metal or alloy.

Currently, standard metallography - the study of the microscopic structure of metals - uses slow, post mortem and labour-intensive techniques.  With our research project, laser ultrasonics will be further advanced for monitoring important microstructure phenomena such as grain growth, recrystallization, precipitation and phase transformations in steels, Al, Ti and Mg alloys.

Laser ultrasonics for metallurgy (LUMet) is an emerging Canadian sensor technology. Laser ultrasonics is based on generation and detection of ultrasound using lasers and is a noncontact, nondestructive technique for fast and precise in-situ measurements of microstructuresduringthermo-mechanical processing. We are fortunate to have acquired the world's first LUMet system as an attachment to our thermo-mechanical laboratory equipment, the Gleeble 3500 simulator, thanks to funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.

How will it make a difference?

LUMet offers the potential to transform the nature of metal and alloy processing by rapidly accelerating laboratory studies; using LUMet to conduct in-situ measurements can take months off the time needed to develop process models. LUMet has also the potential to act as an intelligent sensor for microstructure control. Currently, in an industrial line, microstructure is indirectly controlled by temperature measurements. This potential paradigm shift will drive the design of microstructures with highly desirable properties - those needed to produce the innovative materials and products that will put Canada at the forefront of the metallurgical industry worldwide.

In our laboratory, graduate students will be trained with dedicated laser ultrasonic studies thereby positioning them as champions of this innovative sensor technology in Canada's metallurgical industry. The long term objective is to establish an international Centre of Excellence on laser ultrasonics for metallurgy at the University of British Columbia. In addition, we hope to promote the LUMet technology as a new standard for in-situ microstructure characterization and control in the metallurgical community.