New material development transforms design and manufacturing processes

The use and availability of new materials sometimes not merely enhances an existing design or process, it revolutionises it entirely. As a global leader in materials manufacturing, Morgan Advanced Materials has more experience than most of this phenomenon and has developed a proprietary leachable material which significantly cuts investment casting times in turbine engine blades by up to 20%.

The development comes as the commercial aerospace industry is facing a significant overhaul. According to Market Research Future, the commercial aircraft turbine blades and vanes market is forecasted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 6% by 2023.

High fuel prices, stricter regulations on noise and carbon dioxide emissions, and an increase in competition from low cost carriers are factors which are forcing manufacturers to develop modern aero-engines that are lightweight and fuel efficient.

To help aerospace investment casting businesses meet this surge in demand, the Technical Ceramics business of Morgan Advanced Materials has developed the LEMA range of proprietary alumina-based materials. The new material shortens leaching cycles for alumina core support rods used in the production of turbine engine blades, while still providing the significant mechanical strength needed for robust production.

Typical alumina rods are renowned for their strength and load bearing capabilities. However, it can take several days to fully leach the materials, resulting in delays in the production process. In comparison, like-for-like LEMA 250 parts will experience an approximate 20% mass reduction after 20 hours (at 149°C and 185 psi). A comparable alumina part to LEMA 250 does not show any mass loss under the same conditions.

Jennifer Kachala, product engineer at Morgan’s Technical Ceramics business said: “At a time when demand for turbine engine blades is expected to grow substantially over the next few years, the enhanced leachability of LEMA rods has been developed at exactly the right moment to help shorten processing times for casting manufacturers.

“Investment casting businesses will need to prove they can meet demand for the ramping build schedules of new engine programs. LEMA can help them achieve this while saving on costs.”

The enhanced leachability of LEMA drives more cost and time savings. While quartz support rods can offer a cost-effective solution to alumina in terms of leachability, they do not have the mechanical strength of LEMA. This makes them less suitable for applications where part geometries and alloys require higher strength support rods. LEMA components are approximately 1.5 times stronger than quartz equivalents.

“The investment casting industry has experienced the pain of long production times for years due to legacy materials and leaching processes. Morgan has overcome this challenge with LEMA,” said Kachala. “Our material has been extensively tested, optimised to deliver strength and shorten production times, reducing cycle times and costs in casting turbine blades.

“As a result, our customers can now meet demand, with improved quality for the aerospace and industrial gas turbine industries.”

Another example of the way in which Morgan’s technical innovation in materials has transformed a product is in the manufacture of pumps. Here, the manufacture of clean pumps used in food & beverage, pharmaceutical and cosmetics factories is likely to be affected by the ban on environmentally harmful polymer microbeads, these are currently used in pump construction but are harmful to sea life. The UK and US Governments have banned their use in certain applications already – mostly in cosmetics – with further extensions likely to follow.

A new micro-structure manufactured by Seals and Bearings, a business of Morgan Advanced Materials using porous Silicon Carbide (SiC) is being cited as the answer, offering effective pore forming to help pumps perform for longer.

Thanks to Morgan’s expertise in volume precision ceramics manufacturing – and the flexibility to ‘press to size’ to suit customer needs – its new SiC grade is suitable for delivering seal faces in high volumes, even for complex designs.

Porous seal rings are vital for long-term pump performance. For companies manufacturing Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) no contamination is allowed and seal rings must maintain integrity. Friction naturally occurs as the two mechanical seals run against each other; over time, this can affect seal performance and potentially cause leakage. The answer is to add pores, which act as pockets for processing fluid. This fluid acts as a lubricant to substantially reduce friction – but the most popular industry solution currently on the market also uses polymer microbeads to create the required microstructure.

The ban on these presents a significant risk to the supply chain in pump manufacture, but Morgan has pioneered a new material that is expected to offer similar properties to the current solution without posing this risk to the environment.

“In conversations with customers, we’ve been shocked that many aren’t aware of the ban and the danger it poses to their long-term productivity. Our new porous grade of silicon carbide has been devised to give customers a more sustainable means of supplying pumps that are effectively sealed and lubricated during operation,” explains Yifei Zhang, business development manager at the Seals & Bearings Business of Morgan Advanced Materials.

“Our new grade offers isolated, round pores on the seal faces which act as ‘pockets’ to retain processing fluid for effective lubrication. This is highly preferable for food or pharmaceutical applications, to graphite-based dry lubrication systems which offer an increased risk of undesired contamination.

“Morgan’s ‘press-to-size’ technology minimises subsequent machining processes. This works even for parts with complex geometries, meaning we’re able to manufacture seals to the final tolerance required by the customer.”

The addition of porous SiC adds to Morgan’s portfolio of materials for mechanical seal faces, alongside its existing sintered SiC (PS5000 grade) and graphite loaded SiC (PGS3 grade).

Paul Fanning

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