The project is concerned with the use of new milling techniques to produce metals and alloys in fine structures - to dimensions down to less than 100 nm - i.e. nanophased and ultrafine-grained materials. Such materials can be used to meet a market need, such as in increasing machining life in tools and for decreasing tool replacement time, e.g. during machining and wire drawing. In the last 20 years a new concept has been progressively developed for the synthesis and production of materials - Mechanomaking. It comprises high energy milling of elements or compounds at room temperature during which transformations are made using reactions, alloying, polymorphous transformations, grain refinements and composition control.
This project moved from the scientific and technical feasibility proven in a previous SCIENCE research contract aiming:
- to scale up an existing laboratory size machine to production capacity
- to develop demonstration products and processes (all materials will have finally an ultrafine or nanophased structure) such as high speed tool steels
- to recycle used materials.
It has already been established that the processing costs of mechanomaking, projected to an industrial scale, would be quite attractive and compare favourably even with the added value of materials having structural features far from mechanomade materials (which are nanophased -<20 nm- in the powders and at least ultrafine-grained-< 100 nm- in the compacted solid).
Being a new processing technique, it can be used in many other sectors (industrial, health care, environment etc.) to improve the performance of existing materials/components, or to manufacture new materials designed to have specific properties. The technique has very low environmental impact (essentially due to room temperature processing) producing materials in working conditions that are greatly improved with respect to present and competing technologies.
There are other and wider potential benefits such as:
The low temperature ball-milling process to produce fine powders produces negligible emissions. There is minimum wastage of materials with near 100% conversion expected. New materials and catalysts for use in emission control and sensors are expected. Recycling of used materials is also expected.
Mechanomaking will represent a new industrial growth sector - with direct and indirect employment benefits.
The new materials from this project will enable improved products in health care, e.g. implant prosthesis and for dental applications.