Metallurgy is a domain of materials science and engineering that studies the physical and chemical behavior of metallic elements, their inter-metallic compounds, and their mixtures, which are known as alloys. Metallurgy encompasses both the science and the technology of metals; that is, the way in which science is applied to the production of metals, and the engineering of metal components used in products for both consumers and manufacturers. Metallurgy is distinct from the craft of metalworking. Metalworking relies on metallurgy in a similar manner to how medicine relies on medical science for technical advancement. A specialist practitioner of metallurgy is known as a metallurgist.

The science of metallurgy is further subdivided into two broad categories: chemical metallurgy and physical metallurgy. Chemical metallurgy is chiefly concerned with the reduction and oxidation of metals, and the chemical performance of metals. Subjects of study in chemical metallurgy include mineral processing, the extraction of metals, thermodynamics, electrochemistry, and chemical degradation (corrosion).

In contrast, physical metallurgy focuses on the mechanical properties of metals, the physical properties of metals, and the physical performance of metals. Topics studied in physical metallurgy include crystallography, material characterization, mechanical metallurgy, phase transformations, and failure mechanisms.

Historically, metallurgy has predominately focused on the production of metals. Metal production begins with the processing of ores to extract the metal, and includes the mixture of metals to make alloys. Metal alloys are often a blend of at least two different metallic elements. However, non-metallic elements are often added to alloys in order to achieve properties suitable for an application.

The study of metal production is subdivided into ferrous metallurgy (also known as black metallurgy) and non-ferrous metallurgy (also known as colored metallurgy). Ferrous metallurgy involves processes and alloys based on iron, while non-ferrous metallurgy involves processes and alloys based on other metals. The production of ferrous metals accounts for 95% of world metal production.

Modern metallurgists work in both emerging and traditional areas as part of an interdisciplinary team alongside material scientists, and other engineers. Some traditional areas include mineral processing, metal production, heat treatment, failure analysis, and the joining of metals (including welding, brazing, and soldering). Emerging areas for metallurgists include nanotechnology, superconductors, composites, biomedical materials, electronic materials (semiconductors) and surface engineering. Many applications, practices, and devices associated or involved in metallurgy were established in ancient China, such as the innovation of the blast furnace, cast iron, hydraulic-powered trip hammers, and double acting piston bellows. Read more

Metallurgy in Production Engineering

In production engineering, metallurgy 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 aluminum, 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 or galvanized steel are used where resistance to corrosion is important. Aluminum 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, as well as in applications requiring certain aesthetics.

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.

Various forms of casting exist in industry and academia. These include sand casting, investment casting (also called the 'lost wax process'), die casting and continuous casting.

Welding is a technique for joining certain ferrous metals and certain aluminum 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 tempering 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, it also softens the metal. Quenching and case hardening are used to make a shaped product harder. Quenching by it self makes the metal very hard and very brittle, tempering after quenching is used to reduce the brittleness and improve overall properties.

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.

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.

Metallurgists study the microscopic and macroscopic 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. Read more

In the News ...

Newly discovered 'strange metal' does not follow traditional rules - could lead to deep insights   PhysOrg - January 13, 2022

But in recent years, researchers have turned their attention to a class of materials that do not seem to follow the traditional electrical rules. Understanding these so-called "strange metals" could provide fundamental insights into the quantum world, and potentially help scientists understand strange phenomena like high-temperature superconductivity.

Billions of quantum entangled electrons found in 'strange metal'   PhysOrg - January 16, 2020

In a new study, U.S. and Austrian physicists have observed quantum entanglement among "billions of billions" of flowing electrons in a quantum critical material. The research examined the electronic and magnetic behavior of a "strange metal" compound of ytterbium, rhodium and silicon as it both neared and passed through a critical transition at the boundary between two well-studied quantum phases.