At this time Professor Kenong Xia, an experienced metallurgist from the University of Melbourne, was recruited to oversee the development of mixing and processing. Professor Xia had spent significant time and energy in researching Aluminium MMCs and co-published scientific papers on the theory of mixing ceramic particles to semi-solid Aluminium alloys.
A significant amount of time was also spent studying the work conducted by Dr Jason Lo of Canmet Materials Research Laboratory, Canada.
This established parameters such as the temperature of the semi-molten Aluminium, the ideal size of the ceramic particles and the rate and volume of their addition of the alloy etc. Over time, the processing equipment has been continuously modified to improve performance of the mixed MMC as well as improve productivity. Trials have been conducted with both hollow and solid particles, at various temperatures and at different addition rates.
Even though successful diecasting trials were conducted during 2002/03, the materials supply process was considered inefficient and had limitations in delivering consistent and optimum quality material. Consequently Cyco Systems embarked on the development of innovative equipment utilising a specially designed and fabricated titanium ‘closed loop’ system with an integrated shearing mixer. More specifically, this technology involves a metal crucible furnace in which produces a pre-conditioned semi-solid material (SSM). The furnace directly feeds the SSM to the diecasting machine or ingot caster. Patent applications for these concepts have been submitted to both Australia and the United States Patent Offices.
Whilst is it not essential to employ this ‘closed-loop’ furnace design to produce ULTALITE®, or any other semi-solid alloys, it is a very cost efficient methodology particularly for quality assurance purposes.