Field Assisted Sintering of Refractory Carbide Ceramics and Fiber Reinforced Ceramic Matrix Composites

Open Access
Gephart, Sean Michael
Graduate Program:
Materials Science and Engineering
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
September 09, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Jogender Singh, Dissertation Advisor
  • Anil Kamalakant Kulkarni, Committee Chair
  • Ivica Smid, Committee Member
  • Todd Palmer, Committee Member
  • sintering
  • field assisted sintering
  • fast
  • spark plasma sintering
  • sps
  • silicon carbide
  • sic
  • boron carbide
  • b4c
  • cmc
  • ceramic
The sintering behaviors of silicon carbide (SiC) and boron carbide (B4C) based materials were investigated using an emerging sintering technology known as field assisted sintering technology (FAST), also known as spark plasma sintering (SPS) and pulse electric current sintering (PECS). Sintering by FAST utilizes high density electric current, uniaxial pressure, and relatively high heating rate compared to conventional sintering techniques. This effort investigated issues of scaling from laboratory FAST system (25 ton capacity) to industrial FAST system (250 ton capacity), as well as exploring the difference in sintering behavior of single phase B4C and SiC using FAST and conventional sintering techniques including hot-pressing (HP) and pressure-less sintering (PL). Materials were analyzed for mechanical and bulk properties, including characterization of density, hardness, fracture toughness, fracture (bend) strength, elastic modulus and microstructure. A parallel investigation was conducted in the development of ceramic matrix composites (CMC) using SiC powder impregnation of fiber compacts followed by FAST sintering. The FAST technique was used to sinter several B4C and SiC materials to near theoretical density. Preliminary efforts established optimized sintering temperatures using the smaller 25 ton laboratory unit, targeting a sample size of 40 mm diameter and 8 mm thickness. Then the same B4C and SiC materials were sintered by the larger 250 ton industrial FAST system, a HP system, and PL sintering system with a targeted dense material geometry of 4×4×0.315 inches3 (101.6×101.6×8 mm3). The resulting samples were studied to determine if the sintering dynamics and/or the resulting material properties were influenced by the sintering technique employed. This study determined that FAST sintered ceramic materials resulted in consistently higher averaged values for mechanical properties as well as smaller grain size when compared to conventionally sintered materials. While FAST sintered materials showed higher average values, in general they also showed consistently larger variation in the scattered data and consequently larger standard deviation for the resulting material properties. In addition, dynamic impact testing (V50 test) was conducted on the resulting materials and it was determined that there was no discernable correlation between observed mechanical properties of the ceramic materials and the resulting dynamic testing. Another study was conducted on the sintering of SiC and carbon fiber reinforced SiC ceramic matrix composites (CMC) using FAST. There has been much interest recently in fabricating high strength, low porosity SiC CMC’s for high temperature structural applications, but the current methods of production, namely chemical vapor infiltration (CVI), melt infiltration (MI), and polymer infiltration and pyrolysis (PIP), are considered time consuming and involve material related shortcomings associated with their respective methodologies. In this study, SiC CMC’s were produced using the 25 ton laboratory unit with a target sample size of 40 mm diameter and 3 mm thickness, as well as on the larger 250 ton industrial FAST system targeting a sample size of 101.6×101.6×3 mm3 to investigate issues associated with scaling. Several sintering conditions were explored including: pressure of 35-65 MPa, temperature of 1700-1900°C, and heating rates between 50-400°C/min. The SiC fibers used in this study were coated using chemical vapor deposition (CVD) with boron nitride (BN) and pyrolytic carbon to act as a barrier layer and preserve the integrity of the fibers during sintering. Then the barrier coating was coated by an outer layer of SiC to enhance the bonding between the fibers and the SiC matrix. Microstructures of the sintered samples were examined by FE-SEM. Mechanical properties including flexural strength-deflection and stress-strain were characterized using 4-point bend testing. Tensile testing was performed on the larger 101.6×101.6×3 mm samples. The microstructures of samples sintered using the 25 ton laboratory FAST system showed a reduction in porosity and good adhesion between the fiber-fiber and fiber-matrix interface. The microstructures of samples sintered on the 250 ton industrial FAST system showed a reduction in porosity, but there was visible reaction of the fiber and fiber coatings with the surrounding matrix. Additionally, there was significant radial cracking of the fibers visible in the microstructures. There is gap in the understanding of sintering behavior between laboratory and industrial scale FAST systems. The vast majority of publications on FAST sintering have been primarily focused on small sample geometries (20 mm diameter, less than 3 mm thick). A study was coordinated to investigate the thermal properties during heating and cooling using a 250 ton industrial FAST system at 900°C using B4C and SiC materials inside the graphite die assembly. The thermal properties were then compared to the resulting material properties of the identically sintered B4C and SiC to approximately 94% relative density, at a temperature of 1950°C, pressure of 45 MPa, 10 minute hold, and heated at a rate of 100°C/min. The study determined that at 900°C there were significant thermal gradients within the system for the examined materials, and that these gradients correlated well with the material property difference of the samples sintered at higher temperatures where the gradients are presumably larger due to an increase in radiative heat loss. The observed temperatures throughout the graphite were significantly different between B4C and SiC. These temperatures also correlated well with the material properties of the sintered products which showed more substantial variation for B4C when compared to SiC which was overall less affected by thermal gradients. This was attributed to the intrinsic thermal conductivity difference between the two subject materials which was manifested as thermal gradients throughout the material and graphite die assembly. Additionally, both the observed temperature gradients throughout the graphite die assembly and the difference in temperature reading between the optical pyrometer and thermocouples were significantly larger for the 250 ton FAST system than previous publications have demonstrated experimentally or via modeling of smaller laboratory scale systems. The findings from this work showed that relative to conventional sintering methods, the FAST process demonstrated comparable or improved material and mechanical properties with a significantly shorter processing cycle. However, the results demonstrated on the 25 ton laboratory scale unit were significantly different compared to results for the same materials sintered using the 250 ton industrial scale unit. The temperature gradients observed on the 250 ton FAST unit were significantly larger than previous reports on smaller FAST units. This result showed future efforts to scale up the FAST sintering process while maintaining similar results will require careful attention to minimizing temperature gradients. This could potentially be achieved by reducing radiative heat loss during processing and/or optimizing the graphite die design and implementing heat spreaders in specific locations dependent on the host material’s thermal and electrical properties as well as the sample geometry.