WPI Leads Project on Lightweight Metals for Military Vehicles


foto3Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Worcester, Mass., is the lead institution on a $7.4 million, multiuniversity award from the U.S. Army that will support the development of new metallurgical methods and lightweight alloys for more effective and durable military vehicles and systems. The technologies and processes developed as part of the research also will have applications in the aircraft, automotive and electronics industries. WPI will receive $2.1 million through the two-year award, which is the latest installment from a multiyear cooperative agreement with the Army that previously brought more than $4 million in research funding to the university.
The overall aim of the research is the development of databases and computer modeling techniques that will make it possible to predict the nanoscale properties of lightweight alloys (primarily aluminum, titanium and magnesium), and to use these computational tools to design and test new alloys for specific military applications. “The military is looking to develop super-materials that can meet several needs at once,” said Richard Sisson, George F. Fuller Professor of Mechanical Engineering, director of WPI’s Materials Science and Engineering Program, and principal investigator for the Army award. “They want new alloys that are strong enough to be used structurally, tough enough to function as armor, and light enough to improve the mobility and fuel economy of vehicles.”
Through an approach dubbed “nanomaterials by design,” Sisson and coprincipal investigators Diran Apelian, Alcoa-Howmet Professor of Mechanical Engineering at WPI and director of the university’s Metal Processing Institute (MPI), and Makhlouf Makhlouf, director the MPI’s Aluminum Casting Research Center, are using a variety of modeling techniques, including thermodynamic models and kinetic models, in concert with laboratory studies, to predict the microstructure and microchemistry of new alloys. To a large degree, the microstructure determines how the alloy will perform.
The researchers are studying a variety of metallurgical processes, including heat treating, which can alter an alloy’s microstructure. From this work they are deriving modelling tools that can be used to improve existing alloys or custom design new alloys with desired properties. The new award also includes a focus on high-strength magnesium alloys used by the military, particularly in aircraft components.