An alloy is a combination of or of a metal and another Chemical element. Alloys are defined by a metallic bonding character.Callister, W. D. "Materials Science and Engineering: An Introduction" 2007, 7th edition, John Wiley and Sons, Inc. New York, Section 4.3 and Chapter 9. An alloy may be a solid solution of metal elements (a single phase) or a mixture of metallic phases (two or more solutions). Intermetallic compounds are alloys with a defined stoichiometry and crystal structure. are also sometimes considered alloys depending on bond types (see also: Van Arkel-Ketelaar triangle for information on classifying bonding in binary compounds).
Alloys are used in a wide variety of applications. In some cases, a combination of metals may reduce the overall cost of the material while preserving important properties. In other cases, the combination of metals imparts synergistic properties to the constituent metal elements such as corrosion resistance or mechanical strength. Examples of alloys are steel, solder, brass, pewter, duralumin, bronze and amalgams.
The alloy constituents are usually measured by mass percentage for practical applications, and in Atomic ratio for basic science studies. Alloys are usually classified as substitutional or interstitial alloys, depending on the atomic arrangement that forms the alloy. They can be further classified as homogeneous (consisting of a single phase), or heterogeneous (consisting of two or more phases) or intermetallic.
An alloy is a mixture of , which forms an impure substance (admixture) that retains the characteristics of a metal. An alloy is distinct from an impure metal in that, with an alloy, the added elements are well controlled to produce desirable properties, while impure metals such as wrought iron are less controlled, but are often considered useful. Alloys are made by mixing two or more elements, at least one of which is a metal. This is usually called the primary metal or the base metal, and the name of this metal may also be the name of the alloy. The other constituents may or may not be metals but, when mixed with the molten base, they will be solubility and dissolve into the mixture. The mechanical properties of alloys will often be quite different from those of its individual constituents. A metal that is normally very soft (malleability), such as aluminium, can be altered by alloying it with another soft metal, such as copper. Although both metals are very soft and ductility, the resulting aluminium alloy will have much greater strength. Adding a small amount of non-metallic carbon to iron trades its great ductility for the greater strength of an alloy called steel. Due to its very-high strength, but still substantial toughness, and its ability to be greatly altered by heat treatment, steel is one of the most useful and common alloys in modern use. By adding chromium to steel, its resistance to corrosion can be enhanced, creating stainless steel, while adding silicon will alter its electrical characteristics, producing silicon steel.
Although the elements of an alloy usually must be soluble in the liquid state, they may not always be soluble in the solid state. If the metals remain soluble when solid, the alloy forms a solid solution, becoming a homogeneous structure consisting of identical crystals, called a phase. If as the mixture cools the constituents become insoluble, they may separate to form two or more different types of crystals, creating a heterogeneous microstructure of different phases, some with more of one constituent than the other phase has. However, in other alloys, the insoluble elements may not separate until after crystallization occurs. If cooled very quickly, they first crystallize as a homogeneous phase, but they are supersaturation with the secondary constituents. As time passes, the atoms of these supersaturated alloys can separate from the crystal lattice, becoming more stable, and form a second phase that serve to reinforce the crystals internally. Some alloys, such as electrum which is an alloy consisting of silver and gold, occur naturally. Meteorites are sometimes made of naturally occurring alloys of iron and nickel, but are not native to the Earth. One of the first alloys made by humans was bronze, which is a mixture of the metals tin and copper. Bronze was an extremely useful alloy to the ancients, because it is much stronger and harder than either of its components. Steel was another common alloy. However, in ancient times, it could only be created as an accidental byproduct from the heating of iron ore in fires (smelting) during the manufacture of iron. Other ancient alloys include pewter, brass and pig iron. In the modern age, steel can be created in many forms. Carbon steel can be made by varying only the carbon content, producing soft alloys like mild steel or hard alloys like spring steel. can be made by adding other elements, such as chromium, molybdenum, vanadium or nickel, resulting in alloys such as high-speed steel or tool steel. Small amounts of manganese are usually alloyed with most modern steels because of its ability to remove unwanted impurities, like phosphorus, sulfur and oxygen, which can have detrimental effects on the alloy. However, most alloys were not created until the 1900s, such as various aluminium, titanium alloy, nickel alloys, and . Some modern , such as incoloy, inconel, and hastelloy, may consist of a multitude of different elements.
As a noun, the term alloy is used to describe a mixture of atoms in which the primary constituent is a metal. When used as a verb, the term refers to the act of mixing a metal with other elements. The primary metal is called the base, the matrix, or the solvent. The secondary constituents are often called solutes. If there is a mixture of only two types of atoms (not counting impurities) such as a copper-nickel alloy, then it is called a binary alloy. If there are three types of atoms forming the mixture, such as iron, nickel and chromium, then it is called a ternary alloy. An alloy with four constituents is a quaternary alloy, while a five-part alloy is termed a quinary alloy. Because the percentage of each constituent can be varied, with any mixture the entire range of possible variations is called a system. In this respect, all of the various forms of an alloy containing only two constituents, like iron and carbon, is called a binary system, while all of the alloy combinations possible with a ternary alloy, such as alloys of iron, carbon and chromium, is called a ternary system.Bauccio, Michael (1003) ASM metals reference book. ASM International. .
Although an alloy is technically an impure metal, when referring to alloys, the term "impurities" usually denotes those elements which are not desired. Such impurities are introduced from the base metals and alloying elements, but are removed during processing. For instance, sulfur is a common impurity in steel. Sulfur combines readily with iron to form iron sulfide, which is very brittle, creating weak spots in the steel.
In practice, some alloys are used so predominantly with respect to their base metals that the name of the primary constituent is also used as the name of the alloy. For example, 14 karat gold is an alloy of gold with other elements. Similarly, the silver used in jewelry and the aluminium used as a structural building material are also alloys.
The term "alloy" is sometimes used in everyday speech as a synonym for a particular alloy. For example, automobile wheels made of an aluminium alloy are commonly referred to as simply "", although in point of fact steels and most other metals in practical use are also alloys. Steel is such a common alloy that many items made from it, like , , or , are simply referred to by the name of the item, assuming it is made of steel. When made from other materials, they are typically specified as such, (i.e.: "bronze wheel", "plastic barrel", or "wood girder").
Unlike pure metals, most alloys do not have a single melting point, but a melting range during which the material is a mixture of solid and liquid phases (a slush). The temperature at which melting begins is called the solidus, and the temperature when melting is just complete is called the liquidus. For many alloys there is a particular alloy proportion (in some cases more than one), called either a eutectic mixture or a peritectic composition, which gives the alloy a unique and low melting point, and no liquid/solid slush transition.
Alloying elements are added to a base metal, to induce hardness, toughness, ductility, or other desired properties. Most metals and alloys can be work hardening by creating defects in their crystal structure. These defects are created during plastic deformation by hammering, bending, extruding, etcetera, and are permanent unless the metal is recrystallized. Otherwise, some alloys can also have their properties altered by heat treatment. Nearly all metals can be softened by annealing, which recrystallizes the alloy and repairs the defects, but not as many can be hardened by controlled heating and cooling. Many alloys of aluminium, copper, magnesium, titanium, and nickel can be strengthened to some degree by some method of heat treatment, but few respond to this to the same degree as does steel.
The base metal iron of the iron-carbon alloy known as steel, undergoes a change in the arrangement (allotropy) of the atoms of its crystal matrix at a certain temperature (usually between and , depending on carbon content). This allows the smaller carbon atoms to enter the interstices of the iron crystal. When this diffusion happens, the carbon atoms are said to be in solid solution in the iron, forming a particular single, homogeneous, crystalline phase called austenite. If the steel is cooled slowly, the carbon can diffuse out of the iron and it will gradually revert to its low temperature allotrope. During slow cooling, the carbon atoms will no longer be as solubility with the iron, and will be forced to precipitate out of solution, nucleating into a more concentrated form of iron carbide (Fe3C) in the spaces between the pure iron crystals. The steel then becomes heterogeneous, as it is formed of two phases, the iron-carbon phase called cementite (or carbide), and pure iron ferrite. Such a heat treatment produces a steel that is rather soft. If the steel is cooled quickly, however, the carbon atoms will not have time to diffuse and precipitate out as carbide, but will be trapped within the iron crystals. When rapidly cooled, a diffusionless (martensite) transformation occurs, in which the carbon atoms become trapped in solution. This causes the iron crystals to deform as the crystal structure tries to change to its low temperature state, leaving those crystals very hard but much less ductile (more brittle).
While the high strength of steel results when diffusion and precipitation is prevented (forming martinsite), most heat-treatable alloys are precipitation hardening alloys, that depend on the diffusion of alloying elements to achieve their strength. When heated to form a solution and then cooled quickly, these alloys become much softer than normal, during the diffusionless transformation, but then harden as they age. The solutes in these alloys will precipitate over time, forming intermetallic phases, which are difficult to discern from the base metal. Unlike steel, in which the solid solution separates into different crystal phases (carbide and ferrite), precipitation hardening alloys form different phases within the same crystal. These intermetallic alloys appear homogeneous in crystal structure, but tend to behave heterogeneously, becoming hard and somewhat brittle.
The use of alloys by humans started with the use of meteoric iron, a naturally occurring alloy of nickel and iron. It is the main constituent of which occasionally fall down on Earth from outer space. As no metallurgic processes were used to separate iron from nickel, the alloy was used as it was. Meteoric iron could be forged from a red heat to make objects such as tools, weapons, and nails. In many cultures it was shaped by cold hammering into knives and arrowheads. They were often used as anvils. Meteoric iron was very rare and valuable, and difficult for ancient people to cold working.Buchwald, pp. 13–22
Many ancient civilizations alloyed metals for purely aesthetic purposes. In ancient Egypt and Mycenae, gold was often alloyed with copper to produce red-gold, or iron to produce a bright burgundy-gold. Gold was often found alloyed with silver or other metals to produce various types of colored gold. These metals were also used to strengthen each other, for more practical purposes. Copper was often added to silver to make sterling silver, increasing its strength for use in dishes, silverware, and other practical items. Quite often, precious metals were alloyed with less valuable substances as a means to deceive buyers.Nicholson, Paul T. and Shaw, Ian (2000) Ancient Egyptian materials and technology . Cambridge University Press. pp. 164–167. . Around 250 BC, Archimedes was commissioned by the king to find a way to check the purity of the gold in a crown, leading to the famous bath-house shouting of "Eureka!" upon the discovery of Archimedes' principle.Kay, Melvyn (2008) Practical Hydraulics . Taylor and Francis. p. 45. .
The earliest examples of pewter come from ancient Egypt, around 1450 BC. The use of pewter was widespread across Europe, from France to Norway and Britain (where most of the ancient tin was mined) to the Near East.Hull, Charles (1992) Pewter. Shire Publications. pp. 3–4; The alloy was also used in China and the Far East, arriving in Japan around 800 AD, where it was used for making objects like ceremonial vessels, tea canisters, or chalices used in shinto shrines.Brinkley, Frank (1904) Japan and China: Japan, its history, arts, and literature. Oxford University. p. 317
The first known smelting of iron began in Anatolia, around 1800 BC. Called the bloomery, it produced very soft but ductile wrought iron. By 800 BC, iron-making technology had spread to Europe, arriving in Japan around 700 AD. Pig iron, a very hard but brittle alloy of iron and carbon, was being produced in China as early as 1200 BC, but did not arrive in Europe until the Middle Ages. Pig iron has a lower melting point than iron, and was used for making cast-iron. However, these metals found little practical use until the introduction of crucible steel around 300 BC. These steels were of poor quality, and the introduction of pattern welding, around the 1st century AD, sought to balance the extreme properties of the alloys by laminating them, to create a tougher metal. Around 700 AD, the Japanese began folding bloomery-steel and cast-iron in alternating layers to increase the strength of their swords, using clay fluxes to remove slag and impurities. This method of Japanese swordsmithing produced one of the purest steel-alloys of the early Middle Ages.Smith, Cyril (1960) History of metallography. MIT Press. pp. 2–4. .
While the use of iron started to become more widespread around 1200 BC, mainly because of interruptions in the trade routes for tin, the metal was much softer than bronze. However, very small amounts of steel, (an alloy of iron and around 1% carbon), was always a byproduct of the bloomery process. The ability to modify the hardness of steel by heat treatment had been known since 1100 BC, and the rare material was valued for the manufacture of tools and weapons. Because the ancients could not produce temperatures high enough to melt iron fully, the production of steel in decent quantities did not occur until the introduction of blister steel during the Middle Ages. This method introduced carbon by heating wrought iron in charcoal for long periods of time, but the penetration of carbon was not very deep, so the alloy was not homogeneous. In 1740, Benjamin Huntsman began melting blister steel in a crucible to even out the carbon content, creating the first process for the mass production of tool steel. Huntsman's process was used for manufacturing tool steel until the early 1900s.Roberts, George Adam; Krauss, George; Kennedy, Richard and Kennedy, Richard L. (1998) Tool steels . ASM International. pp. 2–3. .
With the introduction of the blast furnace to Europe in the Middle Ages, pig iron was able to be produced in much higher volumes than wrought iron. Because pig iron could be melted, people began to develop processes of reducing the carbon in the liquid pig iron to create steel. Puddling had been used in China since the first century, and was introduced in Europe during the 1700s, where molten pig iron was stirred while exposed to the air, to remove the carbon by oxidation. In 1858, Sir Henry Bessemer developed a process of steel-making by blowing hot air through liquid pig iron to reduce the carbon content. The Bessemer process was able to produce the first large scale manufacture of steel.
After Benjamin Huntsman developed his crucible steel in 1740, he began experimenting with the addition of elements like manganese (in the form of a high-manganese pig-iron called spiegeleisen), which helped remove impurities such as phosphorus and oxygen; a process adopted by Bessemer and still used in modern steels (albeit in concentrations low enough to still be considered carbon steel). Tool Steels, 5th Edition By George Adam Roberts, Richard Kennedy, G. Krauss – ASM International 1998 Page 4 Afterward, many people began experimenting with various alloys of steel without much success. However, in 1882, Robert Hadfield, being a pioneer in steel metallurgy, took an interest and produced a steel alloy containing around 12% manganese. Called mangalloy, it exhibited extreme hardness and toughness, becoming the first commercially viable alloy-steel.
Robert Forester Mushet found that by adding tungsten to steel it could produce a very hard edge that would resist losing its hardness at high temperatures. "R. Mushet's special steel" (RMS) became the first high-speed steel. Sheffield Steel and America: A Century of Commercial and Technological Independence By Geoffrey Tweedale – Cambridge University Press 1987 Page 66—68 In 1912, the Krupp Ironworks in Germany developed a rust-resistant steel by adding 21% chromium and 7% nickel, producing the first stainless steel. Sheffield Steel and America: A Century of Commercial and Technological Independence By Geoffrey Tweedale – Cambridge University Press 1987 Page 75