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Alloys take in the sun

MATERIALS Cutting Edge

SOAKING up the sun's rays may no longer be just the preserve of leatherskinned tourists on their holidays.Australian scientists have discovered that the sun's light helps increase the strength of aluminium alloys, boosting their structural performance.

That means aluminium producers can slash the amount of time they spend baking aluminium before it reaches its optimum strength, according to the research team.

Typically, aluminium alloys are strengthened after initial production by a curing process or baked at high temperatures in a furnace. Now scientists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia have discovered that a shorter baking process can produce 20 per cent stronger alloys.

Project leader Dr Roger Lumley said: 'We found that if the high-temperature ageing process used to strengthen aluminium components is interrupted and it is allowed to undergo secondary ageing at ambient temperature it becomes tougher.'

To generate the high tensile strength properties needed for structural applications the alloy is typically baked for 6-8 hours at 150-170 deg C but the CSIRO team says this time can be cut to an hour.