QuesTek Innovations LLC has been awarded three Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) projects to develop new metal alloys for the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force. The Evanston, IL-based materials solutions company will apply its proprietary Materials by Design R&D process to the design and development of the alloys.
“Simply stated, QuesTek’s Materials by Design methodology uses computer technology to virtually rearrange (i.e., model and analyze) atoms of an alloy to control and predict the properties of a material without actually making alloy melts through a typically exhaustive trial-and-error process. To do so, QuesTek uses proprietary Computational Materials Dynamics software and platforms, which include a suite of detailed thermodynamic and kinetic databases that fuel multilevel models to predict microstructures and associated material properties,” explained Charlie Kuehmann, President and CEO of QuesTek.
The process typically reduces material development costs and timelines from 15 to 20 years to just a few years, he added.
The first project, for the U.S. Army, involves the development of a new castable titanium alloy. Microstructural concepts for the alloy design will focus on improved castability (near-net-shape formability), improved mechanical strength (including fatigue strength), and lower cost compared to the existing aerospace-grade Ti-6Al-4V alloy.
QuesTek intends to complete the design and demonstrate the alloy at prototype casting scale. One of the aims of the project is to incorporate lower-cost alloying components (e.g., Si or Fe instead of V). The sensitivity of the alloy’s design to the elevated impurity levels encountered in non-aerospace-grade stock materials will also be examined.
The project could result in the titanium alloys being adopted across a range of U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) platforms, due to titanium’s strength-to-weight and corrosion-resistance properties as well as the reduced cost potential of near-net-shape processing. The funding and duration of the Phase I Base portion of the project is $69,978 and six months. If a Phase I Option to extend it is authorized by the Army, the funding and duration of that portion would be $49,998 and four months.
The design of new soft magnetic alloys with improved strength, magnetization, and temperature—important for electrical motor and actuator applications—was awarded by the U.S. Air Force. QuesTek will identify the critical performance criteria for the material, including saturation magnetization, mechanical strength, alloy cost, magnetic hysteresis losses, temperature performance, and electrical resistivity. Microstructural concepts such as a novel precipitation-strengthened FeCo alloy concept will be explored. A series of prototype alloys will be designed, produced, and tested for mechanical and magnetic performance.
In Phase II, Phase I results would be leveraged to design, produce, and test a final alloy composition at intermediate scale and (eventually) full industrial scale.
Funding is $99,988 for eight months. This project also received $49,979 of additional matching funding by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
The third award, from the U.S. Army, will pursue the use of QuesTek’s Ferrium C61 carburized steel, which has a high-strength/high-toughness core to allow for weight reduction or increased power density, for the main rotor shaft on the Boeing CH-47 Chinook. The alloy could present a weight-savings opportunity of 20 to 25% compared to traditional carburized 9310 steel, according to the company, without requiring significant changes in the production process of the component.
Other benefits are possible in thermal resistance, ballistic performance, and stress-corrosion cracking resistance. C61 is currently used to make V091 ring and pinions in transmissions for SCORE 1600 class off-road racing cars. If the main-rotor-shaft project is a success, a new family of carburizing high-strength steels could be the end result.
Funding for the Phase I Base portion of this project, lasting six months, is $69,977. If a Phase I Option is authorized, that portion of the project would receive $49,999 over four months.
If any of the new projects are selected for a Phase II award, Phase II SBIR programs are nominally a two-year period of performance and a contract maximum of $750,000.
“We appreciate these awards from the Department of Defense to develop next-generation materials that directly address governmental needs, yet also have broad commercial and societal benefits,” said Kuehmann, adding that the projects build on past successes such as Ferrium S53, an ultra-high-strength, corrosion-resistant steel for aircraft landing gear and other applications.The development of Ferrium S53 began from a program within the DOD but is now available for both commercial and governmental use from multiple U.S.-based alloy producers under its licenses.