For centuries, the study of the structure of materials has made it possible to develop ever more efficient objects, in particular metal ones. Especially when it comes to metallic materials and their alloys, whose secret properties have been revealed, since blacksmiths have been working them, long before our era. Over time, it is the scale at which these materials are studied that has changed.
Thus, the greater strength of a metal alloy compared to pure metals is ancient knowledge. Since the advent of the industrial era, the numerous sectors producing or using these alloys, automobile, railway, aeronautics, aerospace, nuclear and so many others are continually seeking to innovate on given criteria, and under given conditions. Because today, each metal part used in industry is used according to very strict constraint criteria: weight, temperature, pressure, deformation. Thus, each metal part is developed for an extremely specific use, which requires precise characteristics.
Also, certain criteria are now being added to reliability and performance: recyclability for example, available metal resources, the ecological and financial footprint of extraction, etc. In this context, the development of tools modeling to simulate the behavior of materials under temperature and stress conditions similar to reality offers many advantages. First of all, these models make it possible to understand the behavior of matter on scales never before seen. The ONERA researchers, interviewed for this dossier, are working on modeling at the micron scale, which allows them to study the behavior of materials at new scales. Even if we are not yet at the scale of the atom, which today seems inaccessible, the limiting factor remains the computing power necessary to achieve it.
In doing so, these models make it possible to know very precisely the behavior of the material on a very small scale, and to test different alloy compositions, to find the ideal formulation. Indeed, very small variations in the composition of these alloys can have very significant consequences on its mechanical properties.
The second advantage that makes modeling a major challenge for industry is the cost of experiments linked to the development of new alloys. Replacing part of the experiments with modeling allows manufacturers to develop new materials while saving a lot of time and money.
However, the development of models of the behavior of matter on such small scales poses a problem. At these scales, the processing of matter is done by packets of atoms, and the physical equations of the behavior of these packets of atoms do not exist today in the physics that we know. It is therefore a question of extrapolating them, and more precisely of inventing them, to create truly reliable and quickly productive models. A major challenge, which finds welcome support through the development of computing power technologies, and especially artificial intelligence. The latter makes it possible to extrapolate simulations made on a very small scale, and saves considerable time in the development of models capable of predicting the behavior of an industrial metallic object, such as an aircraft engine part for example.
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“Modeling the microstructure of metals to improve their performance” – White paper | Engineering Techniques
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