The present invention relates to spacer blocks positioned between
aluminum ingots, more particularly, the treatment of aluminum ingots and/or spacer
blocks to prevent production of oxide staining and sticking during heating of stacked
Preheating of aluminum alloy ingots is a well established practice
for achieving desired properties in the ingot and to render the ingot sufficiently
malleable for reduction and other processes. During the preheating step, aluminum
ingots are heated to temperatures below the melting point of the aluminum alloy,
e.g., up to about 620° C. At these temperatures, alkali metals and alkaline earth
metals (e.g., magnesium) in the aluminum alloy migrate to the surface of the ingot
and react with available oxygen to form a layer of an oxide (e.g., magnesium oxide)
on the ingot. A magnesium oxide layer has a dark color of brown to gray. When an
ingot having this dark surface is subsequently rolled, the dark layer becomes a
streak of dark color in the rolled product. For certain applications of the rolled
sheet, such dark streaks are unacceptable in the marketplace for cosmetic reasons.
A common method of reducing the production of magnesium oxide is to
operate the preheat furnace in an atmosphere of vaporized ammonium fluoroborate.
The ammonium fluoroborate reacts with magnesium on the surface of the ingots preferentially
over oxygen and also possibly facilitates hydrogen loss from the ingot which would
otherwise form bubbles in the ingot. In a pusher furnace in which all surfaces
of the ingots therein are exposed to the ammonium fluoroborate atmosphere, the
surfaces of the ingot uniformly remain as a shiny silver color. However, many preheat
furnaces require that the ingots are stacked within the furnace. In order to expose
as much surface area of the stacked ingots as possible to the furnace atmosphere
the stacked ingots are spaced apart in a stack by a plurality of spacer blocks.
Spacer blocks have been made from aluminum alloys and ceramics such as calcium
silicate. Other suitable materials for spacer blocks include titanium alloys, steel
alloys, and nickel alloys. Drawbacks to aluminum spacer blocks include their propensity
to stick to the ingot undergoing heating, indent the ingot and produce unwanted
debris on the ingot. Ceramic spacer blocks avoid these problems associated with
aluminum spacer blocks. However, staining of the ingot persists on the surface
of the ingot which was in contact with the spacer block during heating. Ceramic
spacer blocks prevent the atmosphere of ammonium fluoroborate from reaching the
interfaces between the spacer blocks and the ingots. Distinct areas of dark magnesium
oxide stain are produced on the ingots at the spacer block interfaces. The stained
areas may be removed by scalping the ingot, however, this produces more waste,
lowers the recovery values and adds another expensive and time consuming step.
Accordingly, a need remains for a method of preheating stacked aluminum
ingots maintained spaced apart from each other by spacer blocks which avoids production
of dark stains above and below the spacer blocks.
This need is met by the method of the present invention of treating
a surface of a stacked aluminum alloy ingot during a heating process having the
steps of a) positioning a spacer member adjacent an aluminum alloy ingot to form
a stack, wherein the spacer member includes a support surface contacting a contact
surface of the aluminum alloy ingot, and at least one of the support surface and
the contact surface includes a fluorine containing material; and b) heating the
stack to at least a temperature at which the fluorine containing material decomposes
such that a layer of a fluorinated oxide compound forms on the contact surface.
The fluorinated oxide formed on the contact surface preferably is a fluoride and/or
oxyfluoride of an alkali metal fluoride and/or an alkaline earth metal. In general,
the support surface includes the fluorine containing material but the contact surface
of the ingot or both may include the fluorine containing material.
The spacer member may be made from aluminum alloys, ceramics, titanium
alloys, steel alloys or nickel alloys or combinations thereof. Preferred materials
for the spacer block are ceramics, ceramic composites and metal laminated ceramics.
The fluorine containing material may be an organic or inorganic fluorine
containing material. Suitable inorganic fluorine containing materials include aluminum
fluoride, aluminum bifluoride, ammonium fluoroborate, ammonium fluoride, calcium
fluoride, sodium aluminum fluoride, magnesium fluoride, magnesium hexafluorosilicate,
potassium fluoride, sodium fluoride, and sodium hexafluorosilicate. Suitable organic
fluorine containing materials include polytetrafluoroethylene, tetrafluoroethylene-hexafluoropropylene,
tetrafluoroethylene-perfluoro(alkylvinyl ether), tetrafluoroethylene-ethylene,
polyvinylidene fluoride, vinylidene fluoride-hexafluoropropylene, vinylidene fluoride-1-H-pentafluoropropylene,
polyvinyl fluoride, tetrafluoroethylene-perfluoroethylene sulfonic acid, fluorinated
ethylene propylene (e.g., tetrafluoroethylene-propylene), ethylene-chlorotrifluoroethylene
and perfluoroalkoxy copolymers.
The fluorine containing material preferably decomposes or vaporizes
at about 200-660° C and preferably is potassium fluoride or polytetrafluoroethylene.
The method of the present invention is particularly suited for treating alloys
of the Aluminum Association 1XXX, 2XXX, 3XXX, 4XXX, 5XXX, 6XXX, 7XXX or 8XXX series.
The method further includes an initial step of applying a treating
composition including the fluorine containing material onto the support surface
or the contact surface by brushing, spraying, dipping, or rolling. The treating
composition may further include a solvent, binder, surfactant or dispersant.
The present invention further includes a spacer member having a support
surface for contacting an aluminum ingot, the support surface including a treating
composition including a fluorine containing material.
Other features of the present invention will be further described
in the following related description of the preferred embodiments which is to be
considered together with the accompanying drawings wherein:
Fig. 1 is a scanning electron micrograph of a sheet of as-rolled 5182
Fig. 2 is a scanning electron micrograph of one surface of the sheet
of Fig. 1 subjected to a conventional heat treatment for 20 hours;
Fig. 3 is a scanning electron micrograph of the surface of the sheet
of Fig. 2 after 60 hours of the conventional heat treatment;
Fig. 4 is a scanning electron micrograph of one surface of the sheet
of Fig. 1 subjected to a heat treatment according to the present invention for
20 hours; and
Fig. 5 is a scanning electron micrograph of the surface of the sheet
of Fig. 4 after 60 hours of the heat treatment of the present invention.
For purposes of the description hereinafter, it is to be understood
that the invention may assume various alternative variations and step sequences,
except where expressly specified to the contrary. It is also to be understood that
the specific devices and processes illustrated in the attached drawings, and described
in the following specification, are simply exemplary embodiments of the invention.
Hence, specific dimensions and other physical characteristics related to the embodiments
disclosed herein are not to be considered as limiting.
The present invention includes a method of treating a surface of a
stacked aluminum ingot during a heating process. Aluminum alloy ingots are typically
stacked on top of each other in a preheat furnace which reaches temperatures less
than the melting point of the aluminum alloy, e.g., about 200-600° C. The ingots
are maintained spaced apart by a plurality of spacer blocks which may be formed
from various materials including ceramics, aluminum alloys, titanium alloys, steel
alloys, nickel alloys and combinations thereof. Preferred materials for the spacer
block are ceramics, ceramic composites and metal laminated ceramics such as ceramic
structures laminated with a metal.
The preheating process causes alkali metals and alkaline earth metals
(e.g., magnesium) in the aluminum alloy to migrate to the surfaces of the ingot
and react with available elements in the furnace atmosphere such as oxygen or fluorine.
The present invention is particularly suited for use in a preheat furnace having
an atmosphere containing volatilized ammonium fluoroborate (NH4BF4).
Ammonium fluoroborate sublimes at about 240° C which is less than the operating
temperature of a typical aluminum alloy ingot preheat furnace. Magnesium present
at the ingot surfaces reacts with the fluorine in NH4BF4
to form a thin, smooth bi-layer coating having a frosty, white appearance. This
coating includes an outermost layer of magnesium oxide/hydroxide and a layer of
magnesium oxyfluoride adjacent the ingot surface. In the location of the spacer
blocks, the NH4BF4 cannot reach the aluminum ingot and the
frosty, white coating cannot be formed.
According to the present invention, a fluorine containing material
is applied to the interface between the aluminum ingots and the spacer blocks so
that alkali metals or alkaline earth metals such as magnesium which migrate to
the surfaces of the ingots during the preheating treatment may bind with fluorine.
In this manner, the portion of the ingot surfaces not contacted by a spacer block
are treated with NH4BF4, while the portion of the ingot surfaces
that are covered by a spacer block are treated with another fluorine containing
material such that the entire surface of the ingot is treated with fluorine.
The interface between an aluminum ingot and a spacer block is treated
by applying a treating composition containing fluorine to at least one of (i) a
contact surface of the aluminum ingot which contacts a spacer block and (ii) a
support surface of the spacer block which contacts the ingot. The surface of the
spacer block which contacts the ingot is referred to as the support surface and
supports the ingot from the underside of the ingot or contacts an upper side of
the ingot. Preferably, the treating composition is applied to the support surface
of the spacer block. In a stack of ingots, opposing sides of each spacer block
used to maintain the ingots spaced apart in a preheat furnace are treated according
to the present invention. By applying the treating composition to the spacer blocks,
the spacer blocks may be repositioned within a stack yet ensure that the interface
between the spacer blocks and the ingots includes the treating composition. However,
it is also possible to apply the treating composition to a portion of the surface
of the ingots or the entire ingot surface. The treating composition may be applied
to the spacer blocks or ingots in a dry form or via brushing, spraying, dipping,
or rolling when suspended or dissolved in a solvent, binder, surfactant or dispersant.
Suitable solvents include water and alcohols. Suitable binders include paints,
lacquers and shellacs. Alternatively, the treating composition may be incorporated
into a laminating foil, sheet or thin film applied to the spacer blocks. It is
also possible to incorporate the treating composition in the surface of the spacer
blocks during manufacture of the spacer blocks.
The treating composition contains a fluorine containing material that
decomposes or vaporizes at a temperature below the operating temperature of the
furnace. Upon decomposition or vaporization of the fluorine containing material,
alkali metals and/or alkaline earth metals in the aluminum alloy which migrate
from the bulk of the ingots to the ingot/spacer block interfaces, react in part
with the fluorine to form a fluorine coating on the ingot surfaces. Ingots subjected
to the method of the present invention may be rolled, conversion coated and/or
further coated with polymers according to conventional practices.
Suitable inorganic fluorine containing materials include aluminum
fluoride, ammonium bifluoride, ammonium fluoroborate, ammonium fluoride, calcium
fluoride, sodium aluminum fluoride, magnesium fluoride, magnesium hexafluorosilicate,
potassium fluoride, sodium fluoride sodium bifluoride and sodium hexafluorosilicate.
A preferred inorganic fluorine containing material is potassium fluoride.
Suitable organic fluorine containing materials include polytetrafluoroethylene
("PTFE"), tetrafluoroethylene-hexafluoropropylene, tetrafluoroethylene-perfluoro(alkylvinyl
ether), tetrafluoroethylene-ethylene, polyvinylidene fluoride, vinylidene fluoride-hexafluoropropylene,
vinylidene fluoride-1-H-pentafluoropropylene, polyvinyl fluoride, tetrafluoroethylene-perfluoroethylene
sulfonic acid, fluorinated ethylene propylene (e.g., tetrafluoroethylene- propylene),
ethylene-chlorotrifluoroethylene and perfluoroalkoxy copolymers. A preferred organic
fluorine containing material is PTFE. A suitable treating composition containing
PTFE is KRYTOX® from E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company. Commercially available
fluoropolymers which may be used in the present invention include TEFLON®,
NAFRON®, TEDLAR®, Technoflon SL, VITON®, KALREZ®, KYNAR®, and
Aluminum alloys which are treatable according to the present invention
include Aluminum Association alloys of the 1XXX, 2XXX, 3XXX, 4XXX, 5XXX, 6XXX,
7XXX or 8XXX series as well as other registered and unregistered cast, forged,
extruded and wrought alloys.
Although the invention has been described generally above, the particular
examples give additional illustration of the product and process steps typical
of the present invention.
A dispersion of PTFE was applied to one side of a calcium silicate
spacer block. An as-rolled sheet of pristine alloy AA 5182 was positioned between
the PTFE treated side of the spacer block and an untreated spacer block. The stack
of spacer blocks sandwiching the aluminum sheet was heated to 500° C in a furnace
having an air atmosphere and held for 20 hours and 60 hours. Depth profiles of
surface reaction products was measured by Auger electron spectroscopy (AES) for
the as-rolled sheet and the heated sheet at the treated and untreated interfaces.
The AES data and appearance of the sheet before and after heat treatment is set
forth in Table 1.
An ingot of AA 5182 was heat treated for 10 hours to 500° C in a
production plant furnace having an air atmosphere containing volatilized ammonium
fluoroborate. Depth profiles of surface reaction products of the ingot was measured
by AES and appearance of the ingot is included as sample 6 in Table 1.
Depth of magnesium hydroxide/oxide layer (Å)
Depth of magnesium oxyfluoride layer (Å)
Untreated interface 20 hr
Dark brown stain
Untreated interface 60 hr
Dark brown stain
Treated interface 20 hr
Frosty silver (no stain)
Treated interface 60 hr
Frosty silver (no stain)
Exposed to NH4FB4
The surfaces of the sheet which were positioned adjacent an untreated
spacer block (samples 2 and 3) had an unacceptably thick layer of oxide, over 10,000
Å thick, and exhibited a dark brown stain from the thick oxide layer. In contrast,
the surfaces of the samples which were positioned adjacent the spacer block with
PTFE (samples 4 and 5) had oxide thicknesses similar to that of the portion of
the control benchmark sample exposed to the ammonium fluoroborate atmosphere, i.e.
about 1100-1500 Å thick. The PTFE treated samples also had similar, acceptable
appearances to the ammonium fluoroborate treated ingot.
Figs. 1-5 are scanning electron micrographs at 500 times magnification
of the surfaces of samples 1-5 listed in Table 1. Fig. 1 shows the aluminum sheet
as being bright silver in color with longitudinal roll markings. The area of the
sheet not treated according to the present invention shown in Figs. 2 and 3 has
loosely packed porous, rough surface structures. These structures scatter nearly
all wavelengths of visible light causing the surface to appear dark. This dark
color is unacceptable for many commercial applications. The surface morphology
of the sheets treated according to the present invention shown in Figs. 4 and 5
is significantly different from that of the untreated sheets of Figs. 2 and 3.
Bright white areas are shown which provide the sheet with an acceptable frosty
appearance. These tests were performed on sheets for convenience of handling. Treatment
of the interface between ingots and spacer blocks is believed to produce similar
Aluminum alloy ingots subjected to a heat treatment according to the
present invention result in a bright white color at the location of the interface
between the ingots and spacer blocks which is similar in appearance to the surfaces
of the ingots not contacted by the spacer blocks but exposed to a NH4BF4
atmosphere. The heat treated ingots have a uniform appearance which is desirable
for many commercial uses of aluminum alloy sheet. This process reduces waste by
avoiding the need to scalp or edge trim stained areas and minimizes sensitivity
to varying levels of magnesium in aluminum alloys. The process is readily implemented
at the point of use (in preheat furnace) or at the manufacturing site for the spacer
It will be readily appreciated by those skilled in the art that modifications
may be made to the invention without departing from the concepts disclosed in the
foregoing description. Such modifications are to be considered as included within
the following claims unless the claims, by their language, expressly state otherwise.
Accordingly, the particular embodiments described in detail herein are illustrative
only and are not limiting to the scope of the invention which is to be given the
full breadth of the appended claims and any and all equivalents thereof.