A state-of-the art Gleeble 3800 has been installed in the Centre for Materials Engineering thanks to an NRF special equipment award. The Gleeble 3800, worth $1.05 million, is a fully integrated digital closed-loop control thermal and mechanical testing system which is able to very closely simulate actual industrial metal processes, including hot rolling, forging and extrusion.

Tobile Khawula, a master’s student and Dr Sarah George, a lecturer and researcher in the Centre

Tobile Khawula, a master’s student and Dr Sarah George, a lecturer and researcher in the Centre

The equipment places the Centre at the forefront of research into the behaviour of materials during manufacture, allowing researchers to investigate novel materials processing and the processing of novel materials. The direct resistance heating system of the Gleeble 3800 can heat specimens at rates up to 10 000ºC/sec, or it can hold steady state equilibrium temperatures. High cooling rates can be applied to quench after testing. The high compression capacity (20 ton, 200kN) allows for simulation of the plane-strain condition in the roll-gap during metal rolling, and thus provides a means to closely simulate the process without the need for very costly plant trials.

The research and training of postgraduate students provides a knowledge base and a core of local expertise in the science that underpins manufacture. “By emphasising technical innovation in our student training, and interacting with local industries, we develop skills in innovative manufacturing and production,” said Professor Rob Knutsen, Director of the Centre for Materials Engineering.

It provides opportunities for collaboration with the local metals-producing industries that have not been possible before owing to the limitations of existing equipment in South Africa. Examples include deformation and recrystallization texture studies on stainless steels and aluminium, which are critical for developing and producing competitive commodity products.

"The research that is possible with the use of the Gleeble 3800 directly impacts on the competitiveness and growth of the existing local metals-producing industries," said Professor Knutsen.

Furthermore, a new research thrust in the deformation processing of titanium alloys has been initiated to foster the development of a titanium metal producing industry in South Africa that will create additional opportunities for employment and economic growth. This activity is sponsored by DST through the national Titanium Centre of Competence.