Quantcast Properties of metals

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This section is devoted primarily to the terms used in describing various properties and characteristics of metals in general. Of primary concern in aircraft maintenance are such general properties of metals and their alloys as hardness, brittleness, malleability, ductility, elasticity, toughness, density, fusibility, conductivity, and contraction and expansion. You must know the definition of the terms included here because they form the basis for further discussion of aircraft metals.


Hardness refers to the ability of a metal to resist abrasion, penetration, cutting action, or permanent distortion. Hardness may be increased by working the metal and, in the case of steel and certain titanium and aluminum alloys, by heat treatment and cold-working (discussed later). Structural parts are often formed from metals in their soft state and then heat treated to harden them so that the finished shape will be retained. Hardness and strength are closely associated properties of all metals.


Brittleness is the property of a metal that allows little bending or deformation without shattering. In other words, a brittle metal is apt to break or crack without change of shape. Because structural metals are often subjected to shock loads, brittleness is not a very desirable property. Cast iron, cast aluminum, and very hard steel are brittle metals.


A metal that can be hammered, rolled, or pressed into various shapes without cracking or breaking or other detrimental effects is said to be malleable. This property is necessary in sheet metal that is to be worked into curved shapes such as cowlings, fairings, and wing tips. Copper is one example of a malleable metal.


Ductility is the property of a metal that permits it to be permanently drawn, bent, or twisted into various shapes without breaking. This property is essential for metals used in making wire and tubing. Ductile metals are greatly preferred for aircraft use because of their ease of forming and resistance to failure under shock loads. For this reason, aluminum alloys are used for cowl rings, fuselage and wing skin, and formed or extruded parts, such as ribs, spars, and bulkheads. Chrome-molybdenum steel is also easily formed into desired shapes. Ductility is similar to malleability.


Elasticity is that property that enables a metal to return to its original shape when the force that causes the change of shape is removed. This property is extremely valuable, because it would be highly undesirable to have a part permanently distorted after an applied load was removed. Each metal has a point known as the elastic limit, beyond which it cannot be loaded without causing permanent distortion. When metal is loaded beyond its elastic limit and permanent distortion does result, it is referred to as strained. In aircraft construction, members and parts are so designed that the maximum loads to which they are subjected will never stress them beyond their elastic limit.

NOTE: Stress is the internal resistance of any metal to distortion.


A material that possesses toughness will withstand tearing or shearing and may be stretched or otherwise deformed without breaking. Toughness is a desirable property in aircraft metals.


Density is the weight of a unit volume of a material. In aircraft work, the actual weight of a material per cubic inch is preferred, since this figure can be used in determining the weight of a part before actual manufacture. Density is an important consideration when choosing a material to be used in the design of a part and still maintain the proper weight and balance of the aircraft.


Fusibility is defined as the ability of a metal to become liquid by the application of heat. Metals are fused in welding. Steels fuse at approximately 2,500F, and aluminum alloys at approximately 1, 110F.


Conductivity is the property that enables a metal to carry heat or electricity. The heat conductivity of a metal is especially important in welding, because it governs the amount of heat that will be required for proper fusion. Conductivity of the metal, to a certain extent, determines the type of jig to be used to control expansion and contraction. In aircraft, electrical conductivity must also be considered in conjunction with bonding, which is used to eliminate radio interference. Metals vary in their capacity to conduct heat. Copper, for instance, has a relatively high rate of heat conductivity and is a good electrical conductor.


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