SEM image of volfram carbide particles in a cutting tool.
​Since the project has just started, tests have not begun yet. However, an analysis may look like this. These Toblerone looking small pieces are from a cutting tool and show small particles in the tungsten carbide material. The image is taken using a scanning electron microscope.​​​
Image: ​Philipp Hoier

Big Data improves materials analysis

​By examining the structure of a metal or ceramic material at the atomic level, it is easier to understand and influence the properties of different materials. But what should you look for and where? In a new project, Professor Uta Klement combines analyses of Big Data with her expertise area of material characterization. Instead of looking for a needle in a haystack, the data is analysed to find the deviations which needs to be investigated in detail.
Professor Uta Klement leads a research group called Surface and Microstructure Engineering. She examines the properties of metals and different ceramic materials. These include nano materials, different types of coating, advanced steel or superalloys. By understanding the structure and construction of the materials, it is possible to achieve more sustainable production processes and products. Manufacturers can use less material and also use the material more efficiently and longer.

One example is new thermal barrier coatings that allow for higher combustion temperatures in gas turbines such as in airplane engines, which would improve efficiency and result in lower emissions.

Uta KlementIn a new project, which deals with improving the grindability of recycled steel, Uta Klement collaborates with a group of researchers and combines analyses of big data with material characterization. This is the first time they try this method. She tells us what benefits it brings.

– Our material analyses are often based on an assumption, not on a theory. However, in industry a lot of data is collected in material processing. By analysing these data we can get hints on what to look for in the microstructure. Our material science knowledge helps to interpret the data, and then we can perform accurate investigations instead of looking for the "needle in the haystack".

Knowing what you are looking for is particularly important in research that zooms in on a small piece of material using electron microscopy and other complementary techniques. Taking advantage of data can be a breakthrough and become a generic approach, says Uta Klement.

– New and improved characterization technology and the ability to interpret the results enable us to increase our knowledge and produce new and better products with better features and better utilization of the resources. Indirectly this is important to all of us.

Uta Klement is a professor of materials science with a focus on electron microscopy. She is Head of Division of Materials and Manufacture at Chalmers Department of Industrial and Materials Science, and also heads the research group Surface and Microstructure Engineering. She is also in the board of Chalmers Ventures.

Read more about the project "Grindability of recycled steel: automotive crankshafts" in Chalmers research database [in Swedish]. The project is led by P​eter Krajnik, professor of manufacturing technology and also includes Philipp Hoier and Amir Malakizadi.

Text and photo: Nina Silow

Published: Thu 24 May 2018.