ASPPRC bridges steel industry to Mines

Steel is everywhere, and Mines researchers in the Advanced Steel Processing and Products Research Center (ASPPRC ) are only working to make that steel better. ASPPRC is an industry and university cooperative research program on campus in the metallurgical and materials department in Hill Hall. Dr. John G. Speer is head of the research group in addition to being a professor. “There is a lot going on; it’s an exciting area,” said Speer.

ASPPRC works as a bridge between numerous companies that utilize steel and other materials in various industries (automobiles, petroleum piping, etc.) and the research of Mines graduate students. Fourth year graduate student, Lee Rothleutner, is the student representative to the Industrial Advisory Board for ASPPRC. Rothleutner is currently in the PhD program in addition to his duties as student representative.

Caryn Homsher, also a fourth year graduate student, commented about the work done with the research center, “I’m looking at recrystallization at high temperature. It’s ultimately helping the manufacturers know how to process the steel to get the materials they want.”

“We have roughly 30 consortium projects going on,” added Speer when asked about the Center, “In addition to those sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.”

In today’s market, the diversity and necessity of steel in a wide variety of industries fuels the partnership between universities and corporations. ASPPRC takes on a variety of global industries when doing research. Major sponsors of ASPPRC include steel producers and key users such as automobile manufacturers, Chevron, and others. The 30 sponsors pay for research and education of graduate students while proposing research projects for ASPPRC at steering meetings. “We identify projects that meet the educational and interest needs of students as well as the research needs of the sponsor companies,” Speer explained.

Graduate students get valuable experience while contributing to numerous industry requirements. The vast range of ASPPRC research is only made more diverse by the international status of several companies.

The sponsors come to a three day bi-annual review meeting to see the presentations that students put together. On the third day of the meeting, the faculty, sponsors and student representative meet to discuss the upcoming projects. In addition to organizing meetings and collaborating with the students, Rothleutner facilitates the students’ progress reports for the sponsors.

The 28 graduate and six undergraduate students that work in the research center use three types of steel: bar and forged, sheet and coated, plate and hot rolled. While collaborating with peers and professors involved with the center, students are matched up by the faculty with proposals from companies and the ASPPRC faculty. Collectively, the three types of steel and other materials researched by ASPPRC account for an abundance of products in the market and are essential to engineering in most professions, not to mention everyday life. “I like to ask my students to look around and notice the applications where steel is all around you,” continued Speer, “What would you do without it?”

Rothleutner describes his research as a continuation of his master’s degree, as he had the opportunity to work with the specific fatigue of bar steel when working on his masters. He focused on forged steel, specifically on crank shafts, and worked to increase the wear resistance from precipitation using specific types of hardening in the post-processing. “The sponsors place their trust in the faculty to match up the student with an appropriate project that meets both their academic and their personal goals,” said Rothleutner.

Homsher earned her master of science degree in metallurgical and materials engineering from Mines in May and is currently working on her PhD. In the past, Homsher measured recrystallization of metals at high temperatures. She analyzes trends and fine-tunes models frequently used by the sponsors. More recently, her research is in measuring critical high temperature transitions in steel plates and recrystallization at high temperatures. This is accomplished using a Gleeble 3500, which is a thermo-mechanical processing machine. It uses resistive heating (electrons) to raise the temperature. Capable of heating up materials at a rate of 10,000 degrees per second, the Gleeble 3500 offers a plethora of simulation options including melting steel, and doing casting simulation as well as simulating various deformation modes.

Homsher describes it as being a ‘jack-of-all-trades machine.’ However, there have been issues with the operation of the Gleeble 3500 in the past. “It’s somewhat finicky. It can do a lot, but you have to know how to make it work,” said Homsher, referring to the Gleeble 3500 as “having a personality of her own.”

Homsher can also use the machine to test compression and torsion in super-heated steel. Students pull and push steel to measure the torsion in a specific metal. These stress tests are also paramount for the corporate sponsors when assembling devices. “Torsion is a unique characteristic because you can get a lot more deformation without anything really failing.” Homsher’s abstract addresses proving or validating equations in literature used by metallurgical and material engineers everywhere. These equations are used to calculate recrystallization temperature in various metals. In October, Homsher plans on attending the material science and technology conference in Montreal where she will be published.

Homsher was originally a mechanical engineer. “It’s been interesting to get in depth with a different degree. There are overlaps, but definitely some new insights,” she said. And those new insights will definitely be valuable. Speer added, “We’re working to develop the next generation of steel.”

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