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Gleeble to the rescue

- Wits University

Now Dr Lesley Chown can test new metals cost-effectively in her lab.

A Senior Lecturer in the Wits School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, Chown received the R13.5-million-Gleeble thanks to funding from the National Research Foundation and the University.

A Gleeble is a computerised simulator in which various performance parameters – such as strength, breaking point and heat qualities – of a specific material are measured.

Chown has a special interest in the structure and property relationships in metallic alloys and the continuous casting processes of metals.

The production testing and development of new metals and alloys are usually highly complex and expensive processes but a system like the Gleeble allows these processes to be tested in a cost-effective way in the laboratory.

A sample of material is heated and mechanically worked while various performance parameters of interest are measured and recorded for later analysis. After the simulation is done, the microstructure of the material may also be examined.

“You can realistically simulate large- scale industrial changes and you can use combinations of different heating and cooling cycles to simulate processes like the hot-rolling of steel,” explains Chown.

She works with Professor Lesley Cornish, Director of the DST-NRF Centre in Strong Materials at Wits, and Professor Tony Paterson, the Chair of Welding funded by the South African Institute of Welding.

Chown and her team will be using the Gleeble in collaboration with other academic institutions like the CSIR, industry partners and will develop human capital by training new students.

“We will also be supporting industry in process optimisation in thermo-mechanical processes and we will be roping in more postgraduate students. This will be a win-win situation for us and for the industry,” she adds.

Chown also has her heart set on blue sky research, where she will be experimenting with various titanium alloys to produce cheaper titanium alloys for land-based use.

She started her career at Iscor before moving to Mintek and then Wits. She has more than 15 years of experience working on an older version of the Gleeble.