Gum Metal is a set of multi-component β-Ti alloys designed and developed by Toyota Central R&D Labs in 2003 to have a nearly zero shear modulus in the <111> direction. After significant amounts of cold-work (>90%), these alloys were found to have yield strengths at a significant fraction of the predicted ideal strengths and exhibited very little work hardening. It has been speculated that this mechanical behavior may be realized through an ideal shear mechanism as opposed to conventional plastic deformation mechanisms, such as slip, and that such a mechanism may be realized through a defect structure termed “nanodisturbance”. It is furthermore theorized that for near ideal strength to be attained, dislocations need to be pinned at sufficiently high stresses. It is the search for these defects and pinning points that motivates the present study. However, the mechanism of plastic deformation and the true origin of specific defect structures unique to gum metals is still controversial, mainly due to the complexity of the β-Ti alloy system and the heavily distorted lattice exhibited in cold worked gum metals, rendering interpretation of images difficult.
Accordingly, the first aim of this study is to clarify the starting as-received microstructures of gum metal alloys through conventional transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and aberration-corrected high resolution scanning transmission electron microscopy with high-angle annular dark field detector (HAADF-HRSTEM) imaging. To elucidate the effects of β-stability and starting microstructure on the deformation behavior of gum metals and thus to provide adequate context for potentially novel deformation structures, we investigate three alloy conditions: gum metal that has undergone solution heat treatment (STGM), gum metal that has been heavily cold worked (CWGM), and a solution treated alloy of nominal gum metal composition, but leaner in β-stabilizing content (ST Ref-1). In order to directly relate observed defect structures to applied loading, we perform ex-situ nanoindentation. Nanoindentation is a convenient method as the plastic deformation is localized and probes a nominally defect free volume of the material. We subsequently characterize the defect structures in these alloys with both conventional TEM and advanced techniques such as HAADF HRSTEM and nanoprobe diffraction. These advanced techniques allow for a more thorough understanding of the observed deformation features.
The main findings from this investigation are as follows. As expected we observe that a non-equilibrium phase, ω, is present in the leaner β-stabilized alloy, ST Ref-1. We do not find any direct evidence of secondary phases in STGM, and we find the α phase in CWGM, along with lath microstructure with subgrain structure consisting of dislocation cell networks. Upon nanoindentation, we find twinning accompanied by ω nucleation on the twin boundary in ST Ref-1 samples. This result is consistent with previous findings and is reasonable considering the alloy is unstable with respect to ω transformation. We find deformation nanotwinning in cold worked gum metals under nanoindentation, which is initially surprising. We argue that when viewed as a nanocrystalline material, such a deformation mechanism is consistent with previous work, and furthermore, a deformation nanotwinned structure does not preclude an ideal shear mechanism from operating in the alloy. Lastly, we observe continuous lattice rotations in STGM under nanoindentation via nanoprobe diffraction. With this technique, for the first time we can demonstrate that the lattice rotations are truly continuous at the nanoscale. We can quantify this lattice rotation, and find that even though the rotation is large, it may be mediated by a reasonable geometrically necessary dislocation density, and note that similar rotations are typically observed in other materials under nanoindentation. HRSTEM and conventional TEM data confirm the presence of dislocations in regions that have sustained large lattice rotations. Finally, we report on the nature of indirectly observed “pinning points” in STGM under nanoindentation that was reported in a previous study. We find through ADF/HAADF STEM that the “pinning points” which cause dislocation bowing in STGM under nanoindentation are actually other dislocations with the line direction normal to the TEM foil, and, in support of this finding, we also observe other in-plane dislocation-dislocation interactions that is responsible for resultant bowing. We observe no direct evidence of any secondary phases, twinning, or nanodisturbances in the STGM case, and the majority of deformation features can be explained by conventional slip mechanism. However, it remains a possibility that an ideal shear mechanism may be accompanying conventional slip in STGMs that may account for the truly continuous nature of the lattice rotations.