The microstructure, phase composition, and microhardness of both gas-atomized and mechanically milled powders of the Al7075 + 1 wt % Zr alloy were investigated. The gas-atomized powder exhibited a cellular microstructure (grain size of a few µm) with layers of intermetallic phases along the cell boundaries. Mechanical milling (400 revolutions per minute (RPM)/8 h) resulted in a grain size reduction to the nanocrystalline range (20 to 100 nm) along with the dissolution of the intermetallic phases. Milling led to an increase in the powder's microhardness from 97 to 343 HV. Compacts prepared by spark plasma sintering (SPS) exhibited negligible porosity. The grain size of the originally gas-atomized material was retained, but the continuous layers of intermetallic phases were replaced by individual particles. Recrystallization led to a grain size increase to 365 nm in the SPS compact prepared from the originally milled powder. Small precipitates of the Al₃Zr phase were observed in the SPS compacts, and they are believed to be responsible for the retainment of the sub-microcrystalline microstructure during SPS. A more intensive precipitation in this SPS compact can be attributed to a faster diffusion due to a high density of dislocations and grain boundaries in the milled powder.
Keywords: gas atomization; mechanical milling; microhardness; microstructure; recrystallization; spark plasma sintering.