More than 25 years have passed since Intermetallic Compounds, edited by Westbrook, was published. Since that time, enormous advances have been made in the understanding and usage of intermetallic compounds. It is known that intermetallic compounds are generally brittle. Thus, alloys that contain intermetallics may also be brittle. However, many intermetallic compounds are known to have extraordinary functions and characteristics that are not observed in ordinary metals and alloys. Thus, they function as magnetic materials, superconductors, semiconductors, hydrogen absorbing alloys, shape memory alloys, and so on.
Many high-strength structural alloys like maraging steels and duralumins are strengthened by fine precipitates of intermetallic phases. Nickel-based superalloys, which are used for airplane-engine parts, contain 60-70% of Ni3Al-based intermetallics by volume fraction and exhibit high strength at high temperatures. Hard metals, which are used for cutting tools, are composed of a large amount of hard but brittle intermetallics like WC and a small amount of ductile cobalt. Intermetallic compounds like TiAl are also investigated for their applications as structural materials where high strength at high temperatures is required.
In a strict sense, intermetallic compounds are composed of two or more metallic elements. In a wider sense, they are composed of metallic and/or semimetallic elements. Each is characterized by an ordered arrangement of two or more kinds of atoms, that is, the formation of a superlattice, and have various kinds of interatomic bonding, ranging from metallic to covalent or ionic bonding. The ordering of atoms and the strong interatomic bonding result in many attractive properties for intermetallic compounds.