Functionally gradient materials (FGMs) display continuously or discontinuously varying compositions and/or microstructures over definable geometrical distances. The gradients can be continuous on a microscopic level, or they can be laminates comprised of gradients of metals, ceramics, polymers, or variations of porosity/density. Several processing techniques have been explored for the fabrication of FGMs for structural applications, e.g., powder metallurgy, thermal spraying, in situ synthesis, self-propagating high-temperature synthesis, reactive infiltration, etc. Physical and chemical vapor deposition (CVD) techniques are also being explored to process FGM films with nanometer level gradients in composition. This article addresses the issues related to thermal-spray processing of FGMs and will only peripherally compare the advantages and limitations of thermal spray versus other processing techniques as reported in the literature.
In thermal spraying, feedstock material (in the form of powder, rod, or wire) is introduced into a combustion or plasma flame. The particles melt in transit and impinge on the substrate where they flatten, undergo rapid solidification, and form a deposit through successive impingement. Thermal spraying has been traditionally employed to produce a variety of protective coatings of ceramics, metals, and polymers on a range of substrates. More recently, the process has been used for spray-forming structural components.
Arc spray, combustion, and plasma are the major techniques comprising thermal spray. These classifications are based on the type of heat source and the method by which feedstock is injected. Arc-spray processes use electrically conductive wire as feedstock, while combustion methods use powder or wire.