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FeNi36 Invar - Nickel Iron Alloy


Chemical Formula

Ni-Fe Alloy

Topics Covered

  • Background
  • Discovery and Nobel Prize
  • Physical Properties
  • Current Uses
  • Cathode Ray Tubes
  • Other Applications
  • Low Expansion Alloys
  • Sealing Alloys
  • Future Uses
  • Composite Manufacturing

Background

Few people realise that the nickel-iron alloy, FeNi36 Invar, plays a crucial part in so many of their household controls and office appliances. This role was established soon after its discovery 100 years ago in 1896. FeNi36 is the forerunner of a family of controlled expansion nickel-iron alloys which form the essential part of bimetals and thermostats. FeNi36 Invaritself is still used today in vast numbers of household appliances, from electric irons and toasters to gas cookers and fire safety cutoffs. In the office, computer terminals and TV screens make extensive use of FeNi36 and other Ni-Fe alloys for shadow masks, frames, and cathode ray tube gun parts.

Other applications for these special alloys are continuing to be found in industry for advanced electronic components, filters in mobile phone networks and even as tank membranes for massive liquefied natural gas transport ships.

Discovery and Nobel Prize

When Invar FeNi36 was discovered in 1896, its unique property of low and linear expansion over a wide temperature range allowed the production of effective bimetals which could be used in safety cut-off devices for gas cookers and heaters. For his work on the nickel-iron system and the discovery of FeNi36 Invar, Charles Edouard Guillaume of Imphy was awarded a Nobel prize for Physics early in the 20th century.

One of the traditional uses for Invar FeNi36 has been for the thermostat of electric immersion heaters, used for a variety of domestic and commercial water heating systems. Operation of the thermostat is based upon differential expansion between a brass tube and an inner Invar FeNi36 rod, the resulting movement being used to actuate a microswitch. The set temperature is commonly adjustable in the range between 48-83°C.

Physical Properties

Invar FeNi36 is a 36% nickel iron alloy which has the lowest thermal expansion among all metals and alloys in the range from room temperature up to approximately 230°C. The Invar FeNi36 alloy is ductile and easily weldable, and machinability is similar to austenitic stainless steel. It does not suffer from stress corrosion cracking.

The mean coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) of FeNi36 from 20-100°C is less than 1.3 x 10-6°C-1. The Curie point is 230°C, and density is 8.1 kg.m-3.

Current Uses of Nickel Iron Alloy FeNi36 Invar

Cathode Ray Tubes

Between the range -100 to +200°C Invar FeNi36's CTE is very low. This feature is very useful for many specific applications in high tech industry. Cathode ray tubes for television and display screens are increasingly required to provide greater user comfort, with higher contrast, improved brightness and sharper definition. This progress has been made possible by the use of shadow masks made from Invar FeNi36 strip, with its low coefficient of thermal expansion allowing precise dimensioning of components even with changing temperature.

Other Applications

Other application areas, such as telecommunications, aeronautical and aerospace engineering, cryogenic engineering (liquefied natural gas tankers) etc, require either high dimensional stability with variation in temperature, or expansion characteristics matched with those of other materials, such as glass, ceramics, or composites.

The diversity of these requirements has led to the development of a wide range of Fe-Ni, Fe-Ni-Co and Fe-Ni-Cr alloys, in two major groups:

Low Expansion Alloys

These include Invar FeNi36 and N42. As electronic components become ever more miniature, the demands on the material used in their manufacture become ever more critical. The production of lead frames for example requires very close dimensional tolerances and high cleanliness combined with exceptional stamping or chemical etching performance. Grades of N42 have been specifically developed to match these requirements.

Sealing Alloys

These include other Fe-Ni grades, Fe-Ni-Co and Fe-Ni-Cr alloys. A full range of alloys have been produced to associate with the principal glasses supplied by major manufacturers including Schott, Corning, NEG and Ashai. These glasses used in electronics are chosen for specific physical, chemical or optical properties and the choice of the associated sealing metal depends on the glass and the type of seal (matched or compressive).

Future Uses

Appropriate solutions are needed to match the requirements created by technologies which are in rapid and perpetual evolution, and these could come from Invar FeNi36 and its nickel iron alloy derivatives.

Composite Manufacturing

Invar FeNi36 also has an important role to play in the future of composite manufacturing. The aerospace industry will make increasing use of composites for weight/strength improvements. The manufacturing process of composite multilayer structures involves moulding on tools which are then autoclaved. Tooling materials must provide temperature resistance, very low CTE to match the composite, vacuum integrity, thermal conductivity and machinability.

A single tooling material to meet all the requirements does not exist, but of all metallic and non-metallic (e.g. carbon fibre/epoxy) options, Invar FeNi36 provides one of the lowest CTEs of all, the major criterion. The compatibility of the CTE of the Invar mould and the composite parts avoids distortion, induced stress and warpage. Studies carried out by Boeing show that Invar FeNi36 is the material which will provide the best compromise between the most important requirements (like CTE and durability) and overall fabrication costs.

Property Table of Invar FeNi36

 

MaterialInvar FeNi36 - Nickel Iron Alloy
PropertyMinimum Value (S.I.)Maximum Value (S.I.)Units (S.I.)Minimum Value (Imp.)Maximum Value (Imp.)Units (Imp.)
Atomic Volume (average)0.00680.0071m3/kmol414.961433.268in3/kmol
Density8.18.2Mg/m3505.667511.91lb/ft3
Energy Content50200MJ/kg5416.9321667.7kcal/lb
Bulk Modulus106112GPa15.37416.2442106 psi
Compressive Strength240725MPa34.8091105.152ksi
Ductility0.060.45 0.060.45 
Elastic Limit240725MPa34.8091105.152ksi
Endurance Limit185405MPa26.83258.7402ksi
Fracture Toughness120150MPa.m1/2109.206136.507ksi.in1/2
Hardness12002400MPa174.045348.091ksi
Loss Coefficient0.00030.0011 0.00030.0011 
Modulus of Rupture240725MPa34.8091105.152ksi
Poisson's Ratio0.280.3 0.280.3 
Shear Modulus5458GPa7.832048.41219106 psi
Tensile Strength445810MPa64.5418117.481ksi
Young's Modulus137145GPa19.870221.0305106 psi
Glass Temperature  K  °F
Latent Heat of Fusion270290kJ/kg116.079124.677BTU/lb
Maximum Service Temperature600700K620.33800.33°F
Melting Point16901710K2582.332618.33°F
Minimum Service Temperature00K-459.67-459.67°F
Specific Heat505525J/kg.K0.3907980.406276BTU/lb.F
Thermal Conductivity1215W/m.K22.464428.0805BTU.ft/h.ft2.F
Thermal Expansion0.5210-6/K0.93.610-6/°F
Breakdown Potential  MV/m  V/mil
Dielectric Constant      
Resistivity758510-8 ohm.m758510-8 ohm.m

 

Environmental Properties
Resistance Factors
1=Poor 5=Excellent
Flammability5
Fresh Water5
Organic Solvents5
Oxidation at 500C5
Sea Water5
Strong Acid4
Strong Alkalis5
UV5
Wear4
Weak Acid5
Weak Alkalis5
Primary author: Colin Woolger | Source: Materials World, Vol. No. pp. 332-33, June 1996.
For more information on Materials World please visit The Institute of Materials.
Invar FeNi36 has the lowest thermal expansion of any known metal or alloy from room temperature up to 230C. Special low expansion and sealing alloy grades are available. Applications include thermostats, bimetallic strips, cathode ray tubes, telecommunications, aerospace and gas tankers.

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