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Title:
CERMET OR CERAMIC/GLASS COMPOSITES INCLUDING SELF-REINFORCED BETA-SILICON NITRIDE, AND METHOD OF MAKING SAME
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/1994/005819
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
Infiltrate a porous, self-reinforced beta-Si3N4 preform with a metal or a crystallizable glass to yield a composite material. The preform possesses a low glass phase and has a density of from 50 to 70 percent of theoretical density. Prepare the beta-Si3N4 preform by subjecting a porous body formed from an alpha-Si3N4 powder composition to two sequential heat treatments. The first heat treatment occurs below the alpha- to beta-conversion temperature and results in a strengthened body that can be machined. The second heat treatment occurs above that temperature and yields the self-reinforced beta-Si3N4 preform. Conventional infiltration procedures with an infiltrant that is a metal or a glass results in an Si3N4/metal or Si3N4/glass composite material that has 50 to 70 percent of its volume occupied by beta-Si3N4 whiskers.

Inventors:
PYZIK, Aleksander, J.
Application Number:
PCT/US1993/005822
Publication Date:
March 17, 1994
Filing Date:
June 16, 1993
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
THE DOW CHEMICAL COMPANY.
International Classes:
C04B41/85; C03C14/00; C04B30/02; C04B38/00; C04B41/88; C22C1/10; C22C29/16; C22C47/00; C22C47/08; C22C47/12; C22C49/00; C22C49/06; C22C49/08; C22C49/11; (IPC1-7): C22C1/09; C04B41/00
Foreign References:
EP0337732A1
EP0111922A1
Other References:
PATENT ABSTRACTS OF JAPAN vol. 012, no. 252 (C-512)15 July 1988 & JP,A,63 040 711 ( NGK INSULATORS ) 22 February 1988
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Claims:
Claims
1. A process for making a silicon nitride/metal or silicon nitride/glass composite, comprising the steps of: (a) heating a porous, friable, alphasilicon nitride preform to a temperature and for a time sufficient to convert the preform to a porous structure that can be machined, shaped or drilled without crumbling; (b) heating the porous structure to a temperature sufficient to convert substantially all of the alphasilicon nitride to betasilicon nitride thereby resulting in a porous, selfreinforced, betasilicon nitride preform; and (c) infiltrating said betasilicon nitride preform with a metal or a glass.
2. A process as claimed in Claim 1 further comprising a step intermediate between step (a) and step (b) wherein the porous structure is subjected to mechanical shaping operations sufficient to impart a desired shape to the structure.
3. A process as claimed in Claim 1 wherein alphasilicon nitride occupies from about 40 to about 65 percent of the volume of the porous, friable, alphasilicon nitride preform.
4. A process as claimed in Claim 1 wherein the selfreinforced betasilicon nitride preform has sufficient betasilicon nitride to occupy from about 50 to about 70 percent of the volume of said preform.
5. A process as claimed in Claim 1 wherein the temperature and time in step (a) are, respectively from > 1400°Cto ≤ 1600°C and < one hour.
6. A process as claimed in Claim 1 wherein the temperature in step (b) is from > 1600°C to < 2000°C.
7. A process as claimed in Claim 1 wherein the alphasilicon nitride preform is fabricated from a composition including: alphasilicon nitride; yttrium oxide; silicon dioxide; magnesium oxide; and at least one of tantalum pentoxide, calcium oxide, gadolinium oxide, lanthanum oxide, indium oxide, titanium dioxide and strontium oxide; and, optionally, zirconium oxide.
8. A process as claimed in Claim 1 wherein the alphasilicon nitride preform is fabricated from a composition comprising: alphasilicon nitride; yttrium oxide; silicon dioxide; zirconium oxide; strontium oxide; and at least one of tantalum pentoxide, calcium oxide, gadolinium oxide, lanthanum oxide, indium oxide and titanium dioxide.
9. A process as claimed in Claim 1 wherein the metal is copper, aluminum, nickel, iron, titanium, cobalt, or an alloy containing at least one of them.
10. A process as claimed in Claim 1 wherein the betasilicon nitride is in the form of whiskers having a diameter within a range of from > 0.3 μm to < 0.7 μm and a length within a range of from > 25 μm to ≤ 50 μm.
11. A a silicon nitride/metal or silicon nitride/glass composite material prepared by the process of any of Claims 110.
Description:
Description

Cermet or Ceramic/Glass Composites Including Self-Reinforced Beta-Silicon Nitride, and Method of Making Same

Technical Field

The present invention generally concerns cermets (ceramic/metal composites) and ceramic/glass composites. It more particularly concerns cermets and ceramic/glass composites that contain silicon nitride as their major ceramic phase. Background Art

Silicon nitride (Si3N 4 ) ceramics possess a number of physical properties that make them useful in a variety of tribological and high temperature applications. These properties include good wear resistance, low coefficient of thermal expansion, good thermal shock resistance, high creep resistance, high electrical resistivity, resistance to chemical attack, and convenient fabrication into near-net shapes. Two of the many uses of silicon nitride ceramics are as cutting tools, and as parts for pumps and engines.

Unfortunately, Si 3 N ceramics have certain shortcomings. They are often brittle. They also have a fracture toughness and strength lower than might be desired for various applications. This may be due to structural flaws introduced by conventional manufacturing techniques.

Numerous, less than completely successful, approaches to overcome the shortcomings are known. One approach pressure infiltrates a porous (rather than densified), paniculate Si 3 N preform with another material, such as a metal or glass. This approach typically requires long process times in exchange for less than desirable improvements in physical properties.

A second approach involves forming a preform from Si 3 N 4 whiskers rather than Si 3 N4 powder. This approach yields preforms that are only 30 to 40 percent dense. In other words, the whiskers occupy only that volume of the preform. The whiskers, after processing into a preform, typically have low aspect ratios. If mixing times are too short, the preforms tend to have a nonuniform distribution of whiskers and a nonuniform density. In addition, whiskers are susceptible to moving with respect to each other during infiltration. This approach also usually mandates use of special equipment and observance of procedures for handling small whiskers during preform preparation. In addition, Si 3 N 4 whiskers are expensive. A third approach employs chopped Si 3 N 4 fibers instead of the much finer whiskers. This approach fails to substantially lower cost and introduces further limitations such as lack of isotropic uniformity and low reinforcing material content. In addition, polycrystalline fibers do not have the same high strength characteristics as whiskers.

Disclosure of Invention

One aspect of the present invention is a process for making a Si 3 N 4 /metal or Si 3 N 4 /glass composite, comprising the steps of: (a) heating a porous, friable, α-Si 3 4 preform to a temperature and for a time sufficient to convert the preform to a porous structure that can

5 be machined, shaped or drilled without crumbling; (b) heating the porous structure to a temperature sufficient to convert substantially all of the α-Si3N4 to β-Si3N 4 thereby resulting in a porous, self-reinforced, β-Si 3 N preform; and (c) infiltrating the β-Si3N4 preform with a metal or a glass.

A second aspect of the present invention is the Si3N4/metal or Si3N4/glass

10 composite prepared by the foregoing process. The composite comprises from 50 to 70 volume percent (vol-%) randomly oriented β-Si 3 N whiskers and from 50 to 30 vol-% of a continuous phase material that is a metal or a crystallizable glass, all volume percentages are based upon composite volume. Detailed Description

15 The starting material used to make the Si 3 4 preform employed in the present invention can be any SJ3N 4 powder that has an α-Si3 4 content in excess of 50 weight percent (wt-%), based upon powder weight. The Si 3 N 4 powder may also contain β-Si3N 4 , amorphous Si3N 4 , or mixtures thereof. The starting Si3N 4 desirably has a high α-phase to β-phase weight ratio. The starting Si3 4 preferably contains > 80 wt-% of equiaxed, crystalline α-Si 3 N 4 and <

20 20 wt-% β-Si3N 4 . The respective α- and β-Si3 4 contents are more preferably > 90 wt-% and < 10 wt-%, most preferably > 94 wt-% and < 6 wt-% .

The starting Si3N 4 is desirably as pure as possible. High purity is believed to optimize physical properties of the resultant composite. Some impurities may, however, be tolerated. Oxygen, in the form of silica (Si0 2 ), is a typical impurity. The oxygen content is

25 preferably ≤ 2.0 wt-%, based upon powder weight. Oxygen contents in excess of 2.0 wt-% may lead to formation of an undesirable glassy phase in the preform.

SJ3 4 powders sometimes contain nonmetals as impurities. Small amounts, up to 0.5 wt-% based upon powder weight, are not deleterious and can be tolerated. Carbon is one such nonmetal that is typically present. The amount of carbon should be minimized as much as

30 possible because it may form silicon carbide (SiC), an undesirable contaminant for the Si3N 4 composite.

Typical Si3N 4 starting materials may also be contaminated with metals, such as iron or aluminum. The metals may react to form low-melting intergranular phases. The low- melting phases are undesirable because they tend to lower the high temperature properties of

35 the resultant composite. Lower high temperature properties are particularly possible if the infiltrant is glass. Metal contaminants are present in a total amount, based upon Si3N_ powder weight, that is preferably ≤ 0.5 wt-%, and more preferably ≤ 0.1 wt-% . Iron is particularly undesirable because it forms a brittle iron suicide that can reduce the strength of the resulting

composite. The SJ3 starting powder preferably contains < 1000 parts per million (ppm) iron, more preferably < 250 ppm iron.

The Si3N 4 powder can be of any size or surface area provided it can be converted to a porous, self-reinforced, β-Si 3 N 4 preform in accordance with the present invention. The conversion is promoted by using aopropriate additives, such as the various oxides described herein. Large particles of Si3N 4 , those having an average diameter within a range of from 15 micrometers (μm) to 50 μm, may be in the form of hard agglomerates that cannot easily be broken. Powders containing such agglomerates yield poor preforms and composites. On the other hand, very fine powders, those having an average diameter < 0.2 μm, are often difficult to process and typically possess poor uniformity. Accordingly, the SJ3N 4 powder has an average diameter that is preferably within a range of from 0.2 to 10.0 μm, more preferably from 0.5 to 3.0 μm.

The Si3N 4 starting material must yield a porous, self-reinforced β-Si3N 4 preform. A preferred way to do so includes adding certain metal and nonmetal oxides to the starting Si3N 4 powder. The oxides are present in a total amount that is preferably < 10 wt-%, more preferably ≤ 5 wt-%, and most preferably ≤ 3 wt-%, based upon total starting material weight. One combination of oxides found particularly useful in the practice of the present invention includes yttrium oxide (Y 2 θ3), magnesium oxide (MgO), silica (Si0 2 ), zirconium oxide (Zr0 2 ) and tantalum oxide (Ta 2 05). Magnesium oxide promotes strengthening of porous preforms when they are heated at temperatures below 1600°C. It also promotes densification, in the absence of applied pressure, of individual SJ3N 4 particles in the preform during their transformation to elongated β-Si3N4 grains when such preforms are heated above 1600°C. Magnesium oxide is used as a densification aid in hot pressing ceramic powders into densified bodies. It forms a liquid phase between 1300°C and 1500°C into which α-Si3N 4 dissolves. The rate of mass transport of the α-Si3 into the liquid or glassy phase depends upon MgO content and upon the ratio of MgO to Y2O3. In some compositions, MgO can be replaced by SrO.

Any amount of MgO or SrO that promotes the formation of a self-reinforced β-SΪ3N preform is acceptable. The amount is preferably within a range of from 0.5 to 2 wt-%, more preferably 0.5 to 1 wt-%, and most preferably 0.5 to 0.86 wt-%. The amount is based upon weight of the Si3N 4 starting material.

Excessive shrinkage during formation of the self-reinforced β-Si3N 4 preform is undesirable. The shrinkage may be controlled to a degree provided kinetics of grain growth or whisker formation are faster than kinetics of densification. The amount of shrinkage is preferably < 10 vol-%, based upon volume of the porous structure that results from heating the porous, friable α-Si3N 4 preform. The amount of shrinkage is more preferably < 5 vol-% .

Upon heating with Si3 4 , Y2O3 forms a glassy phase through which mass transport of the S\_Na is considerably slower than through MgO. Instead of serving as a

densification aid, Y 2 0 3 promotes rapid and essentially complete conversion of α-Si 3 N 4 powder grains to elongated β-Si 3 N 4 grains. The elongated β-Si 3 grains give the self-reinforced β- -Si3 4 preform and composites made from it their high fracture toughness and strength. The amount of Y2O3 in the starting powder should be sufficient to cause essentially complete conversion of the starting silicon nitride powder to elongated β-Si3 4 grains. The amount should also be sufficient to produce the self-reinforced β-Si3N 4 preform that is formed as part of the process of the present invention. The amount of Y2O3 is desirably from 1 to 3.5 wt-%, preferably 1 to 2 wt-%, and most preferably 1 to 1.74 wt-%, based upon weight of the Si3 4 starting material. The amount of Si0 is desirably within a range of from 0.5 to 3.5 wt-%, based upon weight of the SJ3 4 starting material. The amount is preferably from 0.8 to 2.5 wt-%, most preferably from 1.5 to 2.0 wt-%. The amount of Siθ2 helps control the size distribution of β-Si3N 4 grains. In the presence of large amounts of Si0 2 , small grains are eliminated and the average diameter shifts in favor of larger grain sizes. Zirconium oxide (Zrθ2) is desirably present in an amount within a range of from

0.1 to 1.0 wt-%, based upon weight of the Si3N 4 starting material. The amount is preferably from 0.4 to 0.7 wt-%. Amounts in excess of 1.0 wt-% are undesirable because they lead to formation of ZrN. Amounts within the foregoing ranges promote, or increase the speed of, α- -Si 3 N 4 to β-Si3 4 transformation. Zrθ2 may, however, be eliminated as the transformation occurs in its absence even though it does so at a slower pace.

The Si3 4 starting material also desirably includes at least one oxide selected from Ta2θs, calcium oxide (CaO), lanthanum oxide (La 2 θ3), gadolinium oxide (Gd2θ3), indium oxide (ln 2 0 3 ), and titanium dioxide (Ti0 2 ). As an alternative to the oxide, the starting material may contain compounds or materials that convert to such oxides during the process of the present invention. If the starting material contains MgO, SrO is an additional possible oxide material. A total amount of oxide(s) is within a range that is desirably from 0.1 to 0.5 wt-%, preferably from 0.2 to 0.5 wt-%. The oxide(s) enhance the formation of high aspect ratio whiskers of uniform size.

Relatively small powder particle sizes are favored for the oxide powders, since smaller particle sizes usually enhance particle dispersion. Given the preferred size of Si3N 4 starting particles, the oxide powders desirably have an average diameter of < 5 μm. The average diameter is preferably from 0.5 to 1.0 μm.

The oxide powders may be admixed with Si 3 N powder using any conventional procedure and apparatus. One such apparatus is a ball mill. A preferred procedure uses a ball mill to prepare a finely divided suspension of the powders in a carrier medium. The suspension, after drying, yields a powdered admixture suitable for further processing in accordance with the present invention. Although the powders need not be added to the carrier medium in any particular order, the Si3N powder is preferably added to a colloidal suspension of the oxide

powders in the carrier medium. Due care should be taken to avoid simultaneous addition of components that would cause one or more of the components to agglomerate or flocculate. The carrier medium may be any organic or inorganic compound that does not react with powdered materials used to prepare a porous, self-reinforced, β-SJ3N 4 preform and is a liquid at room temperature (taken as 21°C) and atmospheric pressure. Suitable carrier media include: water; alcohols, such as methanol, ethanol or isopropanol; ketones, such as acetone or methyl ethyl ketone; aliphatic hydrocarbons, such as pentane or hexane; and aromatic hydrocarbons, such as benzene or toluene. The carrier medium is preferably polar, more preferably, water. The carrier medium is used in an amount sufficient to impart a viscosity suitable for mixing powdered components of the starting material. The amount preferably yields a solids content of from 20 to 40 wt-%, based upon weight of the suspension. A solids content below 20 wt-% typically results in inadequate deagglomeration of the powdered components and a viscosity that is undesirably low. Conversely, a solids content above 40 wt-% usually leads to inadequate mixing and an excessively high viscosity.

One or more conventional surfactants or dispersants may be used as aids to prepare the suspension. Selection of satisfactory surfactants and dispersants does not require undue experimentation.

Water soluble bases that serve as surfactants include ammonia, alkali metal hydroxides, alkali metal alkoxides, alkylamines, quaternary ammonium hydroxides and metal silicates. The base is preferably a metal silicate such as sodium silicate.

The surfactant should be used in an amount sufficient to improve the dispersion of solid components in the suspension. If a strong base is used as a surfactant, the amount is desirably sufficient to raise the pH of the aqueous suspension to about 10, and more preferably to a level ≥ 1 1.0 but < 1 1.5. Flocculation may occur with a pH value < 10.0 or > 1 1.5. The amount is desirably within a range of from 0.01 to 1.0 wt-%, based upon powder mixture weight.

After obtaining a generally uniform dispersion of powdered components in the carrier medium using conventional apparatus, the dispersion is desirably passed through a filter or sieve. This effectively removes any remaining agglomerates that are large enough to adversely affect properties of the resultant composite. The sieve or filter preferably has an opening sufficient to remove agglomerates > 100 μm in diameter.

The filtered dispersion may be converted into a greenware preform by any of a variety of conventional techniques. The dispersion can, for example, be dried to form a powder that can then be ground for use in cold-pressing procedures. If desired, the powder can be passed through a sieve such as that used for filtering the dispersion before it is cold-pressed into a greenware preform. Conventional apparatus, such as a cold isostatic press having a graphite die and opposing, parallel graphite plates, may be used to prepare the preform. As an

alternative, the greenware preform may also be prepared by slip casting. The particular technique is not critical. The greenware, irrespective of how it is formed, desirably has a shape close to that desired for the resultant composite. This minimizes machining operations after the composite is formed. After the greenware is formed, it is subjected to a heat treatment at a temperature within a range of from > 1400°C to < 1600°C for a time of from > 30 minutes to

< 4 hours. The temperature is preferably from > 1500 to < 1550°C. The temperature must remain below 1600°C at this stage to substantially preclude the growth of elongated β-Si3 4 grains. The time is preferably from > 30 minutes to < 120 minutes, more preferably from ≥ 30 minutes to < 60 minutes. The heattreatment causes some shrinkage of the greenware. It also results in a porous structure that can, after it is cooled to ambient temperature, be machined, drilled or otherwise shaped without crumbling.

After the heat treatment and any desired machining, shaping or drilling procedures, the porous structure is subjected to a high temperature heat treatment. The high temperature heat treatment desirably occurs in a nitrogen atmosphere at a temperature within a range of from ≥ 1600°C to < 1800°C. It may also occur in a gaseous nitrogen atmosphere at a temperature within a range of from ≥ 1800°C to ≤ 2000°C when a pressure in excess of 100 MPa is applied. The high temperature heat treatment converts the Q-S13N 4 to β-Si 3 4 and yields a porous, self-reinforced, β-S ' i3N preform. The high temperature heat treatment temperature and time depend upon the nature of the Si 3 N powder and the oxides that are added to it. Control of the high temperature heattreatment temperature leads, in turn, to controlling the size of elongated β-Si3 4 whiskers. For example, high temperature heat treatment of a preferred composition containing 0.1 wt-% Ta 2 Os, 0.83 wt-% Siθ2, 0.86 wt-% MgO, 1.74 wt-% Y 2 0 3 and the balance Si 3 N preferably occurs in a nitrogen atmosphere at a temperature within a range of from ≥ 1600 c C to ≤ 1750°C. The range is more preferably from ≥ 1650°C to

< 1700°C. The temperatures may vary depending upon the apparatus used to measure the high temperature heat treatment. The apparatus preferably includes a tungsten-rhenium thermocouple.

The high temperature heat treatment should continue for a time sufficient to substantially complete the conversion of α-Si3 4 to elongated β-Si3 4 whiskers. The time is preferably from > 6 to ≤ 12 hours. The high temperature heat treatment should be carried out under an inert atmosphere, such as nitrogen, in order to prevent oxidation or decomposition of the silicon nitride. The inert atmosphere should be maintained about the resultant preform as it cools after the high temperature heat treatment. The resulting self-reinforced β-Si3N 4 preform is typically on the order of from >

50 to < 70 percent dense. The density of the preform will depend in part upon the particular method selected for making the greenware preform from the suspension. For example, slip- casting of the suspension will give a preform density that ranges from 35 to 50% of theoretical

density. Dry pressing or isostatic pressing a dried powder gives a density that nominally ranges from 50 to 60% of theoretical density.

The resulting preform is essentially composed of a single phase of self-reinforced β-SJ3N4. It is substantially free of any second glassy phase. For example, when made from the preferred composition disclosed above, the preform contains less than 1 wt-% residual glass. The balance is Si3N 4 .

The density of the self-reinforced β-Si3N preform poses no barrier to infiltration by a metal or a crystallizable glass. In fact, infiltration by any one of a variety of conventional methods used for infiltration of Si3N preforms of a lower density is unexpectedly rapid. Infiltration is preferably carried out by pressure infiltration using pressures and times comparable to those used for infiltration of lower density Si 3 4 preforms.

The metal or glass must be in molten form in order for infiltration to proceed. The metal is selected from copper, aluminum, nickel, iron, titanium, cobalt, and alloys containing at least one of the said metals. The glass is preferably a crystallized glass. The resultant Si3N 4 /metal or Si3 4 /glass composites are also part of the present invention. The composites comprise from > 50 to ≤ 70 vol-% randomly oriented β-SJ3N whiskers and from ≤ 50 to ≥ 30 vol-% of a continuous phase material. The volume percentages are based upon total composite volume. The continuous phase material is a metal, a metal alloy or a glass, each of which is disclosed herein. The β-Si3 4 whiskers contain, or have incorporated therein, less than 1 wt-% of a glassy phase.

The following examples serves to illustrate the method of preparing the self- reinforced β-S ' i3N4 preform, the method of incorporating the preform into a composite, and the resulting composite. The examples do not, however, limit the scope of the invention. All parts and percentages are by weight unless otherwise specified. Example 1

Magnesium oxide (0.86 grams (g)), silica (0.83 g) and tantalum oxide (0.10 g) powders were suspended in 80 milliliters (ml) of water, and agitated at room temperature (about 21°C) under ambient air by a mechanical stirrer. The powders each contained less than 20 ppm of iron, lead, sodium, boron and zinc. They had particle sizes on the order of 1 μm. Aqueous sodium silicate addition adjusted the suspension pH to about 1 1.35. Fine agglomerates remaining in the suspension were broken down by the application of ultrasound for 30 seconds. The application of ultrasound caused the suspension pH to drop. It was raised to 1 1.5 by adding 5 M sodium hydroxide. The suspension was mixed for 30 minutes before adding 1.74 g Y2O3 (2 to 5 μm average particle size). The Y 2 0 3 had a purity comparable to that of the other oxide powders. The suspension was subjected to ultrasound for 30 seconds and then stirred for an additional 30 minutes to provide an oxide suspension.

Equiaxed α-Si3 4 powder (96.37 g) was added to the oxide suspension. The suspension was then mixed in an attrition mixer for 30 minutes. The α-Si3N 4 powder had an

average particle size of about 1 μm and contained 1.23 wt-% oxygen, < 1000 ppm iron, < 500 ppm aluminum, and < 50 ppm titanium.

The resulting suspension was passed through a 100 mesh (150 μm opening) nylon sieve. The suspension pH was adjusted to 9.8 by adding 50 percent nitric acid. The pH change resulted in an increase in flocculation of the suspension. The suspension was then dried, under a flow of nitrogen gas, in an oven set at a temperature of 90°C for 12 hours. The resulting powder, when cooled, was passed through a sieve to remove particles greater than 100 μm in diameter.

Greenware preforms were formed from a portion of the sieved powder by cold pressing in a graphite die. The preforms were heated at 1550°C for 2 hours to improve their mechanical strength and homogenize their glassy phase. The resultant preforms were machined to form porous discs having a diameter of 1 inch (2.54 cm) and a thickness of 0.25 inch (0.64 cm). The discs were subjected to a high temperature heattreatment under a nitrogen atmosphere at 1650°C for 12 hours and then cooled to ambient temperature. The resulting heat-treated, porous discs were composed almost entirely of self-reinforced β-Si3N 4 whiskers with a glass content of < 1 wt-%. They had a density of 62 % of theoretical. The β-SΪ3N 4 whiskers had diameters within a range of 0.3 to 0.7 μm and lengths within a range of 25 to 50 μm.

The discs were then pressure infiltrated with one of molten copper, molten aluminum or molten PYREX™ brand No. 7740 glass (Corning Glass Works). Each disc was placed in a container and surrounded by the infiltrating material. The container was a stainless steel can for copper and aluminum and a quartz tube for PYREX™ brand glass. The containers and their contents were then heated to a suitable temperature and subjected to a pressure of 830 MPa for a period of 10 seconds using a mechanical forging press like that used in Rapid Omnidirectional Compaction (ROC). The temperatures for copper, aluminum and PYREX™ brand glass were, respectively, 1200°C, 800°C and 1600°C. The containers and their contents were then cooled to ambient temperature and the infiltrated discs were recovered. All discs had densities greater than 98 % of theoretical.

This example demonstrates that one can make a silicon nitride/metal or a silicon nitride/glass composite that has sufficient β-Si3 4 in the form of whiskers to occupy from 50 to 70 percent of the volume of said composites. The composites are prepared without any separate procedure that involves handling loose β-Si 3 N 4 whiskers. It also demonstrates that the porous preform can, after the initial heat treatment, be machined before the conversion of α-SJ3N 4 to β-Si3N 4 begins. This also avoids generation of loose β-Si 3 4 whiskers. Similar results are obtained with other infiltrants, Si 3 N 4 compositions and high temperature heat treated preform densities, all of which are disclosed herein.

Example 2

Two different compositions were converted to porous, self-reinforced, β-SJ3N4 preforms by replicating the procedure of Example 1 save for increasing the high temperature heat treatment temperature from 1650°C to 1750°C. One composition (Composition A) contained 97% Si 3 N , 1.7% Y 2 0 3 , 0.7% MgO, 0.4% Zr0 2 and 0.2% CaO. It had a green density of 54%, a density after the high temperature heat treatment of 62%, a glass content of < 1 %, and all Si 3 N 4 was in the form of β-Si3 4 whiskers that had an average diameter of 0.3 μm and lengths within a range of 20 to 30 μm. The second composition (Composition B) contained 98% Si 3 N 4 , 1.2% Y 2 0 3 , 0.4% SrO, 0.3% Zr0 2 and 0.1 % Ti0 2 . It had a green density of 49%, a density afterthe high temperature heat treatment of 53%, a glass content of < 1 %, and all Si3N 4 was in the form of β-Si3N 4 whiskers that had an average diameter of 0.3 μm and lengths within a range of 15 to 20 μm. Analysis of the preforms by Analytical Scanning Electron Microscopy (ASEM) and Analytical Transmission Electron Microscopy (ATEM) did not reveal any surface oxygen. The densities were based upon theoretical density. This example shows that porous preforms can be formed without excessi e shrinkage. Similar results are expected with other Si3 4 compositions that are disclosed herein. Example 3

A powder mixture containing 91.5% α-Si 3 N 4 , 3.3% Si0 2 , 2.9% Y 2 0 3 , 1.6% MgO, 0.5% Zrθ2 and 0.2% Ta 2 Os was dry blended for 1 hour in a plastic bottle. This yielded a powder blend containing small, spherical agglomerates that had a diameter of 10-25 μm. The powder blend flowed easily into a graphite die. The powder was tapped to a density of 48% of theoretical. The tapped powder was heated to a temperature of 1400°C for 1 hour to form a preform that could, if desired, be machined in the same manner as the preforms of Example 1. The preform was heated in a graphite crucible at a temperature of 1750°C for 12 hours and then cooled. All-SiaNα was converted to -Si3N4 and analysis as in Example 2 revealed no surface oxygen. The density was 59% of theoretical.

The preform was placed in a stainless steel can together with copper. The can and its contents were heated, as in Example 1, to a temperature of 1 100°C and then subjected to a pressure of 830 MPa for 10 seconds. The resultant part had a density of 98.9% of theoretical and a hardness of 1 120 kg/mm 2 .

This example shows that dry blending powders also yields satisfactory parts. Similar results are obtained with other infiltrants, Si3N4 compositions and high temperature heat treated preform densities, all of which are disclosed herein.