The microstructural evolution during low temperature ageing of two commercial purity alloys (Al-1.2Cu-1.2Mg-0.2Mn and Al-1.9Cu-1.6Mg-0.2Mn at.%) was investigated. The initial stage of hardening in these alloys is very rapid, with the alloys nearly doubling in hardness during 20 h ageing at room temperature. The microstructural evolution during this stage of hardening was investigated using differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), isothermal calorimetry and three-dimensional atom probe analysis (3DAP). It is found that during the hardening a substantial exothermic heat evolution occurs and that the only microstructural change involves the formation of Cu-Mg co-clusters. The kinetics of cluster formation is analysed and the magnitude of the hardening is discussed on the basis of a model incorporating solid solution hardening and modulus hardening originating from the difference in modulus between Al and clusters
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