The 7xxx series alloys are heat treatable wrought aluminium alloys based on the Al-Zn-Mg(-Cu) system. They are widely used in high-performance structural aerospace and transportation applications. Apart from compositional, casting and thermo-mechanical processing effects, the balance of properties is also significantly influenced by the way in which the materials are heat-treated. This paper describes the effects of homogenisation, solution treatment, quenching and ageing treatments on the evolution of the microstructure and properties of some important medium to high-strength 7xxx alloys. With a focus on recent work at Monash University, where the whole processing route from homogenisation to final ageing has been studied for thick plate products, it is reported how microstructural features such as dispersoids, coarse constituent particles, fine-scale precipitates, grain structure and grain boundary characteristics can be controlled by heat treatment to achieve improved microstructure-property combinations. In particular, the paper presents methods for dissolving unwanted coarse constituent particles by controlled high-temperature treatments, quench sensitivity evaluations based on a systematic study of continuous cooling precipitation behaviour, and ageing investigations of one-, two- and three-step ageing treatments using experimental and modelling approaches. In each case, the effects on both the microstructure and the resulting properties are discussed. © 2014 The Nonferrous Metals Society of China.
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