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Stainless Steel - Heat Treatment

Topics Covered
Background Annealing Quench Annealing Stabilising Anneal Cleaning Process Annealing Controlled Atmospheres Hardening Cooling and Quenching Stress Relieving Low Temperature Stress Relieving Annealing A ter !elding Sur ace Hardening "itriding Ph#sical $apour %eposition &P$%'

Stainless steels are o ten heat treated( the nature o this treatment depends on the t#pe o stainless steel and the reason or the treatment) These treatments* which include annealing* hardening and stress relieving* restore desirable properties such as corrosion resistance and ductilit# to metal altered b# prior abrication operations or produce hard structures able to withstand high stresses or abrasion in service) Heat treatment is o ten per ormed in controlled atmospheres to prevent sur ace scaling* or less commonl# carburisation or decarburisation)

The austenitic stainless steels cannot be hardened b# thermal treatments &but the# do harden rapidl# b# cold work') Annealing &o ten re erred to as solution treatment' not onl# recr#stallises the work hardened grains but also takes chromium carbides &precipitated at grain boundaries in sensitised steels' back into solution in the austenite) The treatment also homogenises dendritic weld metal structures* and relieves all remnant stresses rom cold working) Annealing temperatures usuall# are above +,-,.C* although some t#pes ma# be annealed at closel# controlled temperatures as low as +,+,.C when ine grain si/e is important) Time at temperature is o ten kept short to hold sur ace scaling to a minimum or to control grain growth* which can lead to 0orange peel0 in orming)

Quench Annealing
Annealing o austenitic stainless steel is occasionall# called 1uench annealing because the metal must be cooled rapidl#* usuall# b# water 1uenching* to prevent sensitisation &e2cept or stabilised and e2tra3low carbon grades')

Stabilising Anneal
A stabilising anneal is sometimes per ormed a ter conventional annealing or grades 45+ and 4-6) 7ost o the carbon content is combined with titanium in grade 45+ or with niobium in grade 4-6 when these are annealed in the usual manner) A urther anneal at 86, to 9,,.C or 5 to - hours ollowed b# rapid cooling precipitates all possible carbon as a titanium or niobium carbide and prevents subse1uent precipitation o chromium carbide) This special protective treatment is sometimes use ul when service conditions are rigorousl# corrosive* especiall# when service also involves temperatures rom about -,, to 86,.C* and some speci ications enable this treatment to be speci ied or the product)

Be ore annealing or other heat treating operations are per ormed on austenitic stainless steels* the sur ace must be cleaned to remove oil* grease and other carbonaceous residues) Such residues lead to carburisation during heat treating* which degrades corrosion resistance)

Process Annealing
All martensitic and most erritic stainless steels can be subcritical annealed &process annealed' b# heating into the upper part o the errite temperature range* or ull annealed b# heating above the critical temperature into the austenite range* ollowed b# slow cooling) :sual temperatures are 6;, to 84,.C or sub3critical annealing) !hen material has been previousl# heated above the critical temperature* such as in hot working* at least some martensite is present even in erritic stainless steels such as grade -4,) Relativel# slow cooling at about 5<.C=hour rom ull annealing temperature* or holding or one hour or more at subcritical annealing temperature* is re1uired to produce the desired so t structure o errite and spheroidised carbides) However* parts that have undergone onl# cold working a ter ull annealing can be sub3criticall# annealed satis actoril# in less than 4, minutes) The erritic t#pes that retain predominantl# single3phase structures throughout the working temperature range &grades -,9*

--5* --; and 5;Cr3+7o' re1uire onl# short recr#stallisation annealing in the range 6;, to 9<<.C)

Controlled Atmospheres
Stainless steels are usuall# annealed in controlled atmospheres to prevent or at least reduce scaling) Treatment can be in salt bath* but the best option is 0bright annealing0 in a highl# reducing atmosphere) Products such as lat rolled coil* tube and wire are regularl# bright annealed b# their producers* usuall# in an atmosphere o nitrogen and h#drogen) The result is a sur ace re1uiring no subse1uent scale removal( the product is as bright a ter as be ore annealing) These products are o ten re erred to as 0BA0)

7artensitic stainless steels are hardened b# austenitising* 1uenching and tempering much like low allo# steels) Austenitising temperatures normall# are 98, to +,+,.C* well above the critical temperature) As31uenched hardness increases with austenitising temperature to about 98,.C and then decreases due to retention o austenite) >or some grades the optimum austenitising temperature ma# depend on the subse1uent tempering temperature) Preheating be ore austenitising is recommended to prevent cracking in high3carbon t#pes and in intricate sections o low3carbon t#pes) Preheating at 69,.C* and then heating to the austenitising temperature is the most common practice)

Cooling and Quenching

7artensitic stainless steels have high hardenabilit# because o their high allo# content) Air cooling rom the austenitising temperature is usuall# ade1uate to produce ull hardness* but oil 1uenching is sometimes used* particularl# or larger sections) Parts should be tempered as soon as the# have cooled to room temperature* particularl# i oil 1uenching has been used* to avoid dela#ed cracking) Parts sometimes are ro/en to appro2imatel# 36<.C be ore tempering to trans orm retained austenite* particularl# where dimensional stabilit# is important* such as in gauge blocks made o grade --,C) Tempering at temperatures above <+,.C should be ollowed b# relativel# rapid cooling to below -,,.C to avoid 0-6<.C0 embrittlement) Some precipitation3hardening stainless steels re1uire more complicated heat treatments than standard martensitic t#pes) >or instance* a semi3austenitic precipitation3hardening t#pe ma# re1uire annealing* trigger annealing &to condition austenite or trans ormation on cooling to room temperature'* sub3/ero cooling &to complete the trans ormation o austenite' and aging &to ull# harden the allo#') ?n the other hand* martensitic precipitation3hardening t#pes &such as @rade ;4,' o ten re1uire nothing more than a simple aging treatment)

Stress Relieving
Stress relieving at temperatures below -,,.C is an acceptable practice but results in onl# modest stress relie ) Stress relieving at -5< to 95<.C signi icantl# reduces residual stresses that otherwise might lead to stress corrosion cracking or dimensional instabilit# in service) ?ne hour at 86,.C t#picall# relieves about 8<A o the residual stresses) However* stress relieving in this temperature range can also precipitate grain boundar# carbides* resulting in sensitisation that severel# impairs corrosion resistance in man# media) To avoid these e ects* it is strongl# recommended that a stabilised stainless steel &grade 45+ or 4-6' or an e2tra3low3carbon t#pe &4,-L or 4+;L' be used* particularl# when length# stress relieving is re1uired) >ull solution treatment &annealing'* generall# b# heating to about +,8,.C ollowed b# rapid cooling* removes all residual stresses* but is not a practical treatment or most large or comple2 abrications)


Temperature Stress Relieving

!hen austenitic stainless steels have been cold worked to develop high strength* low temperature stress relieving will increase the proportional limit and #ield strength &particularl# compressive #ield strength') This is a common practice or austenitic stainless steel spring wire) A two hour treatment at 4-< to -,,.C is normall# used( temperatures up to -5<.C ma# be used i resistance to intergranular corrosion is not re1uired or the application) Higher temperatures will reduce strength and sensitise the metal* and generall# are not used or stress relieving cold worked products)

Annealing A!ter "elding

Stainless steel weldments can be heated to temperatures below the usual annealing temperature to decrease high residual stresses when ull annealing a ter welding is impossible) 7ost o ten* stress relieving is per ormed on weldments that are too large or intricate or ull annealing or on dissimilar metal weldments consisting o austenitic stainless steel welded to low allo# steel) Stress relieving o martensitic or erritic stainless steel weldments will simultaneousl# temper weld and heat a ected /ones* and or most t#pes will restore corrosion resistance to some degree) However* annealing temperatures are relativel# low or these grades* and normal subcritical annealing is the heat treatment usuall# selected i the weldment is to be heat treated at all)

Sur!ace Hardening
?nl# limited sur ace hardening treatments are applicable to the stainless steels) Bn most instances hardening o carbon and low allo# steels is due to the martensitic trans ormation* in which the achievable hardness is related to the carbon content 3 as most martensitic stainless steels have carbon contents ranging rom airl# low to e2tremel# low* this hardening mechanism is o little use)

Bt is possible to sur ace harden austenitic stainless steels b# nitriding) As in nitriding o other steels the hard la#er is ver# hard and ver# thin( this makes the process o limited use as the underl#ing stainless steel core is relativel# so t and unsupportive in heavil# loaded applications) A urther drawback is that the nitrided case has a signi icantl# lower corrosion resistance than the original stainless steel) A number o alternative* proprietar# sur ace hardening processes or austenitic stainless steels have been developed but these have not as #et become commerciall# available in Australia)

Ph$sical %apour &eposition 'P%&(

An interesting recent development is the P$% &Ph#sical $apour %eposition' process) This enables ver# thin but hard la#ers to be deposited on man# materials* including stainless steels) The most commonl# applied coating is Titanium "itride 0Ti"0* which in addition to being ver# hard is also an aestheticall# pleasing gold colour) Because o its appearance this coating has been applied* generall# on "o8 mirror polished sur ace* to produce gold mirror inished architectural panels)

SourceC Atlas Steels Australia

>or more in ormation on this source please visit Atlas Steels Australia