Sunday, July 17, 2011

Brief summary of effects of alloying elements on Steel

The following information on brief summary of effects of alloying elements on steel is provided for practicing engineers, NDT trainees and ndtians/technicians and quality control engineers in order to understand and apply these uses for practical related case studies.

Steels are among the most commonly used alloys. The complexity of steel alloys is fairly significant.  Not all effects of the varying elements are included. The following text gives an overview of some of the effects of various alloying elements.  Additional research should be performed prior to making any design or engineering conclusions.

Alloying Elements:
Carbon: has a major effect on steel properties.  Carbon is the primary hardening element in steel.  Hardness and tensile strength increases as carbon content increases up to about 0.85%.  Ductility and weldability decrease with increasing carbon. 
Is generally beneficial to surface quality especially in resulfurized steels. Manganese contributes to strength and hardness, but less than carbon.  The increase in strength is dependent upon the carbon content.  Increasing the manganese content decreases ductility and weld ability, but less than carbon. Manganese has a significant effect on the harden ability of steel.
Increases strength and hardness and decreases ductility and notch impact toughness of steel.  The adverse effects on ductility and toughness are greater in quenched and tempered higher-carbon steels.  Phosphorous levels are normally controlled to low levels.  Higher phosphorus is specified in low-carbon free-machining steels to improve machinability.
Decreases ductility and notch impact toughness especially in the transverse direction.  Weld ability decreases with increasing sulfur content.  Sulfur is found primarily in the form of sulfide inclusions.  Sulfur levels are normally controlled to low levels. The only exception is free-machining steels, where sulfur is added to improve machinability.
Is one of the principal deoxidizers used in steelmaking.  Silicon is less effective than manganese in increasing as-rolled strength and hardness. In low-carbon steels, silicon is generally detrimental to surface quality.
In significant amounts is detrimental to hot-working steels.  Copper negatively affects forge welding, but does not seriously affect arc or oxyacetylene welding. Copper can be detrimental to surface quality.  Copper is beneficial to atmospheric corrosion resistance when present in amounts exceeding 0.20%. Weathering steels are sold having greater than 0.20% Copper. 
Is virtually insoluble in liquid or solid steel.  However, lead is sometimes added to carbon and alloy steels by means of mechanical dispersion during pouring to improve the machinability.
Is added to fully killed steel to improve hardenability. Boron-treated steels are produced to a range of 0.0005 to 0.003%. Whenever boron is substituted in part for other alloys, it should be done only with hardenability in mind because the lowered alloy content may be harmful for some applications.
Boron is a potent alloying element in steel.  A very small amount of boron (about 0.001%) has a strong effect on hardenability.  Boron steels are generally produced within a range of 0.0005 to 0.003%.   Boron is most effective in lower carbon steels. 
Is commonly added to steel to increase corrosion resistance and oxidation resistance, to increase hardenability, or to improve high-temperature strength.  As a hardening element, Chromium is frequently used with a toughening element such as nickel to produce superior mechanical properties. At higher temperatures, chromium contributes increased strength.  Chromium is as strong carbide former. Complex chromium-iron carbides go into solution in austenite slowly; therefore, sufficient heating time must be allowed for prior to quenching.
Nickel is a ferrite strengthener.  Nickel does not form carbides in steel.  It remains in solution in ferrite, strengthening and toughening the ferrite phase.  Nickel increases the harden ability and impact strength of steels. 
Increases the hardenability of steel.  Molybdenum may produce secondary hardening during the tempering of quenched steels. It enhances the creep strength of low-alloy steels at elevated temperatures. 
Is widely used as a deoxidizer.  Aluminum can control austenite grain growth in reheated steels and is therefore added to control grain size.  Aluminum is the most effective alloy in controlling grain growth prior to quenching. Titanium, zirconium, and vanadium are also valuable grain growth inhibitors, but there carbides are difficult to dissolve into solution in austenite.
Can be added to killed high-strength low-alloy steels to achieve improvements in inclusion characteristics.  Zirconium causes sulfide inclusions to be globular rather than elongated thus improving toughness and ductility in transverse bending.
(Columbium) increases the yield strength and, to a lesser degree, the tensile strength of carbon steel. The addition of small amounts of Niobium can significantly increase the yield strength of steels.  Niobium can also have a moderate precipitation strengthening effect. Its main contributions are to form precipitates above the transformation temperature, and to retard the recrystallization of austenite, thus promoting a fine-grain microstructure having improved strength and toughness.
Is used to retard grain growth and thus improve toughness. Titanium is also used to achieve improvements in inclusion characteristics.  Titanium causes sulfide inclusions to be globular rather than elongated thus improving toughness and ductility in transverse bending.
Increases the yield strength and the tensile strength of carbon steel. The addition of small amounts of Vanadium can significantly increase the strength of steels.  Vanadium is one of the primary contributors to precipitation strengthening in micro alloyed steels.   When thermo mechanical processing is properly controlled the ferrite grain size is refined and there is a corresponding increase in toughness.  The impact transition temperature also increases when vanadium is added.
All micro alloy steels contain small concentrations of one or more strong carbide and nitride forming elements.  Vanadium, niobium, and titanium combine preferentially with carbon and/or nitrogen to form a fine dispersion of precipitated particles in the steel matrix.


Selenium is added to improve machinability.


Nitrogen has the effect of increasing the austenitic stability of stainless steels and is, as in the case of nickel, an austenite forming element. Yield strength is greatly improved when nitrogen is added to austenitic stainless steels.


Chemically similar to niobium and has similar effects.


Cobalt becomes highly radioactive when exposed to the intense radiation of nuclear reactors, and as a result, any stainless steel that is in nuclear service will have a cobalt restriction, usually approximately 0.2% maximum. This problem is emphasized because there is residual cobalt content in the nickel used in producing these steels.
Columbium: Columbium in 18-8 stainless steel has a similar effect to titanium in making the steel immune to harmful carbide precipitation and resultant inter-granular corrosion. Columbium bearing welding electrodes are used in welding both titanium and columbium bearing stainless steels since titanium would be lost in the weld arc whereas columbium is carried over into the weld deposit.
Iron: Iron is the chief element of steel. Normally commercial iron contains other elements present in varying quantities which
produce the required mechanical properties. Iron lacks strength, is very ductile and soft and does not respond to heat treatment to any appreciable degree. It can be hardened somewhat by cold working, but not nearly as much as even a plain low carbon steel.
Tellurium: The addition of approximately .05% tellurium to leaded steel improves machinability over the leaded only steels.