Steel is basically an alloy of iron and carbon, but several elements are used in various proportions and combinations to produce different types. By definition, a steel has a maximum carbon content of 2.0%. Structural steels normally contain less than 0.30% carbon, however, and in terms of chemical composition can be classified as either plain carbon or low-alloy steels. In plain carbon steels, the amounts of carbon and manganese, the principal strengthening elements, are restricted, and other alloying elements are not normally included. In low-alloy steels, the carbon content is also restricted, and increased strength is achieved through the use of alloying elements such as nickel, chromium, and molybdenum. The alloying additions usually do not exceed a total of 8%.
Carbon is by far the most important element in steel: The changes in composition (cementite or iron carbide [Fe3C] content), microstructure (pearlite content), and mechanical properties (strength and ductility, in particular) resulting from changes in the carbon content in annealed plain carbon steels are shown very clearly in Fig. 13.1. In the range of carbon contents shown in Fig. 13.1, a significant increase in strength and decrease in ductility are produced by an increase in the carbon content in the steel.
Steels can be classified on the basis of composition. The most widely used system for identifying or designating carbon and alloy steels is that developed by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). The AISI-SAE system employs a four- or five-digit designation, where the major alloying elements in a steel are indicated by the first two digits, and the amount of carbon, in hundredths of a percent, by the last two or three. Examples of several steels with their AISI-SAE designation and alloy composition are shown in Table 13.1. Structural quality steels are further classified on the basis of strength, using a system developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), as discussed in Section 13.6.
under the microscope-plays an important part in determining the mechanical properties of the material. In general, strength depends on the nature, distribution, and size of the phases and/or grains present: Fine-grained structures are stronger than coarse-grained structures. In two-phase alloys, where one phase is hard and brittle relative to the other, optimum properties are obtained where the hard and brittle phase is uniformly distributed as isolated particles. If the brittle phase occurs as a continuous network, then fracture will follow this network, making the alloy as a whole brittle. The distribution of phases depends initially on the conditions under which the alloy solidified, but it may be varied by mechanical
Properties versus carbon content (annealed, plain carbon steels): (a) hardness and strength
versus the amount of carbon, Fe3C, and pearlite; (b) microstructure of 0.40% C (left) and
0.80% C (right) steels (X500); and (c) ductility and toughness versus the amount of carbon,
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