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Structure of plain steel

Abstract: The essential difference between ordinary steel and pure iron is the amount of carbon in the former, which reduces the ductility but increases the strength and the susceptibility to hardening when rapidly cooled from elevated temperatures. On account of the various micro-structures which may be obtained by different heattreatments, it is necessary to emphasise the fact that the following structures are for "normal" steels, i.e. slowly cooled from 760-900°C depending on the carbon contents.

The essential difference between ordinary steel and pure iron is the amount of carbon in the former, which reduces the ductility but increases the strength and the susceptibility to hardening when rapidly cooled from elevated temperatures. On account of the various micro-structures which may be obtained by different heattreatments, it is necessary to emphasise the fact that the following structures are for "normal" steels, i.e. slowly cooled from 760-900°C depending on the carbon contents. The appearance of pure iron is illustrated in Fig. 1. It is only pure in the sense that it contains no carbon, but contains very small quantities of impurities such as phosphorus, silicon, manganese, oxygen, nitrogen, dissolved in the solid metal. In other words, the structure is typical of pure metals and solid solutions in the annealed condition. It is built up of a number of crystals of the same composition, given the name ferrite in metallography (Brinell hardness 80). The addition of carbon to the pure iron results in a considerable difference in the structure (Fig. 2), which now consists of two constituents, the white one being the ferrite, and the dark parts representing the constituent containing the carbon, the amount of which is therefore an index of the quantity of carbon in the steel. Carbon is present as a compound of iron and carbon (6-67 %) called cementite, having the chemical formula Fe 3 C. This cementite is hard (Brinell hardness 600 +), brittle and brilliantly white.

x200 Figure 1. Armco iron: ferrite grains Figure 2. 0,4% carbon steel. Ferrite + pearlite

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On examination the dark parts will be seen to consist of two components occurring as wavy or parallel plates alternately dark and light (Fig. 3). These two phases are ferrite and cementite which form a eutectic mixture, containing 0,87% carbon and known as pearlite. The appearance of this pearlite depends largely upon the objective employed in the examination and also on the rate of cooling from the elevated temperature.

c.c. which cause arrests on a cooling curve. at which the α-iron loses its magnetism. beta. and this lag effect. which may be called ferrite.Figure 3. which give rise to forms known as alpha. These changes in structure are accompanied by recrystallisation. Of these. increased by rapid cooling. Iron can. can be ignored from a heat-treatment point of view. atomic structure at 937°C is accompanied by a marked contraction while the reverse occurs at 1400°C. These effects are summarised in the iron-Fe 3 C equilibrium diagram (Fig. thermo-electric potential. Four changes occur in iron. give rise to evolutions of heat. as compared with cooling. β and δ forms have the same atomic structure (body centred cubic) while γ -iron has a face centred cubic structure. expansion and tenacity. The A 3 change from a b.c. α. for example charcoal. be considered to have two allotropic modifications. and the A3 point lowered until it coincides with A1. which is of much importance in the study of steels. These structural changes.c. β and δ modifications. 0. graphite and diamonds are allotropic modifications of carbon. .87% carbon steel Allotropy of iron Certain substances can exist in two or more crystalline forms. known as A1 and associated with the formation of pearlite. The α. have only slight solubility for carbon. which occur during cooling. Allotropy is characterized by a change in atomic structure which occurs at a definite transformation temperature. followed by grain growth. 4). These arrests occur at slightly higher temperatures on heating. The temperatures of these arrests are known as critical points or "A" points. To differentiate between the arrests obtained during heating and cooling. however. but up to 1. In a steel containing about 0. These changes in structure are accompanied by thermal changes. the letters c and r respectively are added to the symbol A (from chauffage and refroidissement).7% of carbon dissolves in y-iron to form a solid solution called Austenite. therefore. Critical points The addition of carbon to iron. is known as thermal hysteresis. gamma and delta.9% carbon the evolution of the heat at Ar1 is sufficient to cause the material to become visibly hotter and the phenomenon is called "recalescence".8-0. magnetic. produces another change at 695°C. together with discontinuities in other physical properties such as electrical. Iron-cementite equilibrium diagram The addition of carbon to iron not only gives rise to the A1 point but also influences the critical points in pure iron. to an f. The A4 point is raised. The A2 change at 769°C.

and the liquid.formation of pearlite. Diffusion of carbon occurs as the solid alloy cools to line A3P.The iron-iron carbide system is not in true equilibrium. A1PG. indicates the primary deposition of cementite from austenite. The solid crystals then react with the liquid to form austenite of composition D. FP. The cementite solubility line. The structure finally consists of . 0. The alternate formation of ferrite and cementite at 695°C gives rise to pearlite. indicates the formation of the eutectic at a constant temperature. the stable system is iron-graphite. the composition of which is represented eventually by C (0. Eutectic point at P . consequently the remaining solid solution is enriched in carbon.δ-iron transforms to austenite. Here α-ferrite commences to be ejected from the austenite.3% carbon Dendrites of δ-iron form. Figure 4. denotes the commencement of precipitation of ferrite from austenite.primary dendrites of austenite form. Will be seen that the complicated Fe-Fe 3C diagram can be divided into several simple diagrams: Peritectic transformation CDB . but special conditions are necessary to nucleate graphite. enriched in carbon. by B. The pearlite line. Let us consider the freezing of alloys of various carbon contents. A3P. until point P is reached at which cementite can be also precipitated. Solid solution D to F . Eutectic at E . Iron-cementite equilibrium diagram The ferrite solubility line.07 %).austenite and cementite.

when both cementite and ferrite form in juxtaposition. 0.masses of pearlite embedded in the ferrite. decomposes into ferrite and pearlite.6% carbon When line BE is reached dendrites of austenite form. the alloy solidifies as a cored solid solution. and finally the alloy completely freezes as a cored solid solution. .4% carbon Again. The structure now consists of free cementite and pearlite. which. cementite starts to be ejected and the residual alloy becomes increasingly poorer in carbon until point P is reached. but on reaching line FP. on cooling through the critical range (750-695°C). 1.