You are on page 1of 3

Home > Tips and Facts > Understanding Cast Irons

Understanding Cast Irons

The term "cast iron" designates an entire family of metals with a
wide variety of properties. It is a generic term like steel which also
designates a family of metals. Steels and cast irons are both
primarily iron with carbon (C) as the main alloying element. Steels
contain less than 2% and usually less than 1% C, while all cast
irons contain more than 2% C. About 2% is the maximum C
content at which iron can solidify as a single phase alloy with all of
the C in solution in austenite. Thus, the cast irons by definition
solidify as heterogeneous alloys and always have more than one
constituent in their microstructure.
In addition to C, cast irons also must contain appreciable silicon
(Si), usually from 13%, and thus they are actually iron-carbon-
silicon alloys. The high C content and the Si in cast irons make
them excellent casting alloys. Their melting temperatures are
appreciably lower than for steel. Molten iron is more fluid than
molten steel and less reactive with molding materials. Formation
of lower density graphite in the iron during solidification reduces
the change in volume of the metal from liquid to solid and makes
production of more complex castings possible. Cast irons,
however, do not have sufficient ductility to be rolled or forged.
The various types of cast iron cannot be designated by chemical
composition because of similarities between the types. Table 1
lists typical composition ranges for the most frequently
determined elements in the five generic types of cast iron.
Table 1. Range of Compositions for Typical Unalloyed Cast
Percent (%)
Type of
Carbon Silicon Manganese Sulfur Phosphorus
Gray 2.5-4.0 1.0-3.0 0.2-1.0
Ductile 3.0-4.0 1.8-2.8 0.1-1.0
Understanding Cast
Introduction 1.
Gray Iron 2.
Ductile Iron 3.
Compacted Graphite
Malleable Iron 5.
White Iron 6.
High Alloy 7.

10 Rules for Good
The Basics of Foundry
Melting Furnaces
Repairing a crack in

Page 1 of 3 Understanding Cast Irons
2.5-4.0 1.0-3.0 0.2-1.0
2. -2.9 0.9-1.9 0.15-1.2
White 1.8-3.6 0.5-1.9 0.25-0.8

There is a sixth classification for commercial purposesthe high-
alloy irons. These have a wide range in base composition and also
contain major quantities of other elements.
The presence of certain minor elements also is vital to the
successful production of each type of iron. For example,
nucleating agents, called inoculants, are used in the production of
gray iron to control the graphite type and size. Trace amounts of
bismuth and tellurium are used in the production of malleable
iron, and the presence of a few hundredths of a percent
magnesium (Mg) causes the formation of the spheroidal graphite
in ductile iron.
In addition, the composition of an iron must be adjusted to suit
particular castings. Small castings and large castings of the same
grade of iron cannot be made from the same composition of
metal. For this reason, most iron castings are purchased on the
basis of mechanical properties rather than composition. The
common exception is for castings that require special properties
such as corrosion resistance or elevated temperature strength.
The various types of cast iron can be classified by their
microstructure. This classification is based on the form and shape
in which the major portion of the C occurs in the iron. This system
provides for five basic types: gray iron, ductile iron, malleable
iron, compacted graphite iron (CGI) and white iron. Each of these
types may be moderately alloyed or heat treated without changing
its basic classification. The high-alloy irons, generally containing
over 3% of added alloy, also can be individually classified as gray
or ductile iron or white, but the high-alloy irons are classified
commercially as a separate group.
Next: Gray Iron >>
If you would like more information about Atlas Foundry Company
and the Gray Iron Casting and other services we provide, please
call us at (765) 662-2525, fill out our contact form, or email us
Services | Products | Equipment | Benefits | FAQs
Tips & Facts | Links | About Atlas Foundry | Foundry Glossary
Contact Atlas Foundry | Site Map | Back to Home
Page 2 of 3 Understanding Cast Irons
Atlas Foundry Company, Inc.
601 N. Henderson Avenue
Marion, IN 46952-3348
Telephone: (765) 662-2525 Fax: (765) 662-2902
Email: Sales:
Copyright 2001-2010 Atlas Foundry Company. All rights reserved.

Page 3 of 3 Understanding Cast Irons