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There are many alloying elements added to steel to achieve various enhanced properties.

We previously looked at 5 common alloying elements, and in this blog we take a look at 5
more elements and how they affect steel.

Silicon is perhaps the most common alloying element in steel, as almost all steel requires
silicon during the manufacturing process. Silicon helps to purify the iron ore during the
smelting process by deoxidizing it and removing other impurities from it. Aside from its
cleansing properties, silicon can also have an effect on the mechanical properties of steel. It
can be used to increase the strength and hardenability of certain steels, as well as magnetic
There are many grades of steel with silicon, from ASTM A36 to AISI 440C. Typically higher
strength steels will have higher amounts of silicon.

Copper is frequently added to steel in small amounts. Copper can enhance the chemical
properties of steel by increasing its corrosion resistance. A large amount of copper can
help prevent the formation of rust. Many of the different types of weathering steel have
relatively high amounts of copper when compared to standard carbon steel, as they are
typically used in applications that expose them to corrosive environments. Copper can also
be used to increase the mechanical properties of steel by allowing it to be precipitation
hardened.Precipitation hardening is a process that is used to block dislocations in the crystal
structure of a metal, thus increasing its strength.
Copper is found in trace amounts in many different steels. In low carbon steel, it is usually
found in amounts under 0.40% by weight. ASTM A36, for instance, has a maximum
allowable copper content of 0.20%. Higher amounts of copper can be found in weathering
steels and other types of high strength low alloy (HSLA) steels. Examples of these include
ASTM A588 and ASTM A440.
Steels also have varying amounts of tungsten in their composition. Some of this is residual
and unintended, such as in AISI 1018 steel. However, some steels have added amounts of
tungsten to improve the mechanical and chemical properties of the steel for different
applications. Because of its high melting temperature, tungsten can be used to increase the
melting temperature of steel. The high hardness of tungsten can also increase the wear
resistance of steel. Lastly, tungsten can also improve the corrosion resistance of steel.
The amount of tungsten in an alloy steel can range widely. In high strength low alloy steel, it
can be under 1%. High speed tool steels, where tungsten is frequently used as an alloying
element, can have amounts of tungsten greater than 15% by weight. Examples of high
speed tool steels with tungsten include T1, M1, and M7, to name a few.

Some alloying elements are more efficient at altering the properties of steel than others. For
example, a boron addition of as little as 0.001% by weight can have a huge effect on the
mechanical properties of steel. The mechanical property most affected by added boron is
hardenability. Heat-treatable steels frequently have boron alloyed into their chemical
composition for this reason. Excessive amounts of boron in steel can actually cause a
reduction in hardenability. High amounts of boron can cause a steel to become brittle and
lose toughness.
Steels with additions of boron can be found across many different grades, many of which are
proprietary. Common applications of steels alloyed with boron include components subject to
wear such as earthmoving equipment and crankshafts.
While lead is often added to steel alloys, it is actually not an alloying element itself. When
added to steel, lead does not join with the carbon, iron, and other elements. Lead is actually
not soluble in steel. Rather, lead remains in the steel in the form of inclusions. Lead also has
almost no impact on the mechanical properties of the steel, but improves the machinability of
the steel because it acts as a lubricant between the cutting tool and the steel. Welding steel
with lead additions almost always results in cracks and is not recommended.
Lead is added to steels that will undergo machining but not welding. AISI grades of steel that
contain lead typically have an “L” designation. Common alloys include 11L18 and 12L14.

HSLA stands for high-strength low-alloy steel. It is a type of carbon steel that has small amounts
of alloying elements added to its chemical composition. The alloying elements are used primarily
to increase the strength of the steel. In addition to being able to provide increased strength over
carbon steel, HSLA steel can also be made to have higher toughness and be more responsive to
heat treatment. The alloying elements can also be used to increase the corrosion resistance of
the steel.

How Is HSLA Steel Made?

HSLA steel is made in a fashion similar to other types of steel. Iron ore and coal are combined in
a furnace which melts materials burns away some of the impurities. Varying amounts and types
of alloying elements are then added to the molten mixture, depending on the grade of HSLA
steel. Once the proper chemical composition has been achieved, several other steps are
performed to ensure there is a minimal level of contaminants in the HSLA steel. The steel is then
allowed to solidify into the form of a large rectangular ingot. The HSLA steel ingot is then worked
down to the final dimensions.

How Does HSLA Steel Work?

HSLA steel can have many different advantages over standard carbon steel. The addition of
alloying elements increases the strength and hardness because the atoms of the elements help
to block dislocation movement in the microstructure of a carbon steel. Alloying elements such as
tungsten, vanadium, silicon, nickel, molybdenum, and manganese are known to increase the
strength and hardness of carbon steel. Nickel is especially useful for increasing the toughness.

Corrosion resistance can also be increased in HSLA steels. Alloying elements such as copper,
nickel, and chromium are able to augment the corrosion resistance of steel. This is accomplished
because the copper, nickel, and chromium in HSLA steel are more apt to oxidize than the iron.
This protects the iron from forming iron oxide, or rust.
Common Grades of HSLA Steel
There are many different grades of HSLA steel available because of the variety alloying element
combinations that can be used. The chemical composition and grade should be dependent on
the intended application of the HSLA steel.

One of the most popular types of HSLA steel is ASTM A36. ASTM A36 is a general purpose
HSLA steel. It is commonly used when erecting steel structures. It is affordable, weldable, and
machinable. This versatility, combined with its excellent mechanical properties, is what makes it
such a prevalent choice for structural applications.

Weathering steel is also a type of HSLA Steel. It is commonly used in structural applications
where a coating or layers of paint are not applied, such as bridge construction. Common grades
of weathering steel include ASTM A242 and ASTM A588.

HSLA steel is not solely used for structural applications. It frequently is used in oil and gas
transmission pipelines as well. API 5L Grade X70 is one of the most common materials used for
modern pipelines. The “70” in the name refers to the 70,000 psi minimum yield strength that
American Petroleum Institute requires it to have. Also used in the oil and gas industry is ASTM
A573. ASTM A573 is frequently used for the manufacture of storage tanks.

Of course, there are numerous other grades of HSLA steel available. Some grades are more
readily weldable than machinable, while others are made for abrasion resistance, or to be
precipitation hardened. Best engineering judgement should be used when selecting an
appropriate HSLA steel for a job.

Steel is one of the most common metals used for structural applications. It is strong, tough,
ductile, formable and weldable. As there are many different types of steel available, each with
unique chemical and mechanical properties, it is important to know some of the key attributes
of A36 steel.

Chemical Composition
A36 is a low carbon steel. Low carbon steels are classified by having less than 0.3% carbon by
weight. This allows A36 steel to be easily machined, welded, and formed, making it extremely
useful as a general-purpose steel. The low carbon also prevents heat treatment from having
much of an effect on A36 steel. A36 steel usually has small amounts of other alloying elements
as well, including manganese, sulfur, phosphorus, and silicon. These alloying elements are
added to give A36 steel its desired chemical and mechanical properties. Since A36 does not
contain large amounts of nickel or chromium, it does not have excellent corrosion resistance.

Unlike most AISI grades such as 1018, 1141, or 4140, American Society for Testing and
Materials (ASTM) A36 steel is not designated by chemical composition. Instead, A36 is
designated by mechanical properties. This means that while most grades must have added
alloys that fit between certain percentages, A36 must meet specific mechanical standards. For
example, steel bars and plates must have a minimum yield strength of 36,000 pounds per
square inch. While there are some chemical composition requirements that A36 steel must
adhere to, the most important characteristic is the yield strength requirement.

Other Mechanical Properties

A36 steel can have ultimate tensile strengths from 58,000 to 79,800 psi. The exact
ultimate tensile strengthis determined by a variety of factors such as chemical composition and
forming method. A36 is relatively ductile and can elongate to around 20% of its original length
when tensile testing. Its ductility and strength also give it excellent impact strength at room

Imperial Metric

400 –
Ultimate Tensile 58,000 –
Strength 79,800 psi

Yield Tensile 250

36,300 psi
Strength MPa

Elongation at
20.0% 20.0%
Break (in 200 mm)

Elongation at
23.0% 23.0%
Break (in 50 mm)

Modulus of 200
29,000 ksi
Elasticity GPa

Bulk Modulus 140

20,300 ksi
(Typical for steel) GPa

Poissons Ratio 0.260 0.260

Shear Modulus 11,500 ksi

How A36 is Made

A36 is made in a fashion similar to most carbon steels. First, iron ore and coal are combined in a
furnace. Impurities are burned away and alloying elements are added to the molten steel. Once
the chemical composition of the A36 steel is achieved, it is solidified in into a rectangular ingot.
A36 steel is normally hot rolled. This means that it is formed to its final dimensions in using
rollers while the ingot is at an elevated temperature.
Common Uses of A36
A36 steel is used in many different industries for a variety of applications because of its relatively
low cost. Also, as mentioned, the mechanical properties make it particularly suited for structural
applications. Many bridges are constructed with A36 steel. Likewise, buildings are frequently
created with A36 steel because of its high strength and toughness. A36 steel is also used for
components in the automotive, construction, heavy equipment, and oil and gas industries.

The Balance
Steel Grades and Properties
What are the different types of steel?
Buena Vista Images/Stone/Getty Images
By Terence Bell
Updated July 01, 2017

According to the World Steel Association, there are over 3,500 different grades
of steel, encompassing unique physical, chemical, and environmental properties.
In essence, steel is composed of iron and carbon, although it is the amount of
carbon, as well as the level of impurities and additional alloying elements that
determine the properties of each steel grade.
The carbon content in steel can range from 0.1-1.5%, but the most widely used
grades of steel contain only 0.1-0.25% carbon.
Elements such as manganese, phosphorus, and sulfur are found in all grades of
steel, but, whereas manganese provides beneficial effects, phosphorus and sulfur
are deleterious to steel's strength and durability.
Different types of steel are produced according to the properties required for their
application, and various grading systems are used to distinguish steels based on
these properties. According to the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), steel can
be broadly categorized into four groups based on their chemical compositions:
Carbon Steels

Alloy Steels

Stainless Steels

Tool Steels
Carbon Steels
Carbon steels contain trace amounts of alloying elements and account for 90% of
total steel production. Carbon steels can be further categorized into three groups
depending on their carbon content:
Low Carbon Steels/Mild Steels contain up to 0.3% carbon

Medium Carbon Steels contain 0.3 – 0.6% carbon

High Carbon Steels contain more than 0.6% carbon

Alloy Steels
Alloy steels contain alloying elements (e.g. manganese,
silicon, nickel, titanium, copper, chromium, and aluminum) in varying proportions in
order to manipulate the steel's properties, such as
its hardenability, corrosionresistance, strength, formability, weldability or ductility.
Applications for alloys steel include pipelines, auto parts, transformers, power
generators and electric motors.
Stainless Steels
Stainless steels generally contain between 10-20% chromium as the main alloying
element and are valued for high corrosion resistance. With over 11% chromium,
steel is about 200 times more resistant to corrosion than mild steel. These steels can
be divided into three groups based on their crystalline structure:
Austenitic: Austenitic steels are non-magnetic and non heat-treatable, and generally contain
18% chromium, 8% nickel and less than 0.8% carbon. Austenitic steelsform the largest
portion of the global stainless steel market and are often used in food processing
equipment, kitchen utensils, and piping.

Ferritic: Ferritic steels contain trace amounts of nickel, 12-17% chromium, less than 0.1%
carbon, along with other alloying elements, such as molybdenum, aluminum or titanium.
These magnetic steels cannot be hardened by heat treatment but can be strengthened
by cold working.

Martensitic: Martensitic steels contain 11-17% chromium, less than 0.4% nickel, and up to
1.2% carbon. These magnetic and heat-treatable steels are used in knives, cutting tools, as
well as dental and surgical equipment.
Tool Steels
Tool steels contain tungsten, molybdenum, cobalt and vanadium in varying
quantities to increase heat resistance and durability, making them ideal for cutting
and drilling equipment.
Steel products can also be divided by their shapes and related applications:
Long/Tubular Products include bars and rods, rails, wires, angles, pipes, and shapes and
sections. These products are commonly used in the automotive and construction sectors.

Flat Products include plates, sheets, coils, and strips. These materials are mainly used in
automotive parts, appliances, packaging, shipbuilding, and construction.

Other Products include valves, fittings, and flanges and are mainly used as piping materials.
World Steel Association. Website:

Street, Arthur & Alexander, W.O. 1944. Metals in the Service of Man. 11th Edition (1998).
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The American Iron & Steel Institute.