Microstructural Studies on High Cr-Mo Secondary Hardening Ultra-High Strength Steels
Secondary hardening ultra-high strength (SHUHS) steels possess a unique combination of strength, fracture toughness and stress corrosion cracking resistance, which makes them candidate materials for aircraft landing gear and armour applications. There is a sustained drive to develop stronger and tougher materials for such applications. The objectives of this thesis are two-fold: first, to develop a new SHUHS alloy that is stronger than the existing SHUHS steel developed at Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory (DMRL), Hyderabad and second, to establish processing-structure-property correlations for the new alloy. Empirical design and development of these complex steels involves enormous effort, cost, time and materials resources. To avoid this, a semi-empirical approach was espoused in this thesis wherein thermodynamic calculations using ThermoCalc were conducted to computationally design a series of alloys with varying levels of Cr and Mo. The design space was constrained by two objectives related to M2C carbides which are the primary cause of secondary hardening in these alloys. The first objective was to increase the amount of M2C to increase the peak strength, while the second objective was to lower the Cr/Mo ratio of the M2C to control its over-ageing behavior. Two new alloys C23 (with 2Cr-3Mo, wt. %) and C55 (with 5Cr-5Mo, wt. %) and a base alloy akin to the DMRL SHUHS steel, C21 were selected for experimental validation. These alloys were melted, rolled and subjected to a battery of heat treatments. Austenitization studies revealed that the new alloys required higher austenitization temperatures to dissolve primary carbides. However such a treatment also resulted in an austenite composition that was not conducive for obtaining a fully martensitic microstructure on quenching. Based on these studies, the design space was modified to include additional criteria related to the Ms and precipitate dissolution temperatures. C55 failed to clear either criteria, while C23 cleared both, and so tempering studies were limited to C23. Isochronal tempering studies revealed that C23 in the peak aged condition was >10% stronger than C21 indicating that the alloy design objective of strength enhancement was achieved successfully. Microstructural characterization revealed that the strength enhancement was due to the higher number density and volume fraction of the M2C-like solute clusters in C23, which resist shearing in the under-aged condition and strengthen by Orowan mechanism in the over-aged condition. This thesis has successfully demonstrated that the design paradigm of enhancing strength by increasing the amount of M2C is justified and that ThermoCalc can be used to as an objective-oriented alloy design tool in this class of the steels.
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