Other elements added to improve characteristics include nickel, molybdenum, copper, titanium, aluminum, silicon, niobium, nitrogen, sulfur, and selenium. Carbon is normally present in amounts ranging from less than 0.03% to over 1.0% in certain martensitic grades.
The selection of stainless steels may be based on corrosion resistance, fabrication characteristics, availability, mechanical properties in specific temperature ranges and product cost. However, corrosion resistance and mechanical properties are usually the most important factors in selecting a grade for a given application.
Stainless steels are commonly divided into five groups: martensitic stainless steels, ferritic stainless steels, austenitic stainless steels, duplex (ferritic-austenitic) stainless steels, and precipitation-hardening stainless steels.
The development of precipitation-hardenable stainless steels was spearheaded by the successful production of Stainless W by U.S. Steel in 1945. The problem of obtaining raw materials has been a real one, particularly in regard to nickel during 1950s when civil wars raged in Africa and Asia, prime sources of nickel, and Cold War politics played a role because Eastern-bloc nations were also prime sources of the element. This led to the development of a series of alloys (AISI 200 type) in which manganese and nitrogen are partially substituted for nickel. These stainless steels are still produced today.
Over the years, stainless steels have become firmly established as materials for cooking utensils, fasteners, cutlery, flatware, decorative architectural hardware, and equipment for use in chemical plants, dairy and food-processing plants, health and sanitation applications, petroleum and petrochemical plants, textile plants, and the pharmaceutical and transportation industries. Some of these applications involve exposure to either elevated or cryogenic temperatures; austenitic stainless steels are well suited to either type of service.
Modifications in composition are sometimes made to facilitate production. For instance, basic compositions are altered to make it easier to produce stainless steel tubing and casting. Similar modifications are made for the manufacture of stainless steel welding electrodes; here combinations of electrode coating and wire composition are used to produce desired compositions deposited weld metal.
Martensitic stainless steels are essentially alloys of chromium and carbon that possess a distorted body-centered cubic (bcc) crystal structure (martensitic) in the hardened condition. They are ferromagnetic, hardenable by heat treatments, and are generally resistant to corrosion only to relatively mild environments. Chromium content is generally in the range of 10.5 to 18%, and carbon content may exceed 1.2%. The chromium and carbon contents are balanced to ensure a martensitic structure after hardening.
General corrosion is often much less serious than localized forms such as stress corrosion cracking, crevice corrosion in tight spaces or under deposits, pitting attack, and intergranular attack in sensitized material such as weld heat-affected zones (HAZ). Such localized corrosion can cause unexpected and sometimes catastrophic failure while most of the structure remains unaffected, and therefore must be considered carefully in the design and selection of the proper grade of stainless steel.
Corrosive attack can also be increased dramatically by seemingly minor impurities in the medium that may be difficult to anticipate but that can have major effects, even when present in only part-per-million concentrations; by heat transfer through the steel to or from the corrosive medium; by contact trimmed only on the ends.
Stainless steels are available in the form of plate, sheet, strip, foil, bar, wire, semi-finished products, pipes, tubes, and tubing.
The steel is cast in ingots, and the ingots are rolled on a slabbing mill or a blooming mill into slabs or sheet bars. The slabs or sheet bars are then conditioned prior to being hot rolled on a finishing mill. Alternatively, the steel may be continuous cast directly into slabs that are ready for hot rolling on a finishing mill. The current trend worldwide is toward greater production from continuous cast slabs.
Sheet produced from slabs on continuous rolling mills is coiled directly off the mill. After they are descaled, these hot bands are cold rolled to the required thickness and coils off the cold mill are either annealed and descaled or bright annealed. Belt grinding to remove surface defects is frequently required at hot bands or at an intermediate stage of processing. Full coils or lengths cut from coils may then be lightly cold rolled on either dull or bright rolls to produce the required finish. Sheet may be shipped in coils, or cut sheets may be produced by shearing lengths from a coil and flattening them by roller leveling or stretcher leveling.
Cold-rolled stainless steel strip is manufactured from hot-rolled, annealed, and pickled strip (or from slit sheet) by rolling between polished rolls. Depending on the desired thickness, various numbers of cold rolling passes through the mill are required for effecting the necessary reduction and securing the desired surface characteristics and mechanical properties.
Hot-rolled stainless steel strip is a semi-finished product obtained by hot-rolling slabs or billets and is produced for conversion to finished strip by cold rolling.
Heat Treatment. Strip of all types of stainless steel is usually either annealed or annealed and skin passed, depending on requirements. When severe forming, bending, and drawing operations are involved, it is recommended that such requirements be indicated so that the producer will have all the information necessary to ensure that he supplies the proper type and condition. When stretcher strains are objectionable in ferritic stainless steels such as type 430, they can be minimized by specifying a No 2 finish. Cold-rolled strip in types 410, 414, 416, 420, 431, 440A, 440B, and 440C can be produced in the hardened and tempered condition.
Experience in the use of stainless steels indicates that many factors can affect their corrosion resistance. Some of the more prominent factors are:
For strip, edge condition is often more important than it usually is for sheet. Strip can be furnished with various edge specifications:
The finishes, tolerances, and mechanical properties of foil differ from those of strip because of limitations associated with the way in which foil is manufactured. Nomenclature for finishes, and for width and thickness tolerances, vary among producers.
Mechanical Properties. In general, mechanical properties of foil vary with thickness. Tensile strength is increased somewhat, and ductility is lowered, by a decrease in thickness.
Hot-finished bar is commonly produced by hot rolling, forging, or pressing ingots to blooms or billets of intermediate size, which are subsequently hot rolled, forged, or extruded to final dimensions.