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Material Characteristics

Austenitic Stainless Steels

This group contains at least 16% chromium and 6% nickel (the basic grade 304 is referred to as 18/8) and range through to the high alloy or "super austenitics" such as 904L and 6% molybdenum grades.

Additional elements can be added such as molybdenum, titanium or copper, to modify or improve their properties, making them suitable for many critical applications involving high temperature as well as corrosion resistance. This group of steels is also suitable for cryogenic applications because the effect of the nickel content in making the steel austenitic avoids the problems of brittleness at low temperatures, which is a characteristic of other types of steel.

Martensitic Stainless Steels

Martensitic stainless steels are also based on the addition of chromium as the major alloying element but with a higher carbon and generally lower chromium content (e.g. 12% in Grade 410 and 416) than the ferritic types; Grade 431 has a chromium content of about 16%, but the micro structure is still martensite despite this high chromium level because this grade also contains 2% nickel. Duplex Stainless Steels

Duplex stainless steels such as 2304 and 2205 (these designations indicate compositions of 23% chromium, 4% nickel and 22% chromium, 5% nickel but both grades contain further minor alloying additions) have micro structures comprising a mixture of austenite and ferrite. Duplex ferritic - austenitic steels combine some of the features of each class: they are resistant to stress corrosion cracking, albeit not quite as resistant as the ferritic steels; their toughness is superior to that of the ferritic steels but inferior to that of the austenitic steels, and their strength is greater than that of the (annealed) austenitic steels, by a factor of about two. In addition the duplex steels have general corrosion resistances equal to or better than 304 and 316, and in general their pitting corrosion resistances are superior to 316. They suffer reduced toughness below about 50C and after exposure above 300C, so are only used between these temperatures.

Precipitation Hardening Stainless Steels

These are chromium and nickel containing steels that can develop very high tensile strengths. The most common grade in this group is "17-4 PH", also known as Grade 630, with the composition of 17% chromium, 4% nickel, 4% copper and 0.3% niobium. The great advantage of these steels is that they can be supplied in the "solution treated" condition. In this condition the steel is just machinable. Following machining, forming etc. the steel can be hardened by a single, fairly low temperature "aging" heat treatment which causes no distortion of the component.

Characteristics Of Stainless Steels

The characteristics of the broad group of stainless steels can be viewed as compared to the more familiar plain carbon "mild" steels. As a generalization the stainless steels have:

Higher work hardening rate

Higher ductility

Higher strength and hardness

Higher hot strength

Higher corrosion resistance

Higher cryogenic toughness

Lower magnetic response (austenitic only)

Must retain corrosion resistant surface in the finished product.

These properties apply particularly to the austenitic family and to varying degrees to other grades and families.

These properties have implications for the likely fields of application for stainless steels, but also influence the choice of fabrication methods and equipment.

Standard Classifications

There are many different varieties of stainless steel and the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) in the past designated some as standard compositions, resulting in the commonly used three digit numbering system. This role has now been taken over by the SAE and ASTM, who allocate 1-letter + 5-digit UNS numbers to new grades. The full range of these standard stainless steels is contained in the Iron and Steel Society (ISS) "Steel Products Manual for Stainless Steels", and in the SAE/ASTM handbook of Unified Numbering System. Certain other grades do not have standard numbers, but are instead covered by other national or international specifications, or by specifications for specialized products such as standards for welding wire