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Acta Metall Sin  2020, Vol. 56 Issue (4): 558-582    DOI: 10.11900/0412.1961.2020.00058
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High Performance Steels: the Scenario of Theoryand Technology
DONG Han1,2(),LIAN Xintong1,HU Chundong1,LU Hengchang1,PENG Wei1,ZHAO Hongshan1,XU Dexiang1
1.School of Materials Science and Engineering, Shanghai University, Shanghai 200444, China
2.Central Iron and Steel Research Institute, Beijing 100081, China
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Strengthening and toughening are the main topics of steels, and accompanied fatigue failure and delayed fracture requiring to be solved simultaneously. Not just more than that, better performances in fabrication and service are quite important for an intentional steel to be used eventually. It is worth to pay close attention to match up three main courses: steel processing, component fabrication and service evaluation. Over past two decades, ferrite grains can be refined to micron scale in both plain low carbon steel products and microalloyed steel products and lead to remarkable increase of strength. The reason to define the limitation of ferrite grain refinement to microns is ductility decrease, low processing efficiency and heat affected zone (HAZ) coarsening. Ten years ago, a novel microstructure M3 (multiphase, metastable and multiscale) was proposed to overcome the problems stated above, and led to ductility and/or toughness improvement. It based on the idea of crack initiation and propagation retardment. It led to prevalence of the 3rd generation advanced high strength steel (AHSS) and the 3rd generation high strength low alloy (HSLA) steel, presenting higher ductility and/or toughness at high strength level. In the near future, it is imaginable that polymorphic alloying will be taken into consideration instead of recent hot issue on microstructure control during whole processing. From the view point of classic alloying theory, solution and precipitation of alloying elements play an important role on processing and then final microstructure. The distribution and occurrence of small atom radius elements (e.g. C and N) and comparable atom radius elements (e.g. Cr, Mn, Ni, Co) in iron seem quite clear. The ambiguous situation still remains for B and P, and even larger atom radius elements such as rare earth (RE) elements. Segregation of small amount of them to defects and boundaries maybe lead to decrease of energy and result in remarkable change of microstructure characterization. Thanks to the advancement in processing and instrumentation technologies, the distribution and occurrence of alloying elements in steel and the advantages of different alloying elements in steel matrix and surface can be taken, so called the polymorphic alloying. The practices of polymorphic alloying in steel development are engaged to improve corrosion resistance, strengthening and toughening. The performance enhancements are discussed in cases of weathering steel microalloyed with RE, ultrahigh strength steel strengthening by carbide and intermetallic precipitates, bolt steel with C and microalloying elements, austenitic stainless steel alloyed with N, and martensitic stainless steel alloyed with C and Ag.

Key words:  steel      high performance      theory      technology     
Received:  21 February 2020     
ZTFLH:  TG142  
Fund: National Key Research and Development Program of China(2017YFB0304401);National Key Research and Development Program of China(2017YFB-0304701);China Postdoctoral Science Foundation(2019M651465);Shanghai Educational Development Foundation(2019-01-07-00-09-E00024)
Corresponding Authors:  Han DONG     E-mail:

Cite this article: 

DONG Han,LIAN Xintong,HU Chundong,LU Hengchang,PENG Wei,ZHAO Hongshan,XU Dexiang. High Performance Steels: the Scenario of Theoryand Technology. Acta Metall Sin, 2020, 56(4): 558-582.

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1900US started to develop Cu-bearing steels
1916ASTM started research of weathering steels
1933Cor-Ten steel was developed by US Steel
1941First standard for weathering steels (ASTM A-242) was proposed
1955Japan started to develop weathering steels
196509CuPTiRE sheet steel was developed by China
1965~1980Japan, Germany, Britain and other European countries began to use exposed weathering steels
1984China formulated national standard of high weathering steels


First bridge using exposed weathering steels was built in China,

weathering steels was fully used in railway vehicle manufacture


High performance steels (HPS) was developed by US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for

bridge building

1999High weathering steels for JT towers were developed in China
Table 1  Brief history of weathering steels in 20th century
Fig.1  Schematic progress for stable and protective rust layer formation on a weathering steelColor online
Fig.2  Schematic of the occurrence of rare earth elements in steel (RE—rare earth, G.B.—grain boundary)Color online
Fig.3  Corrosion morphologies after dry-wet cycle test for 144 h (a) and corrosion rate during immersion test (b)
Fig.4  AES spectra of Ce in 09CuPCrNiRE steel
Fig.5  Developments in strength of steel (Rm—tensile strength)
Fig.6  Strength and ductility of structural steel (A—elongation, KIC—fracture toughness, Z—reduction of area)[17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32,33,34,35]Color online(a) A-Rm (b) KIC-Rm (c) Z-Rm
Toughening mechanismToughening theoryToughening natureRef.
CleaningδIC~X0RVRI|R0Increase crack nucleation energy[42]
Refinement of precipitationKIC=nE2πλIncrease crack nucleation energy[43]
Refinement of microstructureσfc=2Gγksd-12Increase crack propagation energy[43]
Retained austeniteKId=-3Gb21-ν2πrsinθcos(θ2)Increase crack propagation energy[43]
Table 2  Toughening mechanism in steels[42,43]
Fig.7  Crack propagation in martensite and ferrite of 0.15C5Mn3Al steel (ND—normal direction, RD—rolling direction)[45]
Fig.8  Delayed fracture (DF) and fatigue failure occur with the increase of strength (KISCC—critical stress intensity factor due to stress corrosion)
Fig.9  Carbide morphologies in 30Cr3Mo2V (a) and 25Cr2MoV (b) steels
Type of trapTrapMaterialEaHeating rate
Reversible hydrogen trapDislocationPure iron26.93
Grain boundaryPure iron17.23
F/Fe3C phase boundaryMedium carbon steel18.42.6
TiC (coherent)Low carbon steel46~591.7
NbC (coherent)Tempered martensite steel281.7
NbC (coherent)C080 low carbon steel39~483.33~20
MicrovoidPure iron35.23
Irreversible hydrogen trapGrain boundaryDeformed iron59.93
Retained austeniteDouble phase (DP) steel554
NbC (incoherent)C080 low carbon steel63~683.33~20
TiC (incoherent)Medium carbon steel863
MnSLow alloy steel72.33
Fe3CMedium carbon steel844
TiC (incoherent)0.025C-0.09Ti138~1493.33~20
Table 3  Various activation energies (Ea) of hydrogen trap in steels[51,54]
Fig.10  Microstructure of A286 sample (a) and comparisons of mechanical property between A286 sample and imported A286 product after rupture test of 385 MPa and 100 h at 650 ℃ (b)
Marterial codeDescriptionTmax / ℃
1.4534.4Precipitation-hardening stainless steel315
1.4534.5(13-8Mo, 0.04C-13Cr-8Ni-2.2Mo-1Al)
1.4534.7Precipitation-hardening stainless steel850
1.4545.4Precipitation-hardening stainless steel300
1.4545.5(15-5PH, 0.05C-15Cr-5Ni-4Cu)
1.4548.4Austenitic stainless steel300
1.4548.5(17-4PH, 0.05C-16Cr-4Ni-4Cu)
1.4939.5Tempered martensitic steel550
1.4944.4Precipitation-hardening stainless steel725
1.4944.6(A286, 0.06-25Ni-15Cr-2.1Ti-1.2Mo)
1.7734.4Tempered martensitic steel500
1.7784.5Tempered martensitic steel500
2.4631.7Precipitation hardened nickel alloy815
(Nimonic 80A, 0Cr-2.3Ti-1.4Al-0.1C)
2.4668.7Precipitation hardened nickel alloy700
2.4668.9(Inconel 718, 19Cr-18Fe-5Nb-3Mo-0.05C)
Table 4  Typical materials of heat resistant fasteners for aerospace industry
KNCH12P0.15~0.200.40~0.501.00~1.30Addition-1.20~1.40Ti, B, Mo
Table 5  Comparisons of non-quenched and tempered steels between China and Japan
Fig.11  Statistical distribution of tensile strength of key bolts
Fig.12  Microstructure obtained from online annealing of ZT35K-M steel
Fig.13  Ultimate tensile strength and total elongation of nitrogen-alloyed austenitic stainless steels at ambient temperature[64,65,66,67,68,69,70]Color online
Fig.14  Engineering stress-strain curves of cold rolled and solid solution treated 05Cr21Mn16Ni2N steel
Fig.15  Pitting resistance equivalent number (PREN) of austenitic stainless steel varies with nitrogen contentsColor online
Fig.16  Optical density values of different high nitrogen contents steel and Ti alloy
GroupIn general populationIn dermatitis patient
Adolescent and child8%~10%5%~30%
Table 6  The proportion of the population to nickel allergy
TimeTechnical innovation


1) heat treatment instrumentation: improve temperature controls and recorders

2) neutral atmosphere furnace: eliminate surface decarburization

3) large electric furnace melting: produce larger size billets+billets forging to refine the steel grain and carbide size and reduce the size of material's inclusions and segregates


1) immersion thermocouples: permit better control of steel melting

2) shoe grinding: improve race surface quality and tolerance

3) vacuum degassing and vacuum melting: alter the type of inclusions and trace element


1) ultrasonic and eddy current inspection: ensure product quality

2) elastohydrodynamic principles: improve lubrication

3) argon atmosphere: improve cleanliness and macro and micro structure unity

4) controlled fiber and hardiness: improve bearing life

1970svaccum-induction melted+vacuum-arc remelted (VIM+VAR)


1) powder metallurgy: Pyrowear 675 steel; plasma nitriding: nitrides M50 &M50NiL steel2) pressure electroslag remelting: Cronidur30 steel
Table 7  Technical innovation of aeroengine bearing steel[89]
Fig.17  EDS map scanning of inclusion of 6Cr16MoNiV (a) and 6Cr16MoVAgRE[93] (b) steelsColor online
Fig.18  Nyquist diagrams (a) and corrosion rates (b) of different high carbon contents martensitic stainless steels
Fig.19  The alloy element distributions of 6Cr16MoVAgRE steel by EPMA (CP—backscattered electron image, f—area fraction)Color online
Fig.20  SEM image of 6Cr16MoMA martensitic stainless steel (a) and the impact energies of different high carbon martensitic stainless steels after different austenitizing treatments (b) (MA—microalloying)
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