One of the very important characteristics of steel is the ability to alter the microstructure through heat treatment. As seen in the previous sections, many different microstructural constituents can be produced. Each constituent imparts a particular set of properties to the final product. For example, by quenching a steel in water, the steel becomes very hard but brittle through the formation of martensite. By tempering the quenched steel, some ductility can be restored with some sacrifice in hardness and strength. Also, superior wear properties can be obtained in fully pearlitic microstructures, particularly if an accelerated cooling process is employed to develop a fine interlamellar spacing. Complex parts can be designed by taking advantage of the formability and ductility of ferritic sheet steel through cold rolling and annealing. The amount of pearlite in ferritic steel can be adjusted by carbon content and cooling rate to produce a wide range of hardness and strength. In quenched and tempered steels, a bainitic microstructure has a unique combination of high strength and toughness. Thus steel, more than any other metallic material, can be manipulated through heat treatment to provide a multiplicity of microstructures and final properties. The common types of heat treatment are listed below:

Annealing (Full Annealing). One of the most common heat treatments for steel is annealing. It is used to soften steel and to improve ductility. In this process, the steel is heated into the lower regions of the austenite phase field and slow cooled to room temperature. The resulting microstructure consists of coarse ferrite or coarse ferrite plus pearlite, depending upon carbon and alloy content of the steel.

Bruce L. Bramfitt
International Steel Group, Inc.
Research Laboratories
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Reprinted from Handbook of Materials Selection, Wiley, New York, 2002, by permission of the publisher.
Mechanical Engineers’ Handbook: Materials and Mechanical Design, Volume 1, Third Edition.
Edited by Myer Kutz
Copyright  2006 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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