What is Alloy Steel and Composition, Types, Advantages, Disadvantages & Applications?

What is Alloy Steel and Composition, Types, Advantages, Disadvantages & Applications?
13 min read
04 September 2023

Alloy steel is a type of steel alloyed with several elements such as molybdenum, manganese, nickel, chromium, vanadium, silicon, and boron.These alloying elements are added to steel to increase strength, hardness, wear resistance, and toughness. Metal alloying amounts might be anything between 1 and 50%. Alloy steels can be split into two groups: low alloy steel and heavy alloy steel. It is well known that low alloy and high alloy steel are distinguished by a 5% alloying component. Low alloy steel is technically equivalent to alloy steel in the oil and gas industry.

Alloy Elements in Steel

Here is a list of some of the most popular steel alloying elements, along with a description of each one's advantages.

Manganese:This is the alloying element that steel uses the most frequently. It increases toughness and tensile strength while reducing brittleness and the effects of sulphur.

Nickel: Corrosion resistance, hardness, and power are all increased by nickel. It also improves the low-temperature properties of steel.

Chromium: Chromium improves toughness, corrosion resistance, and abrasion resistance. In addition, it produces chromium carbides, which harden and strengthen steel.

Molybdenum: Molybdenum enhances toughness, high-temperature strength, and sliding resistance. It also enhances the outcomes of other alloying elements.

Vanadium:Vanadium increases strength, hardness, and wear resistance. In addition, it produces vanadium carbides, which harden and strengthen steel.

Silicon, boron, aluminium, cobalt, copper, cerium, niobium, titanium, tungsten, tin, zinc, lead, and zirconium are other alloying components used in steel.

Commonly used Grades of Alloy Steel Bars

When categorising alloy steel bars, the SAE-AISI system employs four-digit codes to designate the main alloying components and the carbon content. The alloy steel bar type 4140 has 0.40% carbon, 1% chromium, and 1% molybdenum. Several of the most popular alloy steel grades include:

4340:The steel alloy 4340 possesses outstanding toughness, fatigue resistance, and strength. Nickel, chromium, and molybdenum make it up. It is used in aeroplane landing gear, crankshafts, and other parts.

4140:Chromium-molybdenum steel 4140 possesses high levels of tensile strength, hardness, and wear resilience. It is utilised for components including gears, hubs, shafts, and bolts.

6150:tensile strength, hardness, and abrasion resistance are all well developed properties of chromium-vanadium steel 6150. It is utilised for springs, gearboxes, and other items.

8620:8620 steel is a nickel, chromium, and molybdenum alloy with a low carbon percentage and outstanding weldability. It is employed for carbureted components like gears and pinions.

Alloy Steel Manufacturing Processes

Chromium, nickel, molybdenum, vanadium, and other alloying elements are utilised in several alloy steel manufacturing processes. Different techniques are utilised to produce alloy steel depending on the type and grade of steel required. Some of the common processes include:

Electric arc furnace (EAF) process: Scrap steel or direct reduced iron (DRI), which is melted in an electric furnace, serves as the main feedstock for this process. The alloying components are added to the molten steel and refined by oxygen blowing or vacuum degassing. After that, the steel is shaped into slabs, ingots, billets, blooms, or other shapes.

Basic oxygen steelmaking (BOS) process: Liquid pig iron from the blast furnace and scrap steel serve as the main feedstock for this process, and impurities are oxidised by forcing oxygen into a converter. Before the steel is refined, the alloying elements are added via vacuum degassing or ladle metallurgy. After that, the steel is shaped into slabs, ingots, billets, blooms, or other shapes.

Electric induction furnace (EIF) process: In this process, discarded steel serves as the main feedstock and is melted in an induction furnace utilising electromagnetic induction. After the alloying components have been added, the molten steel is refined using ladle metallurgy. After that, the steel is shaped into slabs, ingots, billets, blooms, or other shapes.

Crucible process: This process melts ferroalloys, steel scrap, and wrought iron in an airtight crucible using charcoal as the fire source. The proportion of carbon and alloying elements is controlled by the feed substance's composition. The steel is melted and then cast into ingots.

Bessemer process: The main feedstock for this process is pig iron, and the air is forced into a converter with a pear-shaped form to oxidise the impurities. By incorporating ferromanganese or spiegeleisen, a pig iron with a high manganese content, into the molten steel, one can control the alloying elements and carbon content. The steel is melted and then cast into ingots.

Open hearth process: The main feedstocks used in this process are pig iron and scrap steel, which are melted in a shallow hearth with gas or oil as fuel. To control the alloying and carbon content, elements such as limestone, iron ore, and others can be added to the molten steel. The steel is melted and then cast into ingots.

The alloy steel ingots, blooms, billets, or slabs are further treated after casting to produce a variety of alloy steel products in different shapes and sizes, such as bars, rods, wires, sheets, plates, pipelines, and tubes. The forging process, hot rolling, cold rolling, machining, heat treatment, and surface treatment are other processing techniques.

Types of Alloy Steel

Let's now check a few common types of alloy steel.

Low Alloy Steel

Low-alloy steel is a type of steel that has, in terms of weight, less than 5% of alloying elements such as chromium, nickel, molybdenum, vanadium, etc. Low-alloy steel offers more robust mechanical properties than regular carbon steel, such as hardness, toughness, wear resistance, and corrosion resistance. The term "4130 steel" refers to a typical low-alloy steel having 0.30% carbon, 1% chromium, and 1% molybdenum.

High Strength Low Alloy (HSLA) Steel

High strength low alloy (HSLA) steel has greater mechanical properties and is more resistant to atmospheric corrosion than normal carbon steel. Because they are created to meet mechanical criteria rather than chemical requirements, these steels are distinct from "normal" alloy steels.

High Alloy Steel

A high concentration of alloying elements is what distinguishes high-alloy steels. The most widely used high-alloy steel has a least 12% chromium content and is called stainless steel. Austenitic, ferritic, and martensitic stainless steel are the three main varieties. High alloy steels are utilised in applications requiring significant strength and corrosion resistance, such as aerospace and defence components, chemical processing equipment, and medical implants. High-grade steel includes materials like stainless steel, tool steel, and maraging steel.

Stainless Steel

Rust and corrosion are not easily absorbed by the iron alloy known as stainless steel. In addition to the required 11% chromium concentration, it may additionally contain substances like carbon, other non-metals, and metals to attain other desirable qualities. Precipitation-hardening steels, austenitic, ferritic, martensitic, and duplex steels make up the majority of the stainless steel family. Usually austenitic steels, which can also have up to 35% nickel and up to 26% chromium, are the most corrosion-resistant steels.

Microalloyed Steel

Microalloyed steel has trace levels of alloying materials like boron, zirconium, niobium, vanadium, titanium, and rare earth metals in the range of 0.05 to 0.15%.  They are used to enhance precipitation hardening or the microstructure of the particles. Microalloyed steels produced by controlled rolling are an ideal choice for many engineering applications due to their moderate strength, moderate toughness, excellent toughness and fatigue strength, and simplicity of welding.

Advanced High Strength Steel (AHSS)

Advanced high-strength steel (AHSS), a type of steel, is mostly utilised in sheet form for automobile structures. This classification's steel types initially had multiphase microstructures with ferrite serving as the primary phase. However, more recent grades have solely relied on austenite or martensite. New generations of steel grades called advanced high-strength steels ensure that steel parts and components adhere to fundamental safety and efficiency standards while yet being inexpensively and easily fabricated.

Maraging Steel

Famous for having high strength and hardness without compromising ductility is a type of steel known as maraging steel. The name "maraging" derives from the words "martensitic" and "ageing," which refer to the method of extended heat treatment. Usually, a number is used to designate the nominal tensile strength in thousands of pounds per square inch (ksi), which is used to describe maraging steels (for example, SAE steel grades 200, 250, 300, or 350). The US military standard MIL-S-46850D1 specifies the compositions and essential qualities.

Maraging steels have high levels of toughness, moderate corrosion resistance (similar to that of standard martensitic steels), ultra-high strength, a simple ageing process that minimises distortion, good machinability (typically in the annealed state), and good weldability.

Tool Steel

Tool steel is a particular type of steel that is ideal for use in the production of tools and tooling, including cutting tools, dies, hand tools, knives, and other items. Using tool steels, metals and other materials can be cut, pressed, extruded, and coined. Because of their resistance to abrasion, tool steels are essential for tooling. For instance, injection moulds require tool steels because their endurance enables for hundreds of thousands of moulding operations over the length of a mould's lifetime.

Tool steels are made up of different amounts of carbide-forming metals like chromium, molybdenum, tungsten, and vanadium. These iron-based alloys have comparatively high carbon concentrations for strength and carbide production. For high-temperature strength, substitutional solutes like nickel and cobalt are added.

Alloy Steel Properties 

A particular kind of steel called alloy steel is created by incorporating trace amounts of other elements or alloys into pure carbon steel. In general, alloy steels are stronger, harder, and more resistant to wear than pure carbon steel. The steel is alloyed with the alloying elements to enhance one or more of its mechanical and/or physical characteristics, including toughness, toughness, high-temperature performance, corrosion resistance, and wear resistance.

Alloy Steel Applications

Alloy steel is utilised in a wide range of items, from basic hand tools and cutlery to exceptionally demanding applications like the turbine blades of aviation engines and nuclear reactors. Typical applications for alloy steel include:

Building Structures: The skeletal frames of stadiums, skyscrapers, airports, and bridges are made of alloy steel.

Building Bridges: In the building of bridges, alloy steels are utilised. They are made of alloying metals like nickel, copper, and chromium.

Flat products: Premium alloy steel is utilised to create the flat slabs and strips that are used for welding in the construction sector.

Coil Products: Alloy steel sheets can be galvanised in addition to being rolled hot or cold by immersing them in hot water. These hot-dipped galvanised coils are used to create building materials like side rails, light steel frames, roof purlins and lintels.

Automotive: Alloy steel can be used to make crankshafts, axles, gears, and other motor parts.

Alloy Steel Advantages

In alloy steel with normal carbon steel reveals a number of advantages.. 

One of alloy steel's most significant advantages is the enhanced strength and endurance of the material. This makes it ideal for activities needing a lot of power, such as running heavy machinery or building bridges.

Furthermore, alloy steel is far more durable than typical carbon steel. This is because alloy steel has a variety of alloying components, which give it greater weather resistance than typical carbon steel. As a result, it can be used outside without being concerned about rust or other damage caused by moisture or exposure to the environment.

Another advantage of alloy steel is that it welds more easily than traditional carbon steel.

Alloy Steel Disadvantages

The disadvantages of alloy steel are numerous as well.

One of the biggest disadvantages of alloy steel is the fact that it is more expensive than carbon steel.

Alloy steel is also less bendable than carbon steel.

Additionally, alloy steel melts at a lower temperature than carbon steel.

Furthermore, alloy steel requires more effort to process than carbon steel. However, alloy steels are resistant to corrosion.

Examples of Alloy Steel

Some examples of alloy steel are:

Nickel Steel: an alloy steel with a significant nickel content. It is renowned for its extreme hardness and strength.

Manganese Steel: a kind of alloy steel with a significant manganese content. It is renowned for its exceptional wear resistance and impact strength.

Chromium: a chromium and molybdenum-containing kind of alloy steel. It is renowned for its excellent strength and resistance to corrosion.

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Sachin Gupta 0
Sachin Steel Enterprises is a well-known service provider that offers a range of high-quality services in CNC laser cutting, CNC bending, and fabrication. CNC l...
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