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What is Stainless Steel?

Posted by PipingNow.com on Nov 16th 2021

What is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel is essentially a low carbon steel which contains chromium at 10% or more by weight. It is this addition of chromium that gives the steel its unique stainless, corrosion resisting properties.

The chromium content of the steel allows the formation of a rough, adherent, invisible, corrosion-resisting chromium oxide film on the steel surface. If damaged mechanically or chemically, this film is self-healing, providing that oxygen, even in very small amounts, is present. The corrosion resistance and other useful properties of the steel are enhanced by increased chromium content and the addition of other elements such as molybdenum, nickel and nitrogen.

There are more than 60 grades of stainless steel. However, the entire group can be divided into five classes. Each is identified by the alloying elements which affect their microstructure and for which each is named.

Categories of Stainless Steels

I. Austenitic - A family of alloys containing chromium and nickel (and manganese and nitrogen when nickel levels are reduced), generally built around the type 302 chemistry of 18% Cr, 8% Ni, and balance mostly Fe. These alloys are not hardenable by heat treatment.

II. Ferritic - This group of alloys generally containing only chromium, with the balance mostly Fe, are based upon the type 430 composition of 17% Cr. These alloys are somewhat less ductile than the austenitic types and again are not hardenable by heat treatment.

III. Martensitic - The members of this family of stainless steels may be hardened and tempered just like alloy steels. Their basic building block is type 410 which consists of 12% Cr, 0.12% C, and balance mostly Fe.

IV. Precipitation-Hardening - These alloys generally contain Cr and less than 8% Ni, with other elements in small amounts. As the name implies, they are hardenable by heat treatment.

V. Duplex - This is a stainless steel alloy group, or family, with two distinct microstructure phases -- ferrite and austenite. The Duplex alloys have greater resistance to chloride stress corrosion cracking and higher strength than the other austenitic or ferritic grades.

VI. Cast - The cast stainless steels, in general, are similar to the equivalent wrought alloys. Most of the cast alloys are direct derivatives of one of the wrought grades, as C-8 is the cast equivalent of wrought type 304. The C preceding a designation means that the alloy is primarily used for resistance to liquid corrosion. An H designation indicates high temperature applications.

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