Effect of Microstructure on Retained Austenite Stability and Tensile Behaviour in an Aluminum-Alloyed TRIP Steel
Chiang, Jasmine Sheree
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Transformation-induced plasticity (TRIP) steels have excellent strength, ductility and work hardening behaviour, which can be attributed to a phenomenon known as the TRIP effect. The TRIP effect involves a metastable phase, retained austenite (RA), transforming into martensite as a result of applied stress or strain. This transformation absorbs energy and improves the work hardening rate of the steel, delaying the onset of necking. This work describes two distinct TRIP steel microstructures and focuses on how microstructure affects the RA-to-martensite transformation and the uniaxial tensile behaviour. A two-step heat treatment was applied to an aluminum-alloyed TRIP steel to obtain a microstructure consisting of equiaxed grains of ferrite surrounded by bainite, martensite and RA -- the equiaxed microstructure. The second microstructure was produced by first austenitizing and quenching the steel to produce martensite, followed by the two-step heat treatment. The resulting microstructure (labelled the lamellar microstructure) consisted of elongated grains of ferrite with bainite, martensite and RA grains. Both microstructural variants had similar initial volume fractions of RA. A series of interrupted tensile tests and ex-situ magnetic measurements were conducted to examine the RA transformation during uniform elongation. Similar tests were also conducted on an equiaxed microstructure and a lamellar microstructure with similar ultimate tensile strengths. Results show that the work hardening rate is directly related to the RA transformation rate. The slower transformation rate, or higher RA stability, that was observed in the lamellar microstructure enables sustained work hardening at high strains. In contrast, the equiaxed microstructure has a lower RA stability and thus exhibits high values of work hardening at low strains, but the effect is quickly exhausted. Several microstructural factors that affect RA stability were examined, including RA grain size, aspect ratio, carbon content and spatial distribution of the phases. Two of these factors were characteristic of only the lamellar microstructures and led to higher RA stabilities: elongated RA grains and RA grains being primarily surrounded by bainite. The results were also compared with previous work on a silicon-alloyed TRIP steel to show that the aluminum-alloyed compositions could achieve similar, if not better, combinations of strength and ductility.