Retained austenite and mechanical properties in bainite transformed low alloy steels
Uniform ductility and formability of low alloy steels can be improved by the transformation plasticity effect of metastable retained austenite. In this work, intercritical annealing followed by bainite transformation resulted in the retention of austenite with sufficient stability for transformation plasticity interactions. The effect of retained austenite on mechanical properties was studied in two low-alloy steels. Bainite transformation was carried out in the range of 400 to 500 °C. The strength properties (yield strength and ultimate tensile strength) were more sensitive to bainite isothermal transformation temperature than holding time. Maximum strength properties were obtained for the lower transformation temperatures. On the other hand, high uniform and total elongation values were obtained at lower transformation temperatures but were sensitive to bainite isothermal transformation time. Variations in uniform elongation with holding time were linked to variations in retained austenite stability. Maximum values of uniform elongation occurred at the same holding times as the maximum amount of retained austenite. The same was true for total elongation and ultimate tensile strength. The above results indicate a strong correlation between retained austenite stability and uniform ductility and suggest that further optimisation regarding chemical composition and processing with respect to austenite stabilisation may lead to a new class of triple-phase high-strength high-formability low-alloy steels.