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Technical Articles

Austenitic Stainless Steel

David N. French, Sc.D.
President of David N. French, Inc., Metallurgists, Northborough, MA.
Winter 1992
Category: Design/Fabrication
Summary: The following article is a part of National Board Classic Series and it was published in the National
Board BULLETIN. (4 printed pages)
Austenitic stainless steels are a class of alloys with a face-centered-cubic lattice structure of austenite over
the whole temperature range from room temperature (and below) to the melting point. In ferritic steels there
is a transformation from the body-centered-cubic lattice structure of ferrite to the face-centered-cubic lattice
structure of austenite. The temperature of this transformation depends upon the composition but is about
1340o F for a plain-carbon steel similar to the SA178 or SA210 grades. When 18% chromium and 8% nickel
are added, the crystal structure of austenite remains stable over all temperatures. The nickel-based alloys
with 35-70% nickel and 20-30% chromium, while not strictly steels (a steel must have at least 50% iron), do
have the face-centered-cubic lattice arrangement and are also called austenitic materials.
Our discussion will be limited to austenitic stainless steels. This class of alloys has excellent corrosion
resistance and excellent high-temperature tensile and creep strength. They have been used in superheaters
and reheaters for 35 years or so and have provided excellent performance.
For high-temperature boiler applications, three general grades, 304, 321, and 347, are the most widely used.
Within these classifications are other grades, designated by a following capital letter, L or H. The differences
are only in the carbon content. Table I lists these differences.
Carbon, %




0.035 Max 0.08 Max 0.04-0.10

For use at temperatures above 1000oF, the ASME Boiler & Pressure Vessel Code requires a minimum of
0.04% carbon for adequate creep strength. For superheater and reheater applications, the H grade is
preferred as this assures the proper carbon content for use at temperatures where creep strength is the
important design consideration.
There are two other grades, 304N and 304LN. The "N" indicates a nitrogen content of 0.10-0.16% ( for
improved strength) and the "L" again signifies a maximum carbon content of 0.035%.
The 304,321, and 347 grades are all in the classification of 18% chromium, 8% nickel with some slight
variations in the range of these alloying elements. Table II lists the chromium and nickel composition
requirements for the three grades.




% Chromium 18.0-20.0



% Nickel




There are different ASME specifications, depending upon the form which the material is used. Tubes are
covered in SA213, pipes are covered in SA376, plates are covered in SA240, and each product form has a
slightly different composition range.
Other differences among these three grades are the additions of titanium in 321, and columbium and tantalum
in grade 347. For 321, the titanium is 0.60% maximum; and for 347, the columbium plus tantalum shall not
exceed 1.0%. There are other requirements on the minimum amount of these alloying elements, based upon
the carbon content. There are also some other minor differences in the nickel range, depending upon the
product form. However, except for these, relatively speaking, minor differences, they all fall within the broad
classification of the 18-8 austenitic stainless steels.
The material specification requires all of these materials to be provided in the solution-annealed condition.
That is, the final heat treatment is performed at a temperature of 1900-2000oF, depending upon the particular
grade. For the 321H grade, there is a further requirement: a grain size of ASTM No.7 or coarser is specified
to insure adequate creep strength. A solution anneal at 2,000o F minimum is usually sufficient to meet this
specification requirement.
After the high-temperature solution anneal, the microstructure will be equiaxed austenite. The word "equiaxed"
means that the dimensions of an individual austenite grain will be essentially the same, regardless of
orientation or direction. The material is in the fully annealed condition and will be a single-phased material with
only some non-metallic inclusions inherent to steel making, apparent within the microstructure.
Unlike the ferritic steels that have dramatic microstructural changes depending upon the peak operational or

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Austenitic Stainless Steel

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A Boiler: The Explosive Potential of a

Acoustic Emission Examination of
Metal Pressure Vessels
Anatomy of a Catastrophic Boiler
Austenitic Stainless Steel
Basic Weld Inspection - Part 1
failure temperature, there are no abrupt microstructural changes in the austenitic stainless steels. What
microstructural changes do occur, occur over a range of temperatures. All of these grades will sensitize, that
is, form chromium carbides along the austenite grain boundaries. The formation of these carbides reduces the
chromium content of the austenite grains at the boundary, and, therefore, reduces the local corrosion
resistance along the grain boundaries.
To prevent sensitization, additions of titanium to make the alloy 321 and columbium and tantalum to form 347
were invented. If these alloys are given a second heat treatment, called a stabilization anneal, at 1600-1650o
F after the solution anneal, titanium carbide or columbium-tantalum carbide will form preferentially to chromium
carbide. With all of the carbon removed as innocuous carbides, no chromium carbide can form. There is no
loss of chromium at the grain boundaries, and no loss of corrosion resistance, and thus no sensitization.
However, since in boiler applications 321 and 347 are not given a stabilization anneal, 321 and 347 will
sensitize just the same as 304.

Basic Weld Inspection - Part 2

Black Liquor Recovery Boilers - An

One other microstructural constituent will form at elevated temperatures, and that is a chromium-iron
intermetallic called "sigma phase."

Boiler/Burner Combustion Air Supply

Requirements and Maintenance

Both the sensitization and the formation of sigma phase occur over long periods at ill-defined temperatures.
Both will occur at temperatures beginning at about l,000oF and will form more rapidly at slightly higher
temperatures. Since the formation of chromium carbide and sigma phase are governed by the ability of
individual atoms to move or diffuse through the lattice, these atomic movements will occur more rapidly at
higher temperatures. As the temperature is increased above 1200oF, however, chromium carbide begins to
redissolve in the austenite; thus the rate of carbide formation and growth decreases. By about 1600oF,
chromium carbide is completely gone from the microstructure. Sigma phase is unstable and redissolves above
a temperature of about 1600o F; the exact temperature depends on the composition.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Preventable With Complete

One other change in the microstructure that will occur over long periods of time is grain growth. Depending
upon the time and temperature, grain growth can begin at temperatures as low as 1150oF-1200o F if the time
is long enough.

Boiler Efficiency and Steam Quality:

The Challenge of Creating Quality
Steam Using Existing Boiler
Boiler Logs Can Reduce Accidents

Combustion Air Requirements:The

Forgotten Element In Boiler Rooms
Creep and Creep Failures
Description of Construction and
Inspection Procedure for Steam
Locomotive and Fire Tube Boilers
Ensuring Safe Operation Of Vessels
With Quick-Opening Closures

Unfortunately, from an estimation of operating-temperature perspective, all of these changes within the
microstructure of austenitic stainless steel occur over a range of temperatures and over a range of times.
There are no discrete temperatures that indicate with any degree of precision the peak failure or operating
temperature. Thus there are only estimates of operating temperature and not an accurate "calling card" within
the microstructure as there are in the ferritic steels.
In summary, the 18 chromium-8 nickel austenitic stainless steels have been used for several decades in
high-temperature applications within a steam generator. They have excellent high-temperature tensile and
creep strengths and excellent corrosion resistance. The microstructural changes during long-term operation
are more subtle than in the ferritic steels.

Environmental Heat Exchangers

Factors Affecting Inservice Cracking
of Weld Zone in Corrosive Service
Failure Avoidance in Welded

Editor's note: Some ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code requirements may have changed because of
advances in material technology and/or actual experience. The reader is cautioned to refer to the latest
edition and addenda of the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code for current requirements.

Finite Element Analysis of Pressure

Fuel Ash Corrosion
Fuel Firing Apparatus - Natural Gas
Grain Boundaries
Heat Treatment - What Is It?
How to Destroy a Boiler -- Part 1
How to Destroy a Boiler -- Part 2
How to Destroy a Boiler -- Part 3
Identifying Pressure Vessel Nozzle
Inspection, Repair, and Alteration of
Yankee Dryers
Inspection, What Better Place to
Laminations Led to Incident
Lay-up of Heating Boilers
Liquid Penetrant Examination
Low Voltage Short Circuiting-GMAW
Low Water Cut-Off Technology
Low-Water Cutoff: A Maintenance
Magnetic Particle Examination

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Austenitic Stainless Steel

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Maintaining Proper Boiler Inspections

Through Proper Relationships
Microstructural Degradation
Miracle Fluid?
Organizing A Vessel, Tank, and
Piping Inspection Program
Paper Machine Failure Investigation:
Inspection Requirements Should Be
Changed For Dryer Can
Pipe Support Performance as It
Applies to Power Plant Safety and
Polymer Use for Boilers and
Pressure Vessels
Pressure Vessel Fatigue
Pressure Vessels: Analyzing Change
Preventing Corrosion Under
Preventing Steam/Condensate
System Accidents
Proper Boiler Care Makes Good
Business Sense:Safety Precautions
for Drycleaning Businesses
Putting a Stop to Steam Kettle Failure
Quick Actuating Closures
Quick-Actuating Door Failures
Real-Time Radioscopic Examination
Recommendations For A Safe Boiler
Recovering Boiler Systems After A
Rendering Plants Require Safety
Repair or Alteration of Pressure
Residential Water Heater Safety
School Boiler Maintenance
Programs: How Safe Are The
Secondary Low-Water Fuel Cutoff
Probe: Is It as Safe as You Think?
Short-Term High Temperature
Specification of Rupture Disk Burst
Steam Traps Affect Boiler Plant
Steps to Safety: Guide for Restarting
Boilers after Summer Lay-Up
Stress Corrosion Cracking of Steel in
Liquefied Ammonia Service - A
Suggested Daily Boiler Log Program
Suggested Maintenance Log
System Design, Specifications,
Operation, and Inspection of
Tack Welding
Temperature And Pressure Relief
Valves Often Overlooked
Temperature Considerations for
Pressure Relief Valve Application

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The Authorized Inspector s

Responsibility for Dimensional
The Effects of Erosion-Corrosion on
Power Plant Piping
The Forgotten Boiler That Suddenly
The Trend of Boiler/Pressure Vessel
Incidents: On the Decline?
The Use of Pressure Vessels for
Human Occupancy in Clinical
Hyberbaric Medicine
Thermally Induced Stress Cycling
(Thermal Shock) in Firetube Boilers
Top Ten Boiler and Combustion
Safety Issues to Avoid
Typical Improper Repairs of Safety
Wasted Superheat Converted to Hot,
Sanitary Water
Water Maintenance Essential to
Prevent Boiler Scaling
Water Still Flashes to Steam at 212
Welding Consideration for Pressure
Relief Valves
Welding Symbols: A Useful System
or Undecipherable Hieroglyphics?
What Should You Do Before Starting
Boilers After Summer Lay-Up?
Why? A Question for All Inspectors

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