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Fatigue of Austenitic High Interstitial Steels: Finite and Infinite Life

Conference Paper · June 2015


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Energietechnik Essen GmbH University of Duisburg-Essen


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Fatigue of Austenitic High Interstitial Steels: Finite and Infinite Life

M. Schymura*, S. Güler, A. Fischer
University of Duisburg-Essen, ITM, Chair of Materials Science and Engineering, Duisburg, Germany
*now at Schöllerwerk GmbH&CoKG, Hellenthal, Germany

Contact Data
Alfons Fischer, University of Duisburg-Essen, Materials Science and Engineering, 47057 Duisburg,
Germany, Tel.:+492033794372, Fax.: +492033794374, Email:

The finite fatigue life of metals is governed by three phases; crack initiation, stable crack propagation
and forced fracture. Thus the optimum material would allow for a very late crack initiation followed by
slow crack propagation until the critical crack length is reached at a high fracture toughness value.
Unfortunately with most steels these properties are contradicting. The group of austenitic high-
interstitial steels (AHIS) with about 0.6 % N already showed a tensile strength of about 1000 MPa at
an elongation to fracture above 60 % in the solution annealed state. Still these steels gain their
prominent mechanical properties from the fact that at the chosen C+N and C/N-values the
concentration of free electrons is markedly higher compared to other steels. Thus the capacity to
dissipate plastic work is unique among other structural steels. Now the fatigue limit a.k.a. infinite life is
mainly governed by the amount of interstitials and can be further improved by cold working. Since at
fatigue limit the cyclic strains remain elastic solely planar slip has been found as well, as it would be
for any other austenitic steel. Thus the question appears whether the capability to maintain planar slip
even at high cyclic strains brings about a distinct improvement during fatigue crack growth. Thus
stable crack propagation has been investigated and further analyzed by means of SEM and EBSD.
The results show that the stable crack growth rate is lowered by at least an order of magnitude by the
addition of N and by omitting Ni. In addition the critical stress intensity factor is raised markedly by N in
general, showing the unequivocal influence of the combination of N and C on the cyclic and monotonic
plastic strain dissipation capacity.

austenitic high-interstitial steels, high-nitrogen steels, fatigue limit, stable crack propagation, fracture

1. Introduction
Austenitic steels provide a unique combination of strength, ductility and corrosion resistance for
biomedical, automotive, mechanical, and process engineering [1-3]. Thus the classical CrNi-, CrNiMo-,
CrNiMoN- as well as the non-corrosion but wear-resistant MnC-steel (Hadfield type) are used for
different applications since more than 100 years. For about 30 years high-nitrogen steels of CrNiMoN-,
CrNiMoMnN-, CrMnN-, and CrMnMoN-type have been developed and introduced into the market [4]
while the so-called high interstitial steels of CrMnCN-type emerged about 10 years ago [5]. Depending
on the chemical composition and the characteristics of fatigue loading one finds different metallurgical
features like dislocation cells, twins, as well as strain-induced phase transformations [6-17].
Within the finite life regime - which is characterized by prominent cyclic plastic strain - CrNi- and
CrNiMo-steels show wavy slip and a certain tendency to strain induced γ → α’ phase transformation
[7, 15, 18]. Adding Nitrogen leads to an increase of strength, ductility, and corrosion resistance [4]
while planar slip is promoted [19-22] as well as the tendency to strain induced γ → ε transformations,
while the latter requires that Ni is replaced by Mn. The benefit of planar slip stems from the fact that
the dislocations stay mobile while in case of wavy slip they would be blocked within dislocation cells
resulting in earlier crack initiation [23]. As a consequence of the extended capacity to dissipate cyclic
plastic strains the solution annealed N- and Mn-alloyed, Ni-free steels show a better performance
within the finite life. Thus it is not surprising that under tribological stresses like mild-sliding wear,
fretting wear, or particle erosion, at which the cyclic plastic properties have a marked impact on the
wear resistance, such steels show a better performance as well [24-26].
At fatigue limit - representing the high-cycle-fatigue infinite life by definition – the cyclic elastic strains
prevail. The plastic strain amplitudes are not zero but negligibly small. Thus it was shown that for
solution annealed austenitic steels the amount and the ratio of interstitially dissolved alloying elements
like C and N mainly govern this property by blocking dislocations from sliding (Figure 1).

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Figure 1: Fatigue limits of the investigated solution annealed austenitic steels. Values of ref. [19]
further updated in 2015

This holds true up to about a sum of C+N of about 0.9 weight-% [19, 20]. In parallel it was found that
the fatigue limit of such austenitic steels was influenced neither by the density of free electrons nor by
the stacking fault energy. Still for C+N > 0.9 weight.-% the influence of the large grain size for
NMnMo0.9, CNMn1.07, and GCN1.2 could not be completely ruled out, which is known for planar-slip
metals under fatigue loading [27].
Now all these properties have been measured by means of specimens with perfectly polished
surfaces. Due to the fact that in practical application e.g. of big castings or large forged parts of some
tens or hundreds of tons it cannot be ruled out, that small surface voids or cracks remain from
production (e.g. small overfolds from machining of such ductile steels) the crack propagation behavior
is another important criterion. However, there is a lack of information on it as well as on the resulting
microstructural changes within a propagating plastic zone in front of the crack tip. Thus this
contribution should present the stable crack growth behavior of N-containing CrMnC-steels and
discuss the differences to Ni-alloyed as well as to Mn-alloyed, N-free ones.

2. Materials and Methods

2.1. Materials and Microscopy
The steels investigated are listed in Table 1 as to the main chemical composition, solution annealing
temperature, sum of C+N, C/N-ratio, hardness HV10, elastic limit, tensile strength, reduction of area at
fracture, elongation to fracture as well as the fatigue limit σinf in air under axial load.
The light- (LOM) and scanning-electron-microscopy (SEM) was carried out acc. to standard methods.
In addition electron-backscattered-diffraction (EBSD) was used for phase analyses and to measure
the local misorientation as described elsewhere in detail [19, 20, 28]. Here it is important to notice that
the EBSD measurements below the fracture phase was done at a certain position at which the radius
of the plastic zone rpl should be 10 mm according to linear elastic fracture mechanics (LEFM).

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Table 1: Main Alloying Elements in weight-% and Solution Annealing Temperature Tsa

Ni - Austenites Mn - Austenites
alloyed with CrNi CrNiMo MnC CrMnN CrMnMoN CrMnCN
AISI Hadfield a a a
brand name AISI 316L P 900 P 900 N P 2000 CarNit
304 steel
1.4301 1.4404 1.3401 1.3816 1.3815 1.4452 -
designation Ni0.07 NiMo0.09 GCMn1.20 NMn0.71 NMn0.90 NMnMo0.85 CNMn1.07 CNMn0.96 CNMn0.85
Tsa [29] 1050 1070 1050 1085 1085 1150 1150 1150 1150
C 0.026 0.018 1.200 0.086 0.065 0.100 0.489 0.344 0.260
N 0.040 0.076 0.000 0.627 0.830 0.750 0.578 0.614 0.590
Cr 17.86 16.56 0.10 18.16 18.18 17.26 18.82 18.20 18.26
Ni 8.32 10.15 0.05 0.35 0.38 0.14 0.41 0.34 0.26
Mn 1.86 1.75 12.17 19.32 18.93 12.30 18.89 18.89 18.52
Mo 0.30 2.04 0.00 0.06 0.04 3.03 0.07 0.06 0.04
Fe bal. bal. bal. bal. bal. bal. bal. bal. bal.
C+N 0.066 0.094 1.200 0.713 0.895 0.850 1.067 0.958 0.850
Hardness 153 162 175 278 267 271 278 271 270
[30] ±5 ± 11 ±7 ± 14 ±9 ±7 ± 13 ±9 ±4
190 170 220 290 390 350 310 390 320
Rp0.2 [31] 258 283 334 501 611 633 582 599 586
Rm [31] 683 609 804 875 995 1022 1044 1028 1003
Z [29] 77 83 33 76 74 75 64 71 69
A [29] 89 76 43 80 70 77 76 76 74
Brand names are registered trademarks of Energietechnik Essen GmbH, Essen, Germany

2.2. Crack Propagation Experiments

Stable crack propagation measurements were carried out by means of CT-specimens acc. to [32, 33].
The specimen were machined from cuboid-shaped, solution annealed and quenched blanks, while the
notch was generated by electro discharge machining (EDM). Force controlled sine-wave loading with
the frequency of f = 10 Hz at Rσ = σu/σo = 0.1 was applied to the specimen by means of a servo
hydraulic test rig (PLm 100 K and load cell PM 100 Rn: Carl Schenck Maschinenfabrik GmbH,
Darmstadt, Germany; servo controller FlexTest40 and controller software MTS 793.10: MTS Systems
Corporation, Eden Prairie, MN, USA;). The direct current potential method as described in [34, 35]
was used to continuously measure the crack length. A current of 40 A was applied by a SM 1540 D
Delta Elektronika B.V. (Zierikzee, The Netherlands) power source. A Typ 182 Keithley Instruments Inc.
(Cleveland, OH, USA) nV-amplifier was used to measure the resulting potential. The stable crack
propagation experiments were halted at a certain crack length followed by fracture toughness tests
acc. to [33].
3. Results and Discussion
The fundamental principles for such analyses are the definitions of the stress intensity factor K given
by Irwin [36] and the stress intensity factor range ΔK by Rice [37]. With respect to the sample
geometry and the mechanical properties of the investigated steels a valid critical stress intensity factor
- or fracture toughness - KIc could not be measured. Thus the preliminary fracture toughness ΔKQ = R
σ·KQ was chosen for characterization (Table 2). The lower limit or threshold value ΔKth, under which
cracks are supposed to propagate extremely slow, can be roughly estimated by an empirical equation
given by [38]. Thus the experiments concentrated on stable crack propagation and fracture toughness.
Figure 2 shows the crack propagation per load cycle log da/dN plotted versus the stress intensity
factor range log ΔK for all steels investigated. All steels show the classical Paris-Erdogan behavior
[39] .

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Table 2: Preliminary Fracture Toughness Values

Ni - Austenite Mn - Austenite
designation Ni0.07 NiMo0.09 GCMn1.20 NMn0.71 NMn0.90 NMnMo0.85 CNMn1.07 CNMn0.96 CNMn0.85

64 61 58 84 134 142 96 78 96

57.6 54.9 52.2 75.6 121 127.8 86.4 70.2 86.4

Figure 2: da/dN-ΔK-Graph of the solution annealed steels investigated.

Obviously there are roughly two groups of materials being clearly separated. Some steels (Ni0.07,
NiMo0.09, GCMn1.20) show a stable crack growth rate being about 8 to 10 times bigger at 20 MPa√m
compared to the AHIS- and AHNS-steels. In addition the slope of the latter group appears slightly
shallower. Thus the crack propagation rate stays below those steels, which either do not contain any
N (GCMn1.20) or contain Ni instead of Mn. In contrast to the fatigue limit, which is mainly ruled by the
amount of interstitials in solid solution here all AHIS- and AHNS-steels depict the same crack
propagation rate no matter which content of C+N or grain size. It is known from tensile tests that N and
C improve the metallic character of the interatomic bonding [40] and obviously this also improves the
crack propagation behavior. Thus it appeared likely that the size of the plastic zones characterized by
the local lattice misorientation should render some information about this. Figure 3 shows the
misorientation maps below the fatigue fracture face at a theoretically size of the plastic zone of 10 mm.
Directly at the fracture faces the misorientation (shown in green color) increases. But even at a higher
magnification such plastic zones do not become thicker than 10 µm. Further away from the fracture
face the plastic strains accumulated either at grain boundaries or inclusions but the internal lattice of
the grains stay unstrained. Thus any plastic flow under fatigue loading is concentrated within a some
µm-thin band along which the crack propagates. If we compare this behavior to the strain-controlled
fatigue tests within the finite-life regime, under which the cyclic plastic strain amplitudes prevail [19],
the results can be discussed as follows

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NiMo0.09 NMnMo0.85
Figure 3: EBSD- and Misorientation Patterns of two austentic steels directly underneath the fatigue
fracture face at the theoretical position of a 10 mm large plastic zone. The fracture face is at the
bottom of the misorientation columns.
Ni0.07, NiMo0.09 and GCMn1.20 showed wavy slip under large cyclic plastic strain amplitudes and
generated dislocation cells.Thus after an incubation period during which such lattice defects are
generated dislocations become blocked within the cell structure promoting faster crack propagation. In
contrast the NMn-alloyed steels solely showed planar slip. Thus dislocations stay mobile. The latter
should then allow for a higher local plasticity and dissipate more deformation energy and, therefore,
slow down crack propagation. As a result the very high capacity to dissipate plastic strains of AHIS
and AHNS, as it has been shown for tensile loading [40], also characterizes the stable crack
propagation behavior even though the affected zone is very small. It is not surprising that this also
holds true for unstable (critical) crack growth. All AHIS and AHNS showed larger ΔKQ-values between
70 and 127 MPa√m while the Ni-alloyed and the Mn-alloyed, N-free stayed below 60 MPa√m.
(Table 2).

4. Conclusions and Outlook

AHIS and AHNS allow for a about 10 times smaller crack propagation rates compared to conventional
CrNi(Mo)-alloyed austenitic stainless steels.
The combination of the high content of interstitials and the planar slip characteristics contribute to the
small crack propagation rates.

5. Abbreviations
AHIS = austenitic high interstitial steel
AHNS = austenitic high nitrogen steel
EBSD = electron backscattered diffraction
LOM = light-optical microscope
SEM – scanning-electron-microscope

6. Acknowledgements
The authors would cordially thank Profs. H. Berns (deceased December, 2nd 2013, Bochum,
Germany), V. Gavriljuk (Kiev, Ukraine) and R. Mughrabi (Erlangen, Germany) for their steady
willingness to support this research by material, information, references and discussions. We are in
debt to Mrs. Dr.-Ing. P. Becker (Schmolz+Bickenbach, Krefeld, Germany) for the Hadfield steel
samples and Dr.-Ing. R. Ritzenhoff and Dipl.-Ing. V. Diehl (both ETE GmbH, Essen, Germany) for the
AHNS and AHIS blanks. The experimental and analysing work was supported by Mr. H.P. Nykamp
and Mrs. D. Valenta (University Duisburg-Essen, Germany).

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