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Microstructures and properties
of TRansformation Induced Plasticity steels
A. Dimatteo, G. Lovicu, M. Desanctis, R. Valentini, A. Solina

The weight reduction of automobile, maintaining sufficient safety by using the high strength steel sheet,
is of great concern to the carmakers who have to fulfil environmental standards. In particular for the
structural and chassis parts, there has been the demand for replacing the conventional 390-440 MPa
grades steel sheets by the higher strength grades with sufficient formability. TRIP steel, where a small
portion of austenite remains in the ferritic-bainitic basic matrix, is one of the candidate materials for 590-
780 Mpa grades high strength steel sheet with superior formability. The excellent mechanical properties
exhibited by the TRansformation Induced Plasticity steels are mainly due to the martensitic
transformation of the metastable retained austenite induced by strain. Three TRIP steels grade have been
tested: 590, 690 and 780. Mechanical properties are determined by uniaxial tensile tests and are
correlated to the microstructures of the steels. The tensile tests up to fracture are been carried to analyse
the relation between the different strain hardening behaviours and the transformation of retained
austenite into martensite during deformation. The specimens for the metallographic investigations of
microstructure are conventionally prepared, conventional etchings such as Le Pera and nital plus sodium
metabisulphite, have been used. It has been possible by these etchings to identify the different phases
present in TRIP steel and to distinguee the different morphologies of retained austenite.
The relation between strain hardening behaviour and fraction of retained austenite is discussed.
Keywords: steel, phase transformation, heat treatment, material characterization

INTRODUCTION ments. Both elements have a similar effect. The grain size re-
duction effect, the suppression of undesired pearlite forma-
Development of TRIP steels during the past decade leads to tion and delay of the isothermal production of bainite in the
a significant reduction of alloying elements addition which region of the real temperature, are the main effects, through
makes the TRIP steels more economically available. Such a which higher Residual-austenite contents can be realised.
development mainly arises from improvements of the heat- The excellent mechanical properties exhibited by Transfor-
treatment schedules, which consist of an intercritical annea- mation Induced Plasticity steels are mainly due to the mar-
ling and a subsequent isothermal annealing in the bainitic tensitic transformation of the metastable retained austenite
transformation region. The purpose for the heat is to stabili- induced by strain. In general, the retained austenite can ef-
se the austenite by increasing its carbon concentration. The fect the mechanical properties in several ways:
carbon enrichment is due to phase separation during inter- - residual blocky austenite could transform to martensite
critical annealing and to the suppression of carbide forma- during water quenching and improve the strength
tion during the bainitic transformation. The microstructure - retained austenite interlath layers could increase the
after heat-treatment consists of ferrite, bainite, retained au- strength by enhancing the ability of lath boundaries to ob-
stenite and sometimes, martensite. stacle dislocation movement
The main alloying element is carbon, which determines the - retained austenite could increase the elongation due to the
amount of intercritical austenite and leads to the retention of TRIP effect. So, the higher volume fraction of the stable
the austenite in the TRIP steels. Manganese is used for harde- retained austenite should correlate with improved mecha-
nability and strength. It slows down the pearlite formation nical properties.
and increases the strength of the material by solid solution The morphology of retained austenite has been classified in-
hardening. Silicon plays an important role on the stabilisa- to five different categories:
tion of the retained austenite. Silicon is an element, which - blocky shape enclosed by polygonal ferrite,
prevents and retards the carbide precipitation during bainite - blocky or layer shape enclosed by acicular ferrite,
formation. The important drawback of Si is that CMnSi- - blocky or layer shape enclosed by bainite packets,
TRIP steels are difficult to process in continuous galvani- - interlayer film enclosed by martensite laths,
zing-line. Because of this, aluminium has been used to repla- - austenite/martensite constituent.
ce the silicon in industrial TRIP steel,(1,2). Infact both Al The stability, (4), of retained austenite depends on the car-
and P also suppress the carbide formation. The material pro- bon content in the retained austenite lattice (chemical stabi-

perties can be improved by adding Nb or Ti as alloying ele- lity), the size and the distribution of residual austenite as
well as the morphology of the surrounding phase (mechani-
cal stability). It has been reported, (3), that the carbon distri-
Antonella Dimatteo, Gianfranco Lovicu, Massimo Desanctis, bution within residual austenite is not homogeneous, which
Renzo Valentini, Adriano Solina leads to the transformation of the low carbon retained auste-
Dipartimento di Ingegneria Chimica, Chimica Industriale e Scienza dei Materiali,
Universit degli studi di Pisa, Italy nite to martensite at the early stage of the deformation. The
retained austenite present between the polygonal ferrite
Paper presented at the 2nd International Conference
HEAT TREATMENT AND SURFACE ENGINEERING IN AUTOMOTIVE APPLICATIONS, grains has a lower carbon content than that between the bai-
Riva del Garda, 20-22 June 2005 nitic ferrite grains or laths due to the absence of carbon enri-
chment during the bainite reaction. These retained austenite

la metallurgia italiana 37

islands tend to transform to martensite under a small strain. the etching techniques that have been used by several inve-
The retained austenite located at a polygonal ferrite/bainite stigators to reveal the microstructure of TRIP steels. The
interface might have a varying carbon distribution within mechanical properties and the strain hardening behaviour of
the crystal due to its location between polygonal ferrite on the TRIP steel examined has been correlated to the stability
one side and bainite on the other. This could lead to that part of the retained austenite.
of the retained austenite crystal in close proximity to the
polygonal ferrite, with a lower carbon content, transforming
to martensite at a lower strains than the areas in close proxi- MATERIALS AND ANNEALING CONDITIONS
mity to bainite, with high carbon content.
It has also been observed that the optimum elongation beha- Chemical composition of steels used in this study is reported
viour is obtained when the retained austenite is present in in table 1. The heat-treatment conditions applied to the
the microstructure in the form of the thin films between the steels are shown in figure 1.
bainitic ferrite laths rather than as a blocky type between the
bainitic ferrite grains.
Recent research (8) has shown that retained austenite grains TESTING AND ANALYSING
larger than 1_m are unstable, and do not contribute signifi-
cantly to the ductility of the material. On the other hand, re- Yield strength is defined as a lower yield point or as the
tained austenite islands, which are smaller than submicron strength at 0.2% offset strain in case of the absence of a
have a low tendency to transform to martensite, even if yield point. The work-hardening behaviour is described
necking occurs, and thus do not contribute to the ductility. using the change in the instantaneous work-hardening expo-
The carbon content determines the chemical driving force nent ninst defined as the following equation evaluated from
for the transformation of the retained austenite to martensite, the true stress-strain curve.
the stress-free transformation strain and the flow behaviour ninst = dlnt / dlnt
of the retained austenite. It has recently been published that
the retained austenite only with optimum carbon content The specimens for the metallographic investigations of the
(>0.5-0.6% and <1.8%) can provide the TRIP effect and in- microstructure are conventionally prepared and etched with
crease the elongation. Nital and Klemms agent, with Nital and sodium metabisul-
The presence of other phases in the vicinity of retained au- fites agent, with Le Pera etching and with first with 4% Pi-
stenite can also affect the strain induced transformation. cral and then with 10% aqueous sodium metabisulfite solu-
Martensite, for example, can propagate stress directly to the tion. They are also etched with Beharas etchant.
retained austenite during deformation, which may then ea-
sily transforms to martensite at an early stage of straining
that diminishes the TRIP effect. RESULTS
The drastic effects of microstructure on physical and mecha-
nical properties of steels make metallographic examination The following figures presents the typical multhiphase mi-
a necessity for properties understanding and enhancement. crostructure of TRIP steels consisting of bainite and retained
To reveal specific microstructural characteristics, numerous austenite dispersed in a ferritic matrix.
etching method have been developed, among which chemi- After application of Nital and Klemms agent, ferrite grains
cal etching is certainly the easiest and most widely used. show different colors, mainly blue or bright-brown, retained
This technique utilizes a controlled corrosion process driven austenite and martensite are white, bainite and tempered
by the electrochemical potential differences between surface martensite are brown and pearlite is black. Etching with Le
with chemical or physical heterogeneities,(6).
TRIP-aided steel are composed of four phases forming a
very fine microstructure which makes their observation dif-
ficult. For light microscopy observation, some specific et-
chants have been tested.
The purpose of this paper is to describe in detail the use of

Fig. 2 TRIP590 steel etched with nital and sodium metabisulfite.

Fig. 1 Parameters of continuous annealing cycle.
Fig. 2 Acciaio TRIP 590 attaccato metallograficamente con
Fig. 1 Parametri del ciclo di ricottura continua. Nital e metabisulfito di sodio.

Table 1 Steels chemical

C Mn Si P S Cr Ni Cu Al Ti Nb composition.
TRIP590 0.15 1.57 1.02 0.018 0.028 0.08 0.02 0.02 0.043 - - Tabella 1 Composizione
TRIP690 0.14 1.57 1.45 0.014 0.027 0.04 0.02 0.02 0.04 0.019 0.042 chimica degli acciai.
TRIP780 0.19 1.58 1.6 0.013 0.025 0.07 0.02 0.02 0.036 0.027 0.038

38 la metallurgia italiana

Fig. 3 TRIP780 steel etched with Nital and Klemm s agent. Fig. 5 TRIP690 steel etched with Behara.
Fig. 3 Acciaio TRIP 780 attaccato metallograficamente con Fig. 5 Acciaio TRIP 690 attaccato metallograficamente con
Nital e Klemm. Behara.

Fig. 4 TRIP 590 steel etched with 4% Picral and then with 10% Fig. 6 TRIP690 steel etched with Lepera.
aqueous sodium metabisulfite solution.
Fig. 6 Acciaio TRIP 690 attaccato metallograficamente con Le
Fig. 4 Acciaio TRIP 590 attaccato metallograficamente con Pera.
Picral in alcool al 4% e poi con una soluzione acquosa di
metabisulfito di sodio al 10%

Pera reagent, containing equal volumes of 4% picral and vent grain boundary motion even more effectively, result in
2% aqueous Na2S2O5, the dispersed martensite islands and an increase in strength, but can also serve as nucleation sites
the retained austenite in these microstructures are revealed for phase transformations.
in brilliant white while the selectively attacked ferrite matrix The positive effect of niobium on the volume fraction is an
is tinted blue, the pearlite and bainite are brown. After appli- higher austenite content as a result of the combination of the
cation of Nital and sodium metabisulfite agent ferrite is tin- different mechanisms, including grain refinement, carbon
ted grey, martensite, bainite and pearlite are black, retained enrichment, and martensite nucleation inhibition.
austenite is white. As niobium encourages the realisation of high austenite con-
Etching with first with 4% Picral and then with 10% tents, the addition of niobium leads to at least equal elonga-
aqueous sodium metabisulfite solution the steel microstruc- tion values whereas noticeably higher strength values are
ture reveals clearly the retained austenite as white, martensi- obtained as consequence of grain refinement and precipita-
te as straw-coloured constituents, bainite can be identified tion hardening.
with needle-shaped austenite. The Behara s etchants co- The mechanical properties of the steels are summarised in
lours ferrite, martensite, bainite and ferrite. The ferrite ap- table 2.

pears blue, the austenite yellow.

Due to its relatively big difference in atom radius niobium UTS, Elongation, YS, thickness,
enhances strength by interfering with dislocation slipping, MPa % MPa mm
reduces diffusivity and slows down or even suppresses grain
boundary motion, when being located within the iron ma- TRIP590 617 17.6 394 2
trix. But as niobium has a strong tendency to combine with TRIP690 699 14.7 400 2
carbon and nitrogen even more important effects arise from TRIP780 792 18.0 471 2
the presence of small carbides and carbonitrides that form at
high and intermediate temperatures and only dissolve at Table 2 Mechanical properties.
temperature above 1000 C, (5). These small particles pre- Tabella 2 Propriet meccaniche.

la metallurgia italiana 39

Fig. 7 Variation of strain hardening coefficient with true strain Fig. 8 Variation of strain hardening coefficient with true strain
of TRIP 690 steel. of TRIP 590 steel.
Fig. 7 Variazione del coefficiente di incrudimento in funzione Fig. 8 Variazione del coefficiente di incrudimento in funzione
della deformazione reale per l acciaio TRIP 690. della deformazione reale per l acciaio TRIP 590.

The high level of ductility of TRIP steels is achieved by the REFERENCES

transformation of metastable retained austenite under strai-
ning at room temperature. This transformation results in a 1. J. MAHIEU, D. VAN DOOREN and B.C. DE COO-
localised increase of the strain hardening coefficient during MAN, Proc. Of the Int. Conf. On TRIP-aided High
straining, which delays the onset of necking and ultimately Strength Ferrous Alloys, Ghent (2002), ed. By B.C. De
leads to a higher uniform and total elongation, (7). Cooman, p.159.
TRIP690 steel shows a higher n-value due to the transfor- 2. WOLFGANG BLECK, Proc. Of the Int. Conf. On
mation of a larger amount of retained austenite to martensite TRIP-aided High Strength Ferrous Alloys, Ghent
during straining. This is consistent with the low elongation
(2002), ed. By B.C. De Cooman, p.13.
obtained in the TRIP690 steel after testing.
ELENA V. PERELOMA, Metall. Trans. 35A, (2004);
This work has demonstrated that the austenite and martensi- Trans. 32A, (2001); p.2759.
te are distinguishable etching with nital plus sodium metabi- 5. SEUNG CHUL BAIK, SEONGJU KIM, YOUNG
sulfite and etching with Behara. With both etching the retai- SOOL JIN, OHJOON KWON, ISIJ Int., 41, (2001),
ned austenite appears white while the martensite is darke- p.290.
ned. The retained austenite can be distinguish from non car-
bide bainite by shape: the retained austenite is rounded par- 6. E. GIRAULT, P. JACQUES, P.H. HARLET, K. MOLS,
ticles the other is needles. J. VAN HUMBEECK, E. AERNOUDT, and F. DELLN-
This work has demonstrated that the retained austenite in NAY, Materials Characterization 40, (1998), p.111.
non-Niobium steel is more stable, the non-Niobium steel has 7. O. MATSUMURA, O. SAKUMA and H. TAKESHI,
shown the optimum combination of mechanical properties. Scr. Metall. 21, (1987), p. 1301.



Le eccellenti propriet meccaniche esibite dagli acciai TRIP
Parole chiave: sono dovute principalmente alla trasformazione martensiti-

acciaio, trasformazione di fase, trattamenti termici, ca della austenite residua metastabile indotta dalla defor-
caratterizzazione materiali mazione. Questa trasformazione porta ad un localizzato au-
mento del coefficiente di incrudimento, che ritarda l insor-
Per le industrie automobilistiche che devono rispettare gli gere della strizione e porta a valori pi alti dell allunga-
standard ambientali di grande importanza la riduzione in mento percentuale uniforme e totale, (7).
peso delle automobili associata ad un sufficiente livello di Sono stati testati acciai TRIP di tre diversi gradi: 590, 690 e
sicurezza tramite l uso di acciai alto resistenziali. In parti- 780.
colare per le parti strutturali e del telaio in studio la sosti- I provini per l investigazione metallografica sono stati pre-
tuzione dei convenzionali acciai di grado 390-440 Mpa con parati in modo convenzionale, e sono stati usati attacchi co-
acciai a pi elevato livello di resistenza dotati di sufficiente me il Le Pera e il nital insieme al metabisulfito di sodio tra-

40 la metallurgia italiana

dizionalmente impiegati per gli acciai multifase. E stato metabisulfito di sodio al 10% l austenite residua si rivela

possibile tramite questi attacchi identificare le differenti fasi chiaramente come le particelle bianche, la martensite come
presenti e distinguere la martensite dall austenite residua. i costituenti colorati di giallo, la bainite priva di carburi
Dopo l applicazione del nital seguito dal Klemm i grani fer- pu essere identificata con le particelle a forma di ago; fi-
ritici dovrebbero apparire principalmente blu o marrone gura 4. L attacco con il Behara colora la ferrite, martensi-
chiaro, la martensite e l austenite residua bianca, la bainite te, la bainite e la ferrite. La ferrite appare blu, l austenite
marrone e la perlite nera. In realt dalla figura 3 si vede che sono le piccole particelle tonde bianche, la bainite senza
dopo questo attacco tutto scurito, non si riescono a distin- carburi sono le particelle bianche a forma di ago; la bainite
guere le varie microstrutture. Attaccando con il Le Pera, marrone scuro la martensite marrone chiaro; figura 5.
che contiene uguali volumi di una soluzione al 4% di acido Le propriet meccaniche sono state determinate tramite test
picrico in alcool e di una soluzione all 1% in acqua, le iso- di trazione uniassiale e sono stati correlati alla microstrut-
le di martensite dispersa e l austenite residua appaiono tura degli acciai.
bianco brillante mentre la matrice ferritica tinta di blu, la Le prove di trazione sono state effettuate per analizzare la
perlite e la bainite sono marroni; figura 6. La martensite e l relazione esistente tra il coefficiente di incrudimento e la
austenite residua sono quindi indistinguibili. Dopo l appli- trasformazione dell austenite residua in martensite durante
cazione del nital seguito dal metabisulfito di sodio la ferrite la deformazione. L acciaio TRIP 690 ha mostrato il pi alto
tinta di grigio, la martensite, la bainite e la perlite sono valore di n istantaneo, figura 7, dovuto alla trasformazione
nere, l austenite residua bianca; figura 2. Le particelle di una maggiore quantit di austenite residua in martensite
bianche a forma di ago possono essere identificate con la durante la deformazione. Ci conforme con il basso valore
bainite priva di carburi. Utilizzando prima una soluzione al dell allungamento percentuale a rottura dell acciaio TRIP
4% di acido picrico in alcool e poi una soluzione acquosa di 690.


la metallurgia italiana 41