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Surface & Coatings Technology 204 (2010) 3087–3090

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Surface & Coatings Technology

j o u r n a l h o m e p a g e : w w w. e l s ev i e r. c o m / l o c a t e / s u r f c o a t

Ion nitriding of a superaustenitic stainless steel: Wear and corrosion characterization

F.A.P. Fernandes a,⁎, S.C. Heck a, R.G. Pereira a, C.A. Picon b, P.A.P. Nascente c, L.C. Casteletti a
Department of Materials, Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering, São Carlos School of Engineering, University of São Paulo, Av. Trabalhador Sãocarlense,
n. 400, 13566-590, São Carlos, SP, Brazil
Department of Physics and Chemistry, Engineering School of Ilha Solteira, Ilha Solteira, SP, Brazil
Department of Materials Engineering, Federal University of São Carlos, São Carlos, SP, Brazil

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Available online 3 March 2010 The superiority of superaustenitic stainless steel (SASS) lies in its good weldability and great resistance to
stress corrosion and pitting, because of its higher chromium, molybdenum, and nitrogen contents, when
Keywords: compared to general stainless steels. However, some of its applications are limited by very poor wear
Superaustenitic stainless steel behavior. Plasma-nitriding is a very effective treatment for producing wear resistant and hard surface layers
on stainless steels without compromising the corrosion resistance. In this work, UNS S31254 SASS samples
were plasma-nitrided at three different temperatures (400, 450, and 500 °C), under a pressure of 500 Pa, for
5 h, in order to verify the influence of the temperature on the morphology, wear, and corrosion behavior of
the modified surface layers. The plasma-nitrided samples were analyzed by means of optical microscopy,
micro-hardness, X-ray diffraction, wear, and corrosion tests. Wear tests were conducted in a fixed ball micro-
wear machine and corrosion behavior was carried out in natural sea water by means of potentiodynamic
polarization curves. For the sample which was plasma-nitrided at 400 °C, only the expanded austenite phase
was observed, and for the treatments performed at 450 and 500 °C, chromium nitrides (CrN and Cr2N) were
formed in addition to the expanded austenite. Wear volume and Knoop surface hardness increased as the
plasma-nitriding temperature increased. Higher wear rates were observed at high temperatures, probably
due to the increment on layer fragility. The sample modified at 400 °C exhibited the best corrosion behavior
among all the plasma-nitriding conditions.
© 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction reason for raising the alloy levels in austenitic stainless steels is to
provoke an enhancement in the resistance against pitting and crevice
The superaustenitic stainless steels (SASS) have been developed corrosion under acidic and chloride environments. However, the
commercially as a result of improved alloying strategies and application of austenitic stainless steels as a bearing surface is severely
manufacturing processes. The term superaustenitic is often used for limited by their very poor wear and friction characteristics [5].
stainless steels with a minimum Mo content of 5 wt.% or high values of Low temperature plasma-nitriding (b500 °C) opens new possibil-
the composition based on pitting resistance index (PREN) [1,2]. They ities for improving greatly the tribological performance of austenitic
are a group of Fe-based alloys that exhibit good pitting and crevice stainless steels whilst retaining, or even enhancing, the excellent
corrosion resistances and good mechanical strength [3,4]. These alloys corrosion resistance of the untreated material. These benefits have
are specifically designed for the use in highly corrosive environments been reported previously in numerous publications regarding plasma-
at elevated temperatures, and have a PREN number that ranges from nitriding treatments which led to the formation of a hard and wear
28.3 to 64.3. The high Ni amounts improve the stress–corrosion– resistant layer called expanded austenite (γN) [6–10]. However, there
cracking resistance, and the high Mo and N amounts improve the is very little knowledge about the effects on the tribological properties
pitting and crevice corrosion resistances. of plasma-nitrided SASS samples. In this work, UNS S31254 SASS
All alloying elements are maintained in solid solution, which is samples were plasma-nitrided at three different temperatures (400,
achieved by utilizing the beneficial effect of nitrogen in stabilizing the 450, and 500 °C), for 5 h, and the resistances of the modified surfaces
austenite phase and suppressing the intermetallic phases [3]. N levels against wear and corrosion were investigated.
may reach more than 0.5 wt.% in superaustenitic alloys. The primary
2. Materials and methods

⁎ Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: codoico@gmail.com (F.A.P. Fernandes), stenioheck@usp.br
The superaustenitic stainless steel investigated in this work is a
(S.C. Heck), pereira-ricardo@hotmail.com (R.G. Pereira), capicone56@yahoo.com.br commercially available material, UNS S31254 (ASTM A276), with a
(C.A. Picon), nascente@ufscar.br (P.A.P. Nascente), castelet@sc.usp.br (L.C. Casteletti). nominal composition given at Table 1.

0257-8972/$ – see front matter © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
3088 F.A.P. Fernandes et al. / Surface & Coatings Technology 204 (2010) 3087–3090

Table 1 platinum auxiliary electrode. The electrolyte employed was natural

Nominal chemical composition (wt.%) of the UNS S31254 steel. sea water (pH 8). For monitoring the potential and current, a VGSTAT-
C Mn P S Si Cr Ni Mo N Cu 302 Autolab potentiostat was used. The polarization curves of the
samples were obtained with a scanning speed of 1 mV/s in the range
0.020 1.00 0.03 0.01 0.8 19.5– 17.5– 6.0– 0.18– 0.50–
20.5 18.5 6.5 0.22 1.00 of − 0.8 to 1.5 V.

3. Results and discussion

UNS S31254 SASS samples were prepared according to conven-
tional metallographic techniques, which result in a surface roughness Fig. 1 presents the cross-section optical micrographs of the
of about 0.08 µm (Ra), and then were plasma-nitrided. The samples samples which were plasma-nitrided at 400, 450, and 500 °C for 5 h.
were cleaned inside the plasma chamber by argon sputtering under a In all these micrographs, the white layer is shown, and it can be
pressure of 500 Pa, at a temperature 50 °C lower than the plasma- observed that increasing the temperature causes an increase in the
nitriding temperature, for 30 min. The plasma treatments were done layer thickness. For the plasma-nitriding temperatures of 400 and
using the direct current method with the following conditions: a gas 450 °C (Fig. 1a and b), the formation of a white layer only is observed,
mixture of 80 vol.% H2 and 20 vol.% N2, a pressure of 500 Pa, possibly the nitrogen expanded austenite, and for the plasma-
temperatures of 400, 450 and 500 °C, and time period of 5 h. The nitriding temperature of 500 °C, the formation of a dark layer is also
plasma-nitriding temperature was obtained by a thermocouple detected, possibly chromium nitrides, on top of the white layer.
attached to the sample holder. Observing this peculiarity, it may be suggested that the white layer is
The plasma-nitrided SASS samples were characterized by optical replaced by the dark layer by a mechanism of nitrogen saturation, due
microscopy, micro-hardness measurements, X-ray diffraction analy- to a high concentration of this element at that temperature. So this
sis, and wear and corrosion tests. The microstructural analysis was secondary layer is formed later onto the white layer.
carried out with a Zeiss Axiotech optical microscope using the On Fig. 2 the X-ray diffraction patterns of the SASS substrate and
interference contrast technique after etching the samples with the plasma-nitrided samples at different temperatures are presented.
nitromuriatic acid. The measurements of Vickers and Knoop micro- The untreated SASS contains diffraction peaks related to the gamma
hardness were performed using a Buehler digital equipment with a (γ) iron phase, which is characteristic of austenitic stainless steels.
load of 25 gf and applied time of 10 s. Also a Brinell indentation test Nitriding at 400 °C yielded the appearance of some diffraction peaks
was carried out on the nitrided samples in order to evaluate the shifted to the left, which is a characteristic of a nitrogen expanded
resultant crack network aspect. The indentation was performed with austenite (γN) phase. At this temperature the layer is thin and the
15.625 kg using a 2.5 mm steel sphere applying the load for 10 s. diffraction peaks of the substrate also appear. X-ray diffraction
The X-ray diffraction patterns were obtained on the surface of the confirms the existence only of the nitrogen expanded austenite on
samples using Rigaku Gergerflex equipment with scanning angles the sample nitrided at 400 °C (Fig. 1a). With an increase in nitriding
ranging from 30 to 100°. The analyses were performed using copper temperature (450 °C) the diffraction peaks of the substrate disappear
Kα radiation and continuous scanning with a speed of 2°/min. due to the increase of the layer thickness. Although the optical
Micro-wear tests were performed in a fixed ball machine without micrograph on Fig. 1b shows that only a white layer is present, X-ray
the use of abrasive using a 52100 steel sphere of 25.4 mm in diameter. diffraction indicates that chromium nitrides are also present.
The rotation speed and load were 500 rpm and 245 g (2.45 N), Moreover, the expanded austenite is also detected. Further increase
respectively. Consecutive wear scars were produced with test times of in nitriding temperature (500 °C) causes the expanded austenite
5, 10, 15, and 20 min in order to obtain the volume loss curve. The diffraction peaks to diminish, and more CrN and Cr2N peaks are
removed volume (V) of each wear crater and its depth (h) were detected, which clearly indicates the precipitation of these nitrides.
calculated according to the following equations: This confirms that the dark layer formed onto the white expanded
austenite is a mixture of chromium nitrides.
π⋅d4 Fig. 3 shows the micro-hardness profiles for the SASS samples
V≈ ; for dbbR ð1Þ
64⋅R which were plasma-nitrided at 450 and 500 °C. The low thickness of
the layer formed on the SASS sample treated at 400 °C (Fig. 1a)
V prevented the acquisition of the micro-hardness profiles for this
h≈ ; for hbbR ð2Þ sample.
The sample which was nitrided at 450 °C presented a hardness
where d is the scar diameter and R the sphere radius. value around 1400 HV, near the surface region, and reached the
Corrosion tests were performed employing an electrochemical cell substrate hardness value at a depth of approximately 10 µm. Some
in order to obtain the potentiodynamic polarization curves. The cell researchers reported that the chromium nitride layers formed on top
contains a reference electrode of saturated calomel (SCE) and a of the expanded austenite in austenitic stainless steels (AISI 304 and

Fig. 1. Cross-section optical micrographs of the SASS samples which were plasma-nitrided at (a) 400 °C, (b) 450 °C, and (c) 500 °C for 5 h.
F.A.P. Fernandes et al. / Surface & Coatings Technology 204 (2010) 3087–3090 3089

Fig. 2. X-ray diffraction patterns of the non-nitrided and plasma-nitrided SASS samples.
Fig. 4. Volume lost as a function of sliding distance.

316) possess higher hardness values than those measured for the γN increasing traveled distance for all plasma-nitriding conditions. Also,
phase [11,12]. However, in this work it was observed that the the wear rate, for nitrided samples, increased as the surface Knoop
chromium nitride layer formed on the SASS sample which was hardness increased.
plasma-nitrided at 500 °C presented lower hardness values than that
of the expanded austenite (Fig. 3).
The Knoop micro-hardness indentations, performed on the top of
each nitrided sample, increased as the temperature was increased
from 400 to 500 °C. Nitriding at 400 °C showed an average surface
Knoop hardness of 873 ± 73HK, at 450 °C the hardness was 1553 ±
76HK and for 500 °C, 1717 ± 182.
Fig. 4 presents the wear volume loss curves which were obtained
during the tribological characterization in dry sliding for all plasma-
nitrided SASS samples and the substrate itself. The worn volumes
were calculated based on Eq. (1) with the crater diameters. A decrease
in wear values for all plasma-nitrided SASS samples in comparison
with the substrate value is observed. The lower wear rate value was
obtained for the sample which was plasma-nitrided at 400 °C; the
second value was associated to the sample treated at 450 °C. The
higher wear rate value was measured for the sample treated at 500 °C,
and this could be due to a greater fragility detected for this sample, as
can be observed in Fig. 5, which depicts Brinell indentations on the
SASS samples that were plasma-nitrided at 400 and 500 °C. The worn
volume values shown in Fig. 4 indicate a tendency of stabilization with

Fig. 5. Brinell indentations on the SASS samples which were plasma-nitrided at (a) 400 °C
Fig. 3. Micro-hardness profiles for the plasma-nitrided SASS samples. and (b) 500 °C.
3090 F.A.P. Fernandes et al. / Surface & Coatings Technology 204 (2010) 3087–3090

Table 2 Table 3
Scar depth (h) values obtained after 20 min of wear testing and nitriding layer Corrosion parameters obtained by analyzing the polarization curves.
thicknesses (e).
Sample Ecor (mV) Icor (A) Vcorr (mm/year)
Sample h (µm) — 20 min e (µm)
SASS − 463 5.12 × 10− 7 7.36 × 10− 3
SASS 31 ± 1 – (400 °C/5 h) − 298 5.44 × 10− 8 7.82 × 10− 4
(400 °C/5 h) 9±1 4.5 ± 0.3 (450 °C/5 h) − 266 6.27 × 10− 7 3.15 × 10− 3
(450 °C/5 h) 11.4 ± 0.5 10 ± 1 (500 °C/5 h) − 265 1.54 × 10− 6 2.21 × 10− 2
(500 °C/5 h) 21.8 ± 0.9 22 ± 2

parameters indicate that the corrosion rate increases with increasing

The sample which was plasma-nitrided at 400 °C shows a larger temperature. Thus the sample which was plasma-nitrided at 400 °C
Brinell indentation than that which was treated at 500 °C. This for 5 h presents the highest corrosion resistance for immersion into
indicates a lower surface hardness, although no visible cracks are natural seawater.
observed around the impression carried out on the sample which was
plasma-nitrided at 400 °C. Analyzing the Brinell indentation per- 4. Conclusions
formed on the SASS sample which was plasma-nitrided at 500 °C, the
formation of a crack network can be observed, shown by the arrows in Plasma-nitriding of UNS S31254 superaustenitic stainless steel
Fig. 5b. According to the wear volume tendency, observed in Fig. 4, samples produced continuous and homogeneous layers composed of
and the Brinell indentations, displayed in Fig. 5, there is an indicative mainly expanded austenite (γN), for nitriding temperature of 400 °C,
higher fragility for the layer produced at 500 °C. and chromium nitrides and expanded austenite, for the nitriding
Table 2 lists the wear scar depth values and the layer thickness (e) temperatures of 450 and 500 °C. This outermost chromium nitride
values obtained after 20 min (800 m) of wear testing for the layer (obtained after nitriding at 500 °C) forms on top of the γN layers.
untreated SASS sample, for comparison, and the SASS samples The rise of nitriding temperature produced an increase in surface
which were plasma-nitrided at 400, 450, and 500 °C for 5 h. The Knoop hardness, which in turn causes an increase in wear rate. The
h values were obtained using Eq. (2). SASS sample which was plasma-nitrided at 400 °C presents the best
Based on these calculations, it should be noticed that after the tribological behavior among all nitriding conditions. The improve-
wear tests were done, all the plasma-nitrided layers had been ment on the wear behavior occurs probably due to the increase in
perforated. Despite the layer disruption during the sliding, the wear layer fragility for temperatures from 400 to 500 °C. Although the
depth values for the SASS samples which were plasma-nitrided at 400, samples treated at 450 and 500 °C present higher corrosion potentials,
450, and 500 °C are 3.4, 2.8, and 1.4 times less than the substrate's the corrosion rate increases with increasing temperature; thus, the
depth, respectively. This shows that for all plasma-nitriding condi- sample treated at 400 °C presents the highest corrosion resistance for
tions there is an increase in wear resistance, and even after immersion into natural seawater.
perforation of the modified layers, the layer/substrate entirety
maintains its wear resistance. Acknowledgements
Fig. 6 displays the potentiodynamic polarization curves obtained
under natural sea water immersion of the untreated SASS sample and The authors would like to thank CAPES, for the scholarships
the samples which were plasma-nitrided at 400, 450, and 500 °C for granted to F.A.P. Fernandes and S.C. Heck, and to CNPq, for a research
5 h. The results obtained by analyzing these polarization curves are grant (process PDS 150799/2008-0).
presented at Table 3.
The comparison of the tabulated data shows that the corrosion References
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[4] S. Nagarajan, N. Rajendran, Corros. Sci. 51 (2009) 217.
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Fig. 6. Potentiodynamic polarization curves of the untreated and plasma-nitrided SASS