Mechanism of the Microstructural Evolution of 18Cr2Ni4WA Steel during Vacuum Low-Pressure Carburizing Heat Treatment and Its Effect on Case Hardness
In this study, vacuum low-pressure carburizing heat treatments were carried out on 18Cr2Ni4WA case-carburized alloy steel. The evolution and phase transformation mechanism of the microstructure of the carburized layer during low-temperature tempering and its effect on the surface hardness were studied. The results showed that the carburized layer of the 18Cr2Ni4WA steel was composed of a large quantity of martensite and retained austenite. The type of martensite matrix changed from acicular
... d from acicular martensite to lath martensite from the surface to the core. The hardness of the carburized layer gradually decreased as the carbon content decreased. A thermodynamic model was used to show that the low-carbon retained austenite was easier to transform into martensite at lower temperatures, since the high-carbon retained austenite was more thermally stable than the low-carbon retained austenite. The mechanical stability—not the thermal stability—of the retained austenite in the carburized layer dominated after carburizing and quenching, and cryogenic treatment had a limited effect on promoting the martensite formation. During low-temperature tempering, the solid-solution carbon content of the martensite decreased, the compressive stress on the retained austenite was reduced and the mechanical stability of the retained austenite decreased. Therefore, during cooling after low-temperature tempering, the low-carbon retained austenite transformed into martensite, whereas the high-carbon retained austenite still remained in the microstructure. The changes in the martensite matrix hardness had a far greater effect than the transformation of the retained austenite to martensite on the case hardness of the carburized layer.