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The Heat Treat Doctor

Daniel H. Herring | 630-834-3017 | heattreatdoctor@industrialheating.com

Martensite
artensite is our friend, so sayeth the heat treater,
but what is martensite, really? And why is a tempered martensitic structure the single-minded
goal of every heat treater when hardening steel?
Lets learn more.

Martensite Formation
In order to form martensite we need to heat steel into the austenite eld (above Ac3) and quench rapidly
enough from the austenite phase to avoid
pearlite formation. The rate must be fast
enough to avoid the nose of the Time-Temperature-Transformation (TTT) curve the
so-called critical cooling rate for the given
steel. The formation of martensite involves
the structural rearrangement (by shear displacement) of the atoms from face-centered
cubic (FCC) austenite into a body-centered
tetragonal (BCT) martensitic structure. This change is accompanied by a large increase in volume and results in a highly stressed
condition. This is why martensite has a higher hardness than austenite for the exact same chemistry.
The martensite transformation, while not instantaneous, is signicantly faster than diffusion-controlled processes such as ferrite
and pearlite formation that have different chemical compositions
than the austenite from which they came. Thus, martensite is a
meta-stable, strain-induced state that steel nds itself in. The resultant steel hardness is (primarily) a function of its carbon content (Fig. 1).

lath and plate types.


As the carbon content increases, so-called high-carbon martensite twins begin to replace dislocations within the plates. This
transformation is accompanied by the volumetric expansion mentioned earlier, creating (residual) stress in addition to the strains
due to interstitial solute atoms. At high carbon levels these stresses
can become so severe that the material cracks during transformation when a growing plate impinges on an existing plate.[3] Thus,
coarse martensite (Fig. 5) and plate martensite are less desirable
structures in most applications.
Ms and Mf Temperatures
The martensite transformation begins at the martensite start (Ms)
temperature and ends at the martensite nish (Mf) temperature
and is inuenced by carbon content. Increasing the carbon content of the austenite depresses the Ms and Mf temperatures, which
leads to difculties in converting all of the austenite to martensite.
Ms and Mf temperatures are also important in welding, as they
inuence the residual stress state.[5] Ms and Mf temperatures can
be calculated, and if you need to know them for a particular steel,
one source for this data is at www.thomas-sourmail.org/martensite.html, which lists over 1,000 different steel types.
68
900
65
800

18 June 2011 - IndustrialHeating.com

Hardness, DPH

700

Martensite Morphology
Morphology is a term used by metallurgists to describe the study
of the shape, size, texture and phase distribution of physical objects. Martensite can be observed in the microstructure of steel in
two distinctly different forms lath or plate depending on the
carbon content of the steel (Fig. 2). In general, lath martensite
is associated with high toughness and ductility but low strength,
while plate martensite structures are much higher in strength but
tend to be more brittle and non-ductile.[2]
For alloys containing less than approximately 0.60 wt.% carbon, lath martensite appears as long, thin plates often grouped in
packets (Fig. 3). Plate (or lenticular) martensite is found in alloys
containing greater than approximately 0.60 wt.% carbon. The microstructure is needle-like or plate-like in appearance across the
complete austenite grain (Fig. 4). With carbon contents between
0.60 and 1.00 wt.% carbon, the martensite present is a mixture of

60

600

50

500

400

300

200

Marder (27)
Hodge and Orehoski (28)
Burns et al. (29)
Irvine et al. (30)
Kelly and Nutting (31)
Kurjumov (32)
Litwinchuk et al. (33)
Bain and Paxton (34)
Jaffe and Gordon (35)
Materkowski (36)

40

30
20
10
0

100
0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3
Carbon, wt %

Fig. 1. As-quenched hardness vs. carbon content[1]

Hardness, Rockwell C

rial H

TH

Greninger (8)
Toriano and Greninger (10)
Cohen et al (24)
Digges (25)
Greninger and Troiano (26)
Kaufman and Cohen (27)
Esser et al (28)
Bibby and Parr (29)

1400
Ms Temperature, F

1200
1000
800

871

Table 1. Crystal structures formed in martensite or quasi-martensite transformations [6]

760

Alloy system

649

Co, Fe-Mn, Fe-Cr-Ni

FCC to HCP

Fe-Ni

FCC to BCC

538
427

600

316

400

204

200

93

Mixed

Lath

Plate

0
0

0.2

0.4

Temperature, C

1600

0.6
0.8
1.0
Carbon, wt %

1.2

1.4

0
1.6

Fig. 2. Formation of lath and plate martensite[1]

Tempered Martensite
All steels containing martensite should be tempered. As heat
treaters, we need to know that martensite in steel produces a hard,
brittle microstructure that must be tempered to provide the delicate balance necessary between strength and toughness needed to
produce a useful engineering material. When martensite is tempered, it partially decomposes into ferrite and cementite. Tempered martensite is not as hard as just-quenched martensite, but it
is much tougher and is ner-grained as well.
Final Thoughts about Martensite
The heat treater might be interested to know that martensite formation is not restricted just to steels because other alloy systems
produce crystallographic changes of a similar nature (Table 1).
Learning more about martensite is an essential part of what we
need to do as heat treaters since it is one of the dening characteristics of our industry. IH

Crystal structure change[a]

Fe-C, Fe-Ni-C, Fe-Cr-C, Fe-Mn-C

FCC to BCT

In-Ti, Mn-Cu

FCC to BCT

Li, Zr, Ti, Ti-Mo, Ti-Mn

BCC to HCP

Cu-Zn, Cu-Sn

BCC to FCT

Cu-Al

BCC to HCP (distorted)

Au-Cd

BCC to Orthorhombic

ZrO2

Tetragonal to Monoclinic

Notes: [a] FCC = face-centered cubic; BCC = body-centered cubic;


HCP = hexagonal close packed; BCT = body-centered tetragonal;
FCT = face-centered tetragonal;

2.
3.
4.
5.

6.
7.
8.

Steel, D.V. Doane and J.S. Kirkaldy [Eds.], AIME, Warrendale, PA, 1978,
pp. 229-248.
Vander Voort, George F., Martensite and Retained Austenite,
Industrial Heating, April 2009.
Elements of Metallurgy and Engineering Alloys, F. C. Campbell [Ed.],
ASM International, 2008, pp. 169 173.
Vander Voort, George F., Microstructures of Ferrous Alloys,
Industrial Heating, January 2001.
Payares-Asprino, M. C., H Katsumot and S. Liu, Effect of Martensite
Start and Finish Temperature on Residual Stress Development in
Structural Steel Welds, Welding Journal, Vol. 87, November 2008.
Zackary, V. F., M. W. Justusson and D. J. Schmatz, Strengthening
Mechanisms in Solids, ASM International, 1962, p. 179.
G. B. Olson and W. S. Owen [Eds.], Martensite, ASM International,
1992.
Krauss, George, Steels Processing, Structure and Performance, ASM
International, 2005.

Use this Mobile Tag to view the


Vander Voort article on martensite
and retained austenite

References
1. Krauss, G., Martensitic Transformation, Structure and Properties in
Hardenable Steels, in Hardenability Concepts with Applications to

10m
Fig. 3. Lath martensite example
(carburized 8620)[4]

20 June 2011 - IndustrialHeating.com

10m
Fig. 4. Plate martensite example
(carburized 8620)[4]

Fig. 5. Coarse martensite


(carburized SAE 9310)