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Duplex Stainless Steels - A Simplified Guide

Duplex Stainless Steels - A Simple Guide

Duplex stainless steels are becoming more common. They are being offered by all the major stainless steel mills for a number of reasons:

  • Higher strength leading to weight saving
  • Greater corrosion resistance particularly stress corrosion cracking
  • Better price stability
  • Lower price

There is a conference on the subject of duplex every 2-3 years where dozens of highly technical papers are presented. There is a lot of marketing activity surrounding these grades. New grades are being announced frequently.

Yet, even with all this interest, the best estimates for global market share for duplex are between 1 and 3%. The purpose of this article is to provide a straightforward guide to this steel type. The advantages and disadvantages will be described.

Principle of Duplex Stainless Steels

The idea of duplex stainless steels dates back to the 1920s with the first cast being made at Avesta in Sweden in 1930. However, it is only in the last 30 years that duplex steels have begun to “take off” in a significant way. This is mainly due to advances in steelmaking techniques particularly with respect to control of nitrogen content.

The standard austenitic steels like 304 (1.4301) and ferritic steels like 430 are relatively easy to make and to fabricate. As their names imply, they consist mainly of one phase, austenite or ferrite. Although these types are fine for a wide range of applications, there are some important technical weaknesses in both types:

Austenitic – low strength (200 MPa 0.2% PS in solution annealed condition), low resistance to stress corrosion cracking

Ferritic – low strength (a bit higher than austenitic, 250 MPa 0.2% PS), poor weldability in thick sections, poor low temperature toughness

In addition, the high nickel content of the austenitic types leads to price volatility which is unwelcome to many end users.

The basic idea of duplex is to produce a chemical composition that leads to an approximately equal mixture of ferrite and austenite. This balance of phases provides the following:

  • Higher strength – The range of 0.2% PS for the current duplex grades is from 400 – 550 MPa. This can lead to reduced section thicknesses and therefore to reduced weight. This advantage is particularly significant for applications such as:
    o Pressure Vessels and Storage Tanks
    o Structural Applications e.g. bridges
  • Good weldability in thick sections – Not as straightforward as austenitics but much better than ferritics.
  • Good toughness – Much better than ferritics particularly at low temperature, typically down to minus 50 deg C, stretching to minus 80 deg C.
  • Resistance to stress corrosion cracking – Standard austenitic steels are particularly prone to this type of corrosion. The kind of applications where this advantage is important include:
    o Hot water tanks
    o Brewing tanks
    o Process plant
    o Swimming pool structures

How the Austenite/Ferrite Balance is Achieved

To understand how duplex steels work, first compare the composition of two familiar steels austenitic 304 (1.4301) and ferritic 430 (1.4016).

Structure Grade EN Number C Si Mn P S N Cr Ni Mo
Ferritic 430 1.4016 0.08 1.00 1.00 0.040 0.015 - 16.0/18.0 - -
Austenitic 304 1.4301 0.07 1.00 2.00 0.045 0.015 0.11 17.5/19.5 8.0/10.5 -

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