What is Sensitization Effect in Stainless Steels ?

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      Nasir Hussain

      Sensitization effect
      Sensitization refers to the precipitation of carbides at grain boundaries in stainless steel or alloy, causing the steel or alloy to be susceptible to intergranular corrosion or intergranular s
      Certain alloys when exposed to a temperature characterized as a sensitizing temperature become particularly susceptible to intergranular corrosion. In a corrosive atmosphere, the grain interfaces of these sensitized alloys become very reactive and intergranular corrosion results. This is characterized by a localized attack at and adjacent to grain boundaries with relatively little corrosion of the grains themselves. The alloy disintegrates (grains fall out) and/or loses its strength.
      Several methods have been used to control or minimize the intergranular corrosion of susceptible alloys, particularly of the austenitic stainless steels. For example, a high-temperature solution heat treatment, commonly termed solution-annealing, quench-annealing or solution-quenching, has been used. The alloy is heated to a temperature of about 1,060 °C to 1,120 °C and then water quenched. This method is generally unsuitable for treating large assemblies, and also ineffective where welding is subsequently used for making repairs or for attaching other structures.

      Another control technique for preventing intergranular corrosion involves incorporating strong carbide formers or stabilizing elements such as niobium or titanium in the stainless steels. Such elements have a much greater affinity for carbon than does chromium; carbide formation with these elements reduces the carbon available in the alloy for the formation of chromium carbides. Such a stabilized titanium-bearing austenitic chromium-nickel-copper stainless steel is shown in U.S. Pat. No. 3,562,781. Or the stainless steel may initially be reduced in carbon content below 0.03 percent so that insufficient carbon is provided for carbide formation. These techniques are expensive and only partially effective since sensitization may occur with time. The low-carbon steels also frequently exhibit lower strengths at high temperatures.

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