Journal of Minerals & Materials Characterization & Engineering, Vol. 11, No.2 pp.143-152, 201 2 Printed in the USA. All rights reserved
Effect of Heat Treatment Processe s on the Mechanical Prop erties of Medium
Carbon Steel
T. Senthilkumar1,* and T. K. Ajiboye2
1 Department of Mechanical Engineering, Anna University of Technology,
Tiruchirappalli, 620 024, India
2 Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria
*Corresponding Author:
The importance of various form of heat treatment operations on medium carbon steel in order to
forester the problem that may arise in making a wrong choice of these steel materials or faulty
heat treatment operations which may give rise to serious disruption in terms of human safety,
higher cost and untimely failure of the machine components is of great concern. T he mechanical
properties such as ductility, toughness, strength, hardness and tensile strength can easily be
modified by heat treating the medium carbon steel to suit a particular design purpose. Tensile
specimens were produced from medium carbon st eel and were subjected to various f orms of heat
treatment processes like annealing, normalizing, hardening and tempering. The stiffness,
ductility, ultimate tensile strength, yield strength and hardness of the heat treated samples were
observed from their stress-strain curve. The value of the yield strength (
y) was observed to be
higher for the tempered specimen possibly as a result of the grain re-arrangement, followed by
the hardened, normalized and annealed specimens. The value of the ultimate tensile strength
u) were also observed to be in the order; hardened> tempered>normalized>annealed.
Key Words: Medium carbon steel, Austenite, Martensite, Strain hardening parameter, Ductility
Heat treatment operat ion is a means of controlled heating and cooling of materials in order to
effect ch an ges in t hei r mech anic al prop erti es. H eat treatmen t is also us ed t o i ncreas e the stren gth
144 T. SENTHILKUMAR and T. K. AJIBOYE Vol.11, No.2
of materials by altering some certain manufacturability objectives especially after the materials
might have undergo major stresses like forging and welding [1]. It was however known that
mechanic al pr opert i es of s teel wer e s tro n gly connect ed t o t hei r m icro st ruct u re o bt ain ed aft er heat
treatments which are performed to achieve good hardened and tensile strength with sufficient
ductility [1]. The material modification process, modify the behavior of the steels in a beneficial
manner to maximize service life i.e stress relieving or strength properties e.g cryogenic treatment
or some other desirable properties [2]. The Heat treatment generally is classified into (i)
Thermal treatment which consists of softening process: Annealing and Normalizing, Hardening
process: Hardening and Tempering; (ii) Thermochemical Process which consist of Carburizing,
Nitriding, Boronising; (iii) Thermomechanical Processes which consist of mechanical working
operation during heat treatment cycle. Though heat treatment is not a new area, it has not been
put into effective use in the fa ct t hat mo st o f the res earchers l ook at the p r ocess i n general . It has
not been localized for an improvement/modification on getting the required results from these
steel materials that are abound in our daily life, especially where most of the steel products are
from rec ycled scrap m ateri als. Hence ther e is a need to carr y out these test s and to be sure of the
material compositions before they are put to final use.
Present work is concerned with the effect of heat treatment on the mechanical properties of
medium carbon steel with the objective of making sure that the steel is better suited structurally
and physically for individual engaging in the design, fabrication and maintenance of steel
To evaluate the effect of heat treatment on the medium carbon steel, the investigation was carried
out thus;
(i) Preparat ion of the tensile specimens from 0.30% carbon steel
(ii) Heat treating the medium carbon steel
(iii) Tensile test of the medium carbon steel to analyze its behavior after the treatment
2.1 Preparation of the Tensile Specimens
The material used for this study is a medium carbon steel with carbon content of 0.30% carbon
as determined by X-ray diffraction technique. The specimens were then prepared for a tensile
test using a standard format of ASTM [3, 4] as shown in Figure 1(a).
Figure 1(a): Test specimen from medium carbon steel. out = Diameter of gripping heads;
in= Diameter of the gauge length; La = Minimum gripping length; Lo = gauge length.
2.2 Heat treating the Medium Carbon Steel
Standard heat treatment procedures were adopted [3, 4] to heat treat the medium carbon steel.
Five different samples were prepared for each of the operation and the average values were
calculated upon which the analyses were based.
2.3 Tensile Test of the Medium Carbon Steel
After the specimens had been heat treated as appropriate, the tensile test were carried out on
them t o det e rm in e th e mech ani c al p roperties o f t h e s t eel an d com par e i t wit h t he n on h eat t reated
specimen which was also subjected to the same tensile test.
After careful preparation of the tensile specimen samples from the medium carbon steel, it was
taken to the furnace for the heat treatment operations. To commence the operation, the furnace
was initially calibrated to determine the furnace operating temperature based on the pre-set
furnace temperature. To determine this, the furnace was set to an initial temperature of 200oC
and the furnace was switched on. This temperature was maintained with the aid of thermostat
that was used to control the furnace temperature. On attaining this temperature, a thermocouple
was now introduced into the furnace chamber to measure and compare the temperature of the
chamber which was adjusted until it give same output temperatures. The various forms of the
heated processes were stated below.
3.1 Heat Treatment Pro ces s
3.1.1 Hardening pro cess
The specimens to be hardened were placed inside the furnace and heated to a temperature of
Fillet ra dius at 450
= 22mm
= 15mm
= 15mm
6 mm
146 T. SENTHILKUMAR and T. K. AJIBOYE Vol.11, No.2
850°C. At this temperature, there is transformation of the steel to austenite. The samples were
retained at this temperature for a period of two hours (because of its mass) during which the
transformation must have been completed, after which they were later removed from the furnace
and dropped inside different containers of water for rapid cooling to room temperature. The
hardening operation was carried out on five medium carbon steel samples having the same
3.1.2 Temp erin g pr ocess
In the hardened carbon steel specimens, the as-quenched martensite is not only very hard but also
brittle. The brittleness is caused by a predominance of martensit e. This brittleness is therefore
removed by tempering [5]. Tempering results in a desired combination of hardness, ductility,
toughness, strength and structural stability. The process of tempering involves heating the
hardened steel specimen to 350oC. At this temperature, the prevalent martensite is an unstable
structure and the carbon atoms diffuse from martensite to form a carbide precipitate and the
concurrent formation of ferrite and cementite. This process allows microstructure modifications
to reduce the hardness to the desire level while increasing the ductility.
3.1.3 Annealing process
A f ull an nealin g was carried out on the specimen by heating the metal slowly at 870oC. It is held
at this temperature for sufficient time (about 1 hour) for all the material to transform into
austenite. It is then cooled slowly inside the furnace to room temperature. The grain structure has
coarse pearlite with ferrite or cementite.
3.1.3 Normalizing pr ocess
Each samples of the medium carbon steel to be normalized were placed in the furnace and heated
to temperature of 850°C. The samples were retained at this temperature for the period of two
hours for full transformation to austenite. They were later removed from the furnace and left in
air for cooli n g. M ean whil e another s et o f th e sample s peci men s which wer e n ot heat treat ed were
taken directly for the tensile test to serve as control sampl es.
3.2 Material Testin g
After the succ essfu l he at t reatmen t ope ratio n, th e vari ous heat t reated sam ples w ere tak en fo r the
tensile test. The test was performed on Standard Universal Testing Machine. Tensile tests were
conducted at various strain rates of 200, 500, 1000, 1500 and 1650 mm/min for all the
specim ens.
Each of the specimens was inserted one after the other into the machine jaws and having fastened
the specimen properly at both ends, tensile test upto the fracture limit was carried out. The
arrangement is shown in Figure 1(b).
Figure 1(b): The arrangement of the specimen on the machine chuck
The machine recorded the stress, strain, elongation, yield strength and Ultimate tensile strength
for all the specimens which were used for further analysis.
The stress/strain values obtained from the tensile test gave the engineering stress/strain values
which were based on the original cross sectional area of the test specimens. These values were
later converted to true stress/strain values using the relationship given below [6, 7]
( )
+= 1ln
( )
+= 1
From these values, a non linear regression analysis was used to obtain the material constants.
The heat treated specimens were now subjected to tensile test, using standard universal testing
machine U.T.M (Tensometer), which is calibrated in unit of Newton. The resulting engineering
stress - strain curves obtained from the test are shown in Figures 2 to 5 for annealed, normalized,
tempered and hardened specimens respectively.
The data generated from these graphs for each of the specimens were converted to true stress -
strain data using equations 1 and 2 and were analyzed for various heat treated specimens, using
Machine chuck
Steel specimen
148 T. SENTHILKUMAR and T. K. AJIBOYE Vol.11, No.2
non regression analysis to obtain the material related properties for each of the specimen. The
material related properties obtained were shown in Table 1.
Table 1: The material s property for different heat treated specimens based on true-str ess stra in data
From Table 1, σy is the yield strength (kN/mm2) while σu is the ultimate tensile strength of the
material (kN/mm2) at room temperature and a strain rate of 1/s. C is the strain – rate sensitivity
constant, n is the strain hardening parameter and m is the thermal softening parameter for each
The value of yield strength (σy) was observed to be higher for the tempered steel specimen,
possibly as a result of the grain re-arrangement due to the subsequent tempering process. The
yield strength value for the hardened specimen was also observed to be greater than that of
normal iz ed and an neal ed s peci men s, whi le t he n ormali z ed s peci m en al so has a gre ater val ue t han
that of annealed specimen, which has the least value. Because of the dual phase strengthening
mechanics, the plain carbon steel has a good balance of strength and ductility. The hardness of
the steel increases with cooling rate and also with increasing pearlite percent age which inc reased
as the percentage mertensite increases. The reason being that martensite is one of the
strength ening phas es in steel. Th e increase in t he hardness was due to the delay in the formation
of peatrlite and martensite at a higher cooling rate.
The value of ultimate tensile strength (σu) were observed to be in the order; hardened > tempered
> normalized > annealed, possibly as a result of the refinement of the primary phase after the
subsequent cooling processes. The higher the toughness of a material, the lower the slope of the
stress-strain curv e in the plastic region, hence the lower the strain hardening parameter. As the
strain hardening parameter increases, the stress of the material also increases. This can be
justified from the Ludwik power law [8, 9] given as;
where C and n are as defined above.
Beyond the yield point, the stress continuously increases with further plastic strain, while the
slope of the stress-strain curves, representing the strain hardening steadily decreases with
increasing stress [10, 11].
It was also observed from the graphs that for all the heat treated specimens, except for the
hardened specimen, there were tremendous increase in the toughness of the material which
indicates that hardened material, though have a very high ultimate tensile stress (σu), but at the
expense of its toughness, hence where toughness is a major concern, the material should be oil
tempered for a satisfactory results.
150 T. SENTHILKUMAR and T. K. AJIBOYE Vol.11, No.2
The strain produced for each of the specimen was in the order of annealed > normalized >
tempered > hardened as observed from Figures 2 - 5 which gave a clear indication of the final
state of the materials as a result of the treatment received.
Empirical relationships were also developed to deter mined vari ous valu e of stres ses at an y given
strain and strain rate for each of the specimen. The empirical relationships were given in
equation 3 to 7 for normalized, tempered, annealed, hardened and as received sp ecim en
respecti vel y.
244707.032134.76 +=
236757.03241.72 +=
126.025.166 −=
13968.0198.148 −=
= stress,
= strain, and
= strain rate.
From the results obtained, it can be inferred that mechanical properties depends largel y upon the
various form of heat treatment operations and cooling rate. Hence depending upon the properties
and the applications that may be required for any design purpose, a suitable form of heat
treatment should be adopted. For high ductile and minimum toughness, annealing the medium
carbon steel will give satisfactory results. Thus it is important to clearly specify the condition of
the carbon steel as purchased so that tests can be conducted to ensu re the material compositions
before they are put to final use.
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