The automotive industry is continuously looking for an innovative mix of new steels and manufacturing techniques in order to improve process chain efficiency and cost reduction. To this aim, boron steels are becoming increasingly popular thanks to their high hardenability and machinability. Due to their reduced finishing steps, boron steels are commonly processed using fine blanking technologies.
The success of fine blanking on boron steel components is due to heat treatments which must be carefully designed to avoid precipitation of boron-rich compounds that would lower steel hardenability. At high temperature, boron is very reactive with oxygen and nitrogen.
The main focus of this paper is to show some drawbacks that can occur during heat treatments of automotive components. An experimental campaign was performed on two different boron steels, namely EN 34MnB5 and EN 22MnB5. The steel samples were previously spheroidized annealed in a neutral environment (hydrogen/nitrogen atmosphere), and then fine blanked to obtain specific automotive components which were subsequently quenched and tempered. Experimental tests revealed precipitation of nanometric compounds, causing strong grain refinement and localized decrease of steel hardenability. Hardenability problems were brought back to nitrogen pick-up during initial spheroidize annealing treatments.
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