Surface modification of austenitic steel by various glow-discharge nitriding methods
Recent years have seen intensive research on modifying glow-discharge nitriding processes. One of the most commonly used glow-discharge methods includes cathodic potential nitriding (conventional method), and active screen plasma nitriding. Each of these methods has a number of advantages. One very important, common feature of these techniques is full control of the microstructure, chemical and phase composition, thickness and the surface topography of the layers formed. Another advantage includes the possibility of nitriding such materials as: austenitic steels or nickel alloys, i.e. metallic materials which do not diffuse nitrogen as effectively as ferritic or martensitic steels. However, these methods have some disadvantages as well. In the case of conventional plasma nitriding, engineers have to deal with the edge effect, which makes it difficult to use this method for complexly shaped components. In turn, in the case of active screen plasma nitriding, the problem disappears. A uniform, smooth layer forms, but is thinner, softer and is not as resistant to friction compared to layers formed using the conventional method. Research is also underway to combine these methods, i.e. use an active screen in conventional plasma nitriding at cathodic potential. However, there is a lack of comprehensive data presenting a comparison between these three nitriding processes and the impact of pulsating current on the formation of the microstructure and functional properties of austenitic steel surfaces.
The article presents a characterisation of nitrided layers produced on austenitic X2CrNiMo17-12-2 (AISI 316L) stainless steel in the course of glow-discharge nitriding at cathodic potential, at plasma potential and at cathodic potential incorporating an active screen. All processes were carried out at 440 °C under DC glow-discharge conditions and in 100 kHz frequency pulsating current. The layers were examined in terms of their microstructure, phase and chemical composition, morphology, surface roughness, hardness, wear and corrosion resistance. Studies have shown a strong influence of the type of nitriding method used and of the electrical conditions on the microstructure and properties of the diffusion layers formed.
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