Austinitic Grades of stainless steel

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Austenitic grades


See also: Physical and Chemical Properties
300 Series


Austenitic grades are those alloys which are commonly in use for stainless applications. The austenitic grades are not magnetic. The most common austenitic alloys are iron-chromium-nickel steels and are widely known as the 300 series. The austenitic stainless steels, because of their high chromium and nickel content, are the most corrosion resistant of the stainless group providing unusually fine mechanical properties. They cannot be hardened by heat treatment, but can be hardened significantly by cold-working. 

Straight Grades

The straight grades of austenitic stainless steel contain a maximum of .08% carbon. There is a misconception that straight grades contain a minimum of .03% carbon, but the spec does not require this. As long as the material meets the physical requirements of straight grade, there is no minimum carbon requirement. 

"L" Grades

The "L" grades are used to provide extra corrosion resistance after welding. The letter "L" after a stainless steel type indicates low carbon (as in 304L). The carbon is kept to .03% or under to avoid carbide precipitation. Carbon in steel when heated to temperatures in what is called the critical range (800 degrees F to 1600 degrees F) precipitates out, combines with the chromium and gathers on the grain boundaries. This deprives the steel of the chromium in solution and promotes corrosion adjacent to the grain boundaries. By controlling the amount of carbon, this is minimized. For weldability, the "L" grades are used. You may ask why all stainless steels are not produced as "L" grades. There are a couple of reasons: 

  • "L" grades are more expensive
  • Carbon, at high temperatures imparts great physical strength

Frequently the mills are buying their raw material in "L" grades, but specifying the physical properties of the straight grade to retain straight grade strength. A case of having your cake and heating it too. This results in the material being dual certified 304/304L; 316/316L, etc. 

“H” Grades

The “H” grades contain a minimum of .04% carbon and a maximum of .10% carbon and are designated by the letter “H” after the alloy. People ask for “H” grades primarily when the material will be used at extreme temperatures as the higher carbon helps the material retain strength at extreme temperatures. 

You may hear the phrase “solution annealing”. This means only that the carbides which may have precipitated (or moved) to the grain boundaries are put back into solution (dispersed) into the matrix of the metal by the annealing process. “L” grades are used where annealing after welding is impractical, such as in the field where pipe and fittings are being welded. 

Type 304

The most common of austenitic grades, containing approximately 18% chromium and 8% nickel. It is used for chemical processing equipment, for food, dairy, and beverage industries, for heat exchangers, and for the milder chemicals. 

Type 316

Contains 16% to 18% chromium and 11% to 14% nickel. It also has molybdenum added to the nickel and chrome of the 304. The molybdenum is used to control pit type attack. Type 316 is used in chemical processing, the pulp and paper industry, for food and beverage processing and dispensing and in the more corrosive environments. The molybdenum must be a minimum of 2%. 

Type 317

Contains a higher percentage of molybdenum than 316 for highly corrosive environments. It must have a minimum of 3% “moly”. It is often used in stacks which contain scrubbers. 

Type 317L

Restricts maximum carbon content to 0.030% max. and silicon to 0.75% max. for extra corrosion resistance. 

Type 317LM

Requires molybdenum content of 4.00% min. 

Type 317LMN

Requires molybdenum content of 4.00% min. and nitrogen of .15% min. 

Type 321

Type 347 

These types have been developed for corrosive resistance for repeated intermittent exposure to temperature above 800 degrees F. Type 321 is made by the addition of titanium and Type 347 is made by the addition of tantalum/columbium. These grades are primarily used in the aircraft industry. 

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