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Retained Austenite Control for the Soft Machining of High-Hardness Tool Steels

Most high-hardness tool steels comprising forming dies require expensive finish machining operations to compensate for the dimensional distortion and surface oxidation caused by the die heat treatment. Precipitation-hardening (PH) tool steels allow for soft finish machining followed by an aging treatment without major deformation or oxidation in the die, but exhibit poor wear performance owing to the lack of carbides in their structure. This drawback can be overcome by combining laser cladding technology, austenite retention, and cryogenic treatments. Hence, an alternative die manufacturing route based on laser cladding was explored. The forming surface of a modified chemistry tool steel die was subjected to cladding. The martensite finish (Mf) temperature of the steel was tuned to enhance austenite retention at room temperature. The cladded surface was then machined in a reduced-hardness condition resulting from retained austenite formation. Subsequent deep cryogenic treatment of the die favoured the retained-austenite-to-martensite transformation, thereby increasing the die hardness without major distortion or oxidation. This process combined the advantages of high-carbide-bearing tool steels and PH steels, allowing for a die with hardness exceeding 58 HRC to be finish machined at <52 HRC. Controlling the occurrence of retained austenite represents an effective strategy for achieving new manufacturing scenarios.


Maider Muro (AZTERLAN), Garikoitz Artola (AZTERLAN), Josu Leunda (Tekniker), Carlos Soriano (Tekniker), Carlos Angulo (UPV/EHU).


retained austenite; laser cladding; cryogenic treatment; tool steel; hardness.


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