The microstructure of TRIP steels is retained austenite embedded in a primary matrix of ferrite. In addition to a minimum of five volume percent of retained austenite, hard phases such as martensite and bainite are present in varying amounts. TRIP steels typically require the use of an isothermal hold at an intermediate temperature, which produces some bainite. The higher silicon and carbon content of TRIP steels also result in significant volume fractions of retained austenite in the final microstructure. Figure 2-6 shows a schematic of TRIP steel microstructure. Figure 2-7 is a micrograph of TRIP 690.
Figure 2-6: Bainite and retained austenite are additional phases in TRIP steels
Figure 2-7: Micrograph of TRIP 690 steel
During deformation, the dispersion of hard second phases in soft ferrite creates a high work hardening rate, as observed in the DP steels. However, in TRIP steels the retained austenite also progressively transforms to martensite with increasing strain, thereby increasing the work hardening rate at higher strain levels. This is illustrated in Figure 2-8, where the engineering stress-strain behavior of HSLA, DP and TRIP steels of approximately similar yield strengths are compared. The TRIP steel has a lower initial work hardening rate than the DP steel, but the hardening rate persists at higher strains where work hardening of the DP begins to diminish. Additional engineering and true stress-strain curves for TRIP steel grades are located in Figure 2-9 of the Advanced High-Strength Steels Application Guidelines.
Figure 2-8: TRIP 350/600 with a greater total elongation than DP 350/600 and HSLA 350/450
The work hardening rates of TRIP steels are substantially higher than for conventional HSS, providing significant stretch forming. This is particularly useful when designers take advantage of the high work hardening rate (and increased bake hardening effect) to design a part utilizing the as-formed mechanical properties. The high work hardening rate persists to higher strains in TRIP steels, providing a slight advantage over DP in the most severe stretch forming applications.
TRIP steels use higher quantities of carbon than DP steels to obtain sufficient carbon content for stabilizing the retained austenite phase to below ambient temperature. Higher contents of silicon and/or aluminium accelerate the ferrite/bainite formation. These elements assist in maintaining the necessary carbon content within the retained austenite. Suppressing the carbide precipitation during bainitic transformation appears to be crucial for TRIP steels. Silicon and aluminium are used to avoid carbide precipitation in the bainite region.
The strain level at which retained austenite begins to transform to martensite is controlled by adjusting the carbon content. At lower carbon levels, the retained austenite begins to transform almost immediately upon deformation, increasing the work hardening rate and formability during the stamping process. At higher carbon contents, the retained austenite is more stable and begins to transform only at strain levels beyond those produced during forming. At these carbon levels, the retained austenite persists into the final part. It transforms to martensite during subsequent deformation, such as a crash event.
TRIP steels therefore can be engineered or tailored to provide excellent formability for manufacturing complex AHSS parts or exhibit high work hardening during crash deformation for excellent crash energy absorption. The additional alloying requirements of TRIP steels degrade their resistance spot-welding behavior. This can be addressed somewhat by modification of the welding cycles used (for example, pulsating welding or dilution welding).
Current production grades of TRIP steels and example automotive applications:
TRIP 350/600 Frame rails, rail reinforcements
TRIP 400/700 Side rail, crash box
TRIP 450/800 Dash panel, roof rails
TRIP 600/980 B-pillar upper, roof rail, engine cradle, front and rear rails, seat frame