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When present in substantial amounts, Nickel provides a number of benefits to steel.

And its money too!

Nickel’s main contribution to steels is making them more forgiving of heat treatment variations. Think of it as the Heat Treater’s Friend.
Nickel lowers the critical temperatures, while widening the the temperature range for effective quenching and tempering. Nickel also retards the decomposiition of Austenite. Since nickel doesn’t form carbides, it doesn’t complicate the reheating for austenitizing process either.
Nickel contributes to an easier and more likely to be successful heat treatment.
Here are 5 Contributions Nickel makes to our alloy steel parts:

  1. Improved toughness (especially at low temperatures!)
  2. Simplified and more economical heat treatment (Money saved!)
  3. Increased hardenability (depth of hardness achievable)
  4. Less distortion during quenching (more good parts after Q&T!)
  5. Improved corrosion resistance (See this link–  2.1 % of GDP lost to corrosion!)

In addition to its appearance in the credits for 43XX, 46XX, and 86XX alloy steel grades, Nickel is a major component of Stainless Steels, Invar, Monel, and Inconel.
Machinist hint: When you see Nickel as a major ingredient in steel,  avoid tool dwell and light cuts. Nickel contributes to a material’s workhardening ability.
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