The ability of a material to deform plastically without fracturing, is called ductility. In the materials usually machined in our shops, ductility is measured by determining the percent of elongation and the percent reduction of area on a specimen during a tensile test.
Our earlier post about Ductility showed how ductility can impact our shops. In this post, we will describe how we can measure ductility and use it to predict behavior  based on values reported on certs and test reports.
The percent elongation and percent reduction of area values shown on our test reports and material certifications from our material suppliers indicate the ductility of the material tested.
In the tensile test, a cylindrical specimen is gripped securely and subjected to  a uniaxial load and elongated until it breaks. At the end of the test, the pieces of the fractured specimen are fitted back together again and the change of length between the two gage marks put on the specimen before testing is determined. The change is then expressed as a percentage of the original gage length.

Fractured specimen fitted back together then measured
Fractured specimen fitted back together then measured

The percent reduction of area is determined by measuring the minimum diameter of the broken test specimen after the two pieces are fitted together and the difference is  expressed as a percentage of the original cross sectional area prior to the test.
The  differences in measurements after tensile test are used to calculate the % elongation and % reduction of area
The differences in measurements after tensile test are used to calculate the % elongation and % reduction of area

A minimum of 12% elongation  is recommended for  consistent, trouble free thread rolling applications.
Rolled threads are stronger, so having the ductility to thread roll is important. However, too much ductility makes it difficult to get the chip to separate by cutting.
Low ductility can be problematic for cold deformation manufacturing processes such as thread rolling, cold forming, swaging, staking and crimping.
This is the designer’s compromise: if it is good for cutting, it is probably not very good for rolling.
And Vise-Versa
And Vise-Versa

HSC online Graphic of test specimens
Yost made in USA vise photo credit

Here are 5 reasons to anneal steel. 
To alter the grain structure;
To develop formability;
To improve machinability;
To modify mechanical properties;
To relieve residual stresses.
The annealing process is a combination of a heating cycle, a holding period or “soak” at temperature, and a controlled cooling cycle. Atmospheric controls are generally used to protect the steel from oxidation. 
The temperatures used and the cooling rates are carefully selected to correspond with each steel grade’s chemical composition in order to produce the results desired. 
For bar steels used in our precision machining shops, there are three kinds of annealing that may be encountered:
Subcritical Anneal
Solution Anneal
Spheroidize Anneal
Subcritical Anneal 
 A subcritical anneal is the metallurgical name for what is termed a process anneal or stress relief anneal in North American commercial practice. It consists of heating the steel to a temperature close, but below, the steel’s lower critical temperature or Ac1. This simple anneal reduces stress and hardness in the material and makes modest changes in its microstructure. Steel mills often employ this to improve cold shearing or cold forming. This is sometimes used between cold forming operations to reduce hardness. 
Solution Anneal 

Lamellar Pearlite.

Solution annealing is referred to in commercial practice as ‘LP Anneal’ or Lamellar Pearlite Anneal. Lamellar pearlite is the microstructure that predominates when doing this kind of anneal. The cycle for this anneal involves heating the material above the critical range (Ac3) and holding the steel (soaking) at that temperature for a length of time followed by slow cooling below the critical range (Ar1) temperature. This cycle reduces hardness and reprecipitates the carbide phase as lamellar pearlite. Controlling the time and temperature gives the metallurgist a means to alter the resulting lamellar pearlite structure, and refine the ferritic (as rolled) grain size. 
LP anneals are usually applied to medium carbon (0.40-0.65 weight %) plain carbon and alloy steels for precision machining in order to reduce hardness and improve machinability. 
Spheroidize Anneal   
Spheroidized Microstructure.

Spheroidize annealing is the term that describes a thermal process which results in a globular or spheroidal type of carbide after heating and cooling. There are several types of spheroidize cycles which we will write about in a future post. 
Spheroidized microstructures are desireable for machinability and improved surface finish when machining higher carbon steels. Spheroidized microstructures are also preferred when the steel is to be severely cold worked: cold extruded, cold upsetting, or bent. Most bearing steels are first spheroidize annealed prior to machining. 
Lamellar Pearlite photo 
Spheroidized Photo 

These keys will keep you out of trouble!

 Keep these 6 Keys to Using Free Machining (12XX) Steels in mind:

  1. These steels are not generally sold for applications requiring high standards of strength, hardness or other related properties.  Applications where vibratory, torsional or alternating stresses approach the grades’ static limits  are NOT recommended.
  2. These steels are frequently case hardened or carburized in order to achieve desired surface hardness.
  3. When cold drawn, these steels can be notch sensitive. Highly polished fatigue specimens may achieve expected endurance values, but poor surface finish, tool marks, or sharp corners in the design may cause lower than expected performance.
  4. These grades have relatively low impact strength at reduced temperatures and should not be used for sub-zero impact applications.
  5. These steels are not recommended for applications where severe cold work  follows machining. Crimping, staking and swaging may be performed, especially in non-renitrogenized grades. But severe crimping, cold metal movement, and bending may not be satisfactory in these grades.
  6. The addition of Lead or Bismuth does not alter the mechanical properties in tension. 12L14 and 1215 of same nominal size and process will be indistinguishable by hardness or tensile testing.

Free Machining Steels in the 12XX series- 12L14, 1215, etc., are selected in order to reduce the time needed to make large volumes of complex parts. This  reduces the cost per part. The usual application is one where bulk and shape (mass and geometry) are the chief requirements. The factors that make these steels highly machinable also influence behavior of the products in service. Designers and engineers should keep the above 6 Keys in mind when considering the material for an application.
6Keys: Photo credit .