- Cast iron
Iron alloy phases Steel classes Other iron-based materials
Cast iron is derived from pig iron, and while it usually refers to gray iron, it also identifies a large group of ferrous alloys which solidify with a eutectic. The color of a fractured surface can be used to identify an alloy. White cast iron is named after its white surface when fractured, due to its carbide impurities which allow cracks to pass straight through. Grey cast iron is named after its grey fractured surface, which occurs because the graphitic flakes deflect a passing crack and initiate countless new cracks as the material breaks.
Carbon (C) and silicon (Si) are the main alloying elements, with the amount ranging from 2.1 to 4 wt% and 1 to 3 wt%, respectively. Iron alloys with less carbon content are known as steel. While this technically makes these base alloys ternary Fe-C-Si alloys, the principle of cast iron solidification is understood from the binary iron-carbon phase diagram. Since the compositions of most cast irons are around the eutectic point of the iron-carbon system, the melting temperatures closely correlate, usually ranging from 1,150 to 1,200 °C (2,102 to 2,192 °F), which is about 300 °C (572 °F) lower than the melting point of pure iron.
Cast iron tends to be brittle, except for malleable cast irons. With its relatively low melting point, good fluidity, castability, excellent machinability, resistance to deformation and wear resistance, cast irons have become an engineering material with a wide range of applications and are used in pipes, machines and automotive industry parts, such as cylinder heads (declining usage), cylinder blocks and gearbox cases (declining usage). It is resistant to destruction and weakening by oxidation (rust).
- 1 Production
- 2 Types
- 3 Historical uses
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 External links
Cast iron is made by re-melting pig iron, often along with substantial quantities of scrap iron and scrap steel and taking various steps to remove undesirable contaminants. Phosphorus and sulphur may be burnt out of the molten iron, but this also burns out the carbon, which must be replaced. Depending on the application, carbon and silicon content are adjusted to the desired levels, which may be anywhere from 2 to 3.5% and 1 to 3% respectively. Other elements are then added to the melt before the final form is produced by casting.
Iron is sometimes melted in a special type of blast furnace known as a cupola, but more often melted in electric induction furnaces. After melting is complete, the molten iron is poured into a holding furnace or ladle.
Cast iron's properties are changed by adding various alloying elements, or alloyants. Next to carbon, silicon is the most important alloyant because it forces carbon out of solution. Instead the carbon forms graphite which results in a softer iron, reduces shrinkage, lowers strength, and decreases density. Sulfur, when added, forms iron sulfide, which prevents the formation of graphite and increases hardness. The problem with sulfur is that it makes molten cast iron sluggish, which causes short run defects. To counter the effects of sulfur, manganese is added because the two form into manganese sulfide instead of iron sulfide. The manganese sulfide is lighter than the melt so it tends to float out of the melt and into the slag. The amount of manganese required to neutralize sulfur is 1.7×sulfur content+0.3%. If more than this amount of manganese is added, then manganese carbide forms, which increases hardness and chilling, except in grey iron, where up to 1% of manganese increases strength and density.
Nickel is one of the most common alloyants because it refines the pearlite and graphite structure, improves toughness, and evens out hardness differences between section thicknesses. Chromium is added in small amounts to the ladle to reduce free graphite, produce chill, and because it is a powerful carbide stabilizer; nickel is often added in conjunction. A small amount of tin can be added as a substitute for 0.5% chromium. Copper is added in the ladle or in the furnace, on the order of 0.5 to 2.5%, to decrease chill, refine graphite, and increase fluidity. Molybdenum is added on the order of 0.3 to 1% to increase chill and refine the graphite and pearlite structure; it is often added in conjunction with nickel, copper, and chromium to form high strength irons. Titanium is added as a degasser and deoxidizer, but it also increases fluidity. 0.15 to 0.5% vanadium are added to cast iron to stabilize cementite, increase hardness, and increase resistance to wear and heat. 0.1 to 0.3% zirconium helps to form graphite, deoxidize, and increase fluidity.
In malleable iron melts, bismuth is added, on the scale of 0.002 to 0.01%, to increase how much silicon can be added. In white iron, boron is added to aid in the production of malleable iron; it also reduces the coarsening effect of bismuth.
Grey cast iron
Grey cast iron is characterized by its graphitic microstructure, which causes fractures of the material to have a grey appearance. It is the most commonly used cast iron and the most widely used cast material based on weight. Most cast irons have a chemical composition of 2.5 to 4.0% carbon, 1 to 3% silicon, and the remainder is iron. Grey cast iron has less tensile strength and shock resistance than steel, but its compressive strength is comparable to low and medium carbon steel.
White cast iron
It is the iron that displays white fractured surface due to the presence of cementite. With a lower silicon content and faster cooling, the carbon in white cast iron precipitates out of the melt as the metastable phase cementite, Fe3C, rather than graphite. The cementite which precipitates from the melt forms as relatively large particles, usually in a eutectic mixture, where the other phase is austenite (which on cooling might transform to martensite). These eutectic carbides are much too large to provide precipitation hardening (as in some steels, where cementite precipitates might inhibit plastic deformation by impeding the movement of dislocations through the ferrite matrix). Rather, they increase the bulk hardness of the cast iron simply by virtue of their own very high hardness and their substantial volume fraction, such that the bulk hardness can be approximated by a rule of mixtures. In any case, they offer hardness at the expense of toughness. Since carbide makes up a large fraction of the material, white cast iron could reasonably be classified as a cermet. White iron is too brittle for use in many structural components, but with good hardness and abrasion resistance and relatively low cost, it finds use in such applications as the wear surfaces (impeller and volute) of slurry pumps, shell liners and lifter bars in ball mills and autogenous grinding mills, balls and rings in coal pulverisers, and the teeth of a backhoe's digging bucket (although cast medium-carbon martensitic steel is more common for this application).
It is difficult to cool thick castings fast enough to solidify the melt as white cast iron all the way through. However, rapid cooling can be used to solidify a shell of white cast iron, after which the remainder cools more slowly to form a core of grey cast iron. The resulting casting, called a chilled casting, has the benefits of a hard surface and a somewhat tougher interior.
High-chromium white iron alloys allow massive castings (for example, a 10-tonne impeller) to be sand cast, i.e., a high cooling rate is not required, as well as providing impressive abrasion resistance.
Malleable cast iron
Malleable iron starts as a white iron casting that is then heat treated at about 900 °C (1,650 °F). Graphite separates out much more slowly in this case, so that surface tension has time to form it into spheroidal particles rather than flakes. Due to their lower aspect ratio, spheroids are relatively short and far from one another, and have a lower cross section vis-a-vis a propagating crack or phonon. They also have blunt boundaries, as opposed to flakes, which alleviates the stress concentration problems faced by grey cast iron. In general, the properties of malleable cast iron are more like mild steel. There is a limit to how large a part can be cast in malleable iron, since it is made from white cast iron.
Ductile cast iron
A more recent development is nodular or ductile cast iron. Tiny amounts of magnesium or cerium added to these alloys slow down the growth of graphite precipitates by bonding to the edges of the graphite planes. Along with careful control of other elements and timing, this allows the carbon to separate as spheroidal particles as the material solidifies. The properties are similar to malleable iron, but parts can be cast with larger sections.
Table of comparative qualities of cast irons
Comparative qualities of cast irons Name Nominal composition [% by weight] Form and condition Yield strength [ksi (0.2% offset)] Tensile strength [ksi] Elongation [% (in 2 inches)] Hardness [Brinell scale] Uses Grey cast iron (ASTM A48) C 3.4, Si 1.8, Mn 0.5 Cast — 50 0.5 260 Engine cylinder blocks, flywheels, gears, machine-tool bases White cast iron C 3.4, Si 0.7, Mn 0.6 Cast (as cast) — 25 0 450 Bearing surfaces Malleable iron (ASTM A47) C 2.5, Si 1.0, Mn 0.55 Cast (annealed) 33 52 12 130 Axle bearings, track wheels, automotive crankshafts Ductile or nodular iron C 3.4, P 0.1, Mn 0.4, Ni 1.0, Mg 0.06 Cast 53 70 18 170 Gears, camshafts, crankshafts Ductile or nodular iron (ASTM A339) — cast (quench tempered) 108 135 5 310 — Ni-hard type 2 C 2.7, Si 0.6, Mn 0.5, Ni 4.5, Cr 2.0 Sand-cast — 55 — 550 High strength applications Ni-resist type 2 C 3.0, Si 2.0, Mn 1.0, Ni 20.0, Cr 2.5 Cast — 27 2 140 Resistance to heat and corrosion
Because cast iron is comparatively brittle, it is not suitable for purposes where a sharp edge or flexibility is required. It is strong under compression, but not under tension. Cast Iron was first invented in China in the 4th century BC (see also: Du Shi) and poured into moulds to make ploughshares and pots as well as weapons and pagodas. In the west, where it did not become available till the late 14th century, its earliest uses included cannon and shot. Henry VIII initiated the casting of cannon in England. Soon, English iron workers using blast furnaces developed the technique of producing cast iron cannons, which, while heavier than the prevailing bronze cannons, were much cheaper and enabled England to arm her navy better. The ironmasters of the Weald continued producing cast irons until the 1760s and armament was one of the main uses of irons after the Restoration.
Cast iron pots were made at many English blast furnaces at the time. In 1707, Abraham Darby patented a method of making pots (and kettles) thinner and hence cheaper than his rivals could. This meant that his Coalbrookdale furnaces became dominant as suppliers of pots, an activity in which they were joined in the 1720s and 1730s by a small number of other coke-fired blast furnaces.
The development of the steam engine by Thomas Newcomen provided further market for cast iron, since cast iron was considerably cheaper than the brass of which the engine cylinders were originally made. John Wilkinson was a great exponent of cast iron, who, amongst other things, cast the cylinders for many of James Watt's improved steam engines until the establishment of the Soho Foundry in 1795.
Cast iron bridges
The use of cast iron for structural purposes began in the late 1770s, when Abraham Darby III built the Iron Bridge, although short beams had already been used, such as in the blast furnaces at Coalbrookdale. Other inventions followed, including one patented by Thomas Paine. Cast iron bridges became commonplace as the Industrial Revolution gathered pace. Thomas Telford adopted the material for his bridge upstream at Buildwas, and then for a canal trough aqueduct at Longdon-on-Tern on the Shrewsbury Canal.
It was followed by the Chirk Aqueduct and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, both of which remain in use following the recent restorations. Cast iron beam bridges were used widely by the early railways, such as the Water Street Bridge at the Manchester terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Problems arose when a new bridge carrying the Chester and Holyhead Railway across the River Dee in Chester collapsed in May 1847, less than a year after it was opened. The Dee bridge disaster was caused by excessive loading at the centre of the beam by a passing train, and many similar bridges had to be demolished and rebuilt, often in wrought iron. The bridge had been erroneously designed, being trussed with wrought iron straps, which were wrongly thought to reinforce the structure. The centres of the beams were put into bending, with the lower edge in tension, where cast iron, like masonry, is very weak.
The best way of using cast iron for bridge construction was by using arches, so that all the material is in compression. Cast iron, again like masonry, is very strong in compression. Wrought iron, like most other kinds of iron and indeed like most metals in general, is strong in tension, and also tough - resistant to fracturing. The relationship between wrought iron and cast iron, for structural purposes, may be thought of as analogous to the relationship between wood and stone.
Nevertheless, cast iron continued to be used in inappropriate structural ways, until the Tay Rail Bridge disaster of 1879 cast serious doubt on the use of the material. Crucial lugs for holding tie bars and struts in the Tay Bridge had been cast integral with the columns and they failed in the early stages of the accident. In addition, the bolt holes were also cast and not drilled, so that all the tension from the tie bars was placed on a corner, rather than being spread over the length of the hole. The replacement bridge was built in wrought iron and steel.
The iron bridge over the River Severn at Coalbrookdale, England
Cast iron columns enabled architects to build tall buildings without the enormously thick walls required to construct masonry buildings of any height. Such flexibility allowed tall buildings to have large windows. In urban centres like SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District in New York City, manufacturing buildings and early department stores were built with cast iron columns to allow daylight to enter. Slender cast iron columns could also support the weight that would otherwise require thick masonry columns or piers, opening up floor spaces in factories, and sight lines in churches and auditoriums. The historic Iron Building in Watervliet, New York, is a cast iron building.
Another important use was in textile mills. The air in the mills contained flammable fibres from the cotton, hemp, or wool being spun. As a result, textile mills had an alarming propensity to burn down. The solution was to build them completely of non-combustible materials, and it was found convenient to provide the building with an iron frame, largely of cast iron, replacing flammable wood. The first such building was at Ditherington in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. Many other warehouses were built using cast iron columns and beams, although faulty designs, flawed beams or overloading sometimes caused building collapses and structural failures.
During the Industrial Revolution, cast iron was also widely used for frame and other fixed parts of machinery, including spinning and later weaving machines in textile mills. Cast iron became widely used, and many towns had foundries producing industrial and agricultural machinery.
- ^ a b c Gillespie, LaRoux K. (1988), Troubleshooting manufacturing processes (4th ed.), SME, p. 4-4, ISBN 9780872633261, http://books.google.com/books?id=SX_SO_CkiUIC&pg=PT195&lpg=PT195.
- ^ Lyons, William C. and Plisga, Gary J. (eds.) Standard Handbook of Petroleum & Natural Gas Engineering, Elsevier, 2006
- ^ Robert Temple (1985). Genius of China. pp. 42–4.
- John Gloag and Derek Bridgwater, A History of Cast Iron in Architecture, Allen and Unwin, London (1948)
- Peter R Lewis, Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay: Reinvestigating the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879, Tempus (2004) ISBN 07524 3160 9
- Peter R Lewis, Disaster on the Dee: Robert Stephenson's Nemesis of 1847, Tempus (2007) ISBN 0-7524-4266-2
- George Laird, Richard Gundlach and Klaus Röhrig, Abrasion-Resistant Cast Iron Handbook, ASM International (2000) ISBN 0-87433-224-9
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