This research examines 17-4 PH stainless steel powders produced by atomization in either argon or nitrogen atmospheres (producing martensitic (α-Fe) or mostly austenitic (γ-Fe) phase powders, respectively) and correspondingly fabricated by selective laser melting (SLM) in either a nitrogen or argon atmosphere.Methods
Pre-alloyed 17-4 stainless steel powders prepared by atomization in either argon or nitrogen atmospheres were fabricated by SLM. The initial powder microstructures and phase structures were examined by light (optical) microscopy (OM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and X-ray diffraction (XRD). Prototypes fabricated by SLM were similarly characterized, and in addition transmission electron microscopy (TEM) characterization was also performed.Results
Martensitic powder fabricated by SLM in nitrogen gas produced a martensitic product while pre-alloyed austenitic powder produced a primarily austenitic product. In contrast, both powders produced martensitic products when fabricated by SLM in argon gas. This unusual behavior occurred because of the rapid cooling affected by nitrogen versus argon cover gas as a consequence of a 40% greater thermal conductivity of nitrogen gas versus argon gas. SLM fabricated martensitic products exhibited HRC 30 in contrast to HRC 43 when aged at 482°C for 1 hour. Austenitic products did not exhibit age-hardening.Conclusions
Using an argon cover gas, SLM-fabricated products are martensitic (and magnetic) with either an austenitic or martensitic pre-alloyed 17-4 PH stainless steel powder. Using a nitrogen cover gas, the product phase is the same as the precursor powder phase (austenitic or martensitic).