• chromium carbides;
  • dislocations;
  • small-angle X-ray scattering;
  • synchrotron radiation;
  • precipitation

The evolution of the size distribution of (Fe,Cr) carbides and the dislocation structure in low-chromium steel is studied during quenching and rapid heating by in situ small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS). The two-dimensional SAXS patterns consist of streaks on top of an isotropic SAXS signal. The evolution of the size distribution of the (Fe,Cr) carbides during heat treatment is determined from the isotropic component of the SAXS patterns. The isotropic part of the SAXS patterns shows that, after austenitization and quenching to room temperature, the average precipitate radius is 4.74 nm and the dispersion parameter for the lognormal size distribution is 0.33. Subsequent rapid heating to 823 K results in an average precipitate size of 5.25 nm and a dispersion parameter of 0.26. Bright-field transmission electron microscopy and high-resolution transmission electron microscopy reveal the nearly spherical morphology of the precipitates. The microstructural evolution underlying the increase in the average precipitate size and the decrease in the dispersion parameter after heating to and annealing at 823 K is probably that at room temperature two types of precipitates are present, i.e. (Fe,Cr)23C6 and (Fe,Cr)7C3 precipitates according to thermodynamic calculations, and at 823 K only (Fe,Cr)7C3 precipitates are present. Additional measurements have been carried out on a single crystal of ferrite containing (Fe,Cr) carbides by combining three-dimensional X-ray diffraction (3DXRD) and SAXS during rotation of the specimen at room temperature, in order to investigate the origin of the streaks at low angles in the SAXS pattern. From simulations based on the theory of SAXS from dislocations, it is shown that the measured streaks, including the spottiness, in the two-dimensional SAXS patterns correspond to a dislocation structure of symmetric low-angle tilt boundaries, which in turn corresponds to the crystallographic orientation gradient in the single crystal of ferrite as measured by 3DXRD microscopy.