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Company, University Partner on Steel Manufacturing Process

Steel manufacturing (Library of Congress)

(Library of Congress)

A materials science lab at Ohio State University in Columbus is working with a manufacturer in Detroit to better understand the science behind the small company’s high-performance steel product. The researchers and the company’s president reported their findings last month in the journal Materials Science and Technology (paid subscription required).

Gary Cola, founder of the company SFP Works LLC, invented the process that makes what he calls Flash Bainite, a form of steel he says is lighter, and has tested stronger and more shock-absorbing than the most common titanium alloys. In addition, the steel takes a small fraction of the time — about 10 seconds — needed to make traditional steels.

Cola is a self-taught metallurgist and entrepreneur, and he approached Ohio State materials scientist Suresh Babu to learn more about the physics behind the process. The better Cola and his company understood the science, the more they could find ways to adapt and improve on the current product.

Babu and his team looked into the microstructure of the steel, the crystalline arrangement of the grains in the material, using an electron microscope. The found the microstructure of Cola’s steel resembled traditional steel, called a martensite structure. But they also found microstructures of bainite alloys and carbides, with high carbon content. The Ohio State researchers believe the rapid cooling used by Cola’s process enables the steel to keep these other compounds, rather than dissolving in traditional, slower processes.

One result of its unique microstructure is the steel’s increased ductility — the ability to crumble before breaking. This increased ductility means the steel can absorb more force, an important property in vehicles and military armor.

One of Babu’s students is testing Cola’s process to solve the problem of weaknesses induced from the heat of welding. High-strength steel often weakens just outside the weld joint, where the alloy has been heated and cooled. Bringing the speed of Cola’s steel-making method to welding might reduce the damage and thus the weakening found in these adjacent areas.

Read More: Engineers Test Fire’s Effects on Structural Steel

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