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Microstructural, mechanical, and corrosion characterization of plasma-nitrided plastic injection mould steel
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Plasma nitriding can be used to improve wear and corrosion behaviour of moulds for plastic injection by modifying the near-surface layers of these materials. In this study, a ferritic stainless steel (X36CrMo17) was plasma nitrided at 520-540 °C for 15-18 h under various gas mixtures of N2+H2 in an industrial nitriding facility. The nitrided layer microstructures, thicknesses, and strengths were studied by X-ray diffraction (XRD), conversion electron and X-ray Mössbauer spectroscopies (CEMS and CXMS), cross-sectional scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and cross-sectional nanohardness measurements. The corrosion behaviour was investigated by a salt spray method. Combined Mössbauer, XRD, and SEM analyses demonstrate that (Fe,Cr,Mn)-nitrides, the ε- and γ′-nitrides, the Fe3C-like carbide, and CrN are distributed in the top nitrided layers of several micron thickness. The CEMS and CXMS analyses clearly show the nearly complete decomposition of the surface and deeper layers into phase separated mixtures of pure bcc-Fe, (Fe,Cr,Mn)-nitrides, and CrN. The nitriding conditions with the gas composition N2/H2=1 produces the thickest nitrided layer (∼135 μm) with enhanced corrosion protection. The nanohardness of the surface layers is found to be plateau-shaped and increased by about a factor of three in comparison to that of the substrate material.