Inclusion-induced acicular ferrite (AF) nucleation has been used for microstructure refinement in steel. Austenitization conditions have a significant influence on AF nucleation ability. In this paper, the effects of austenitization temperature and holding time on the transformation behaviors of low carbon steel containing Ti–Ca oxide particles were studied. A thermal treatment experiment, high temperature in situ observation, and calculation of Mn diffusion were carried out. The results indicate that small austenite grain size under low austenitizing temperature promoted grain boundary reaction products. With an increase in austenitizing temperature, the nucleation sites transferred to intragranular particles and AF transformation was improved. The inclusion particles in the Ti–Ca deoxidized steel were featured by an oxide core rich in Ti and a lesser amount of Ca and with MnS precipitation on the local surface, which showed a strong ability to promote AF nucleation. At a low austenitizing temperature, Mn diffusion was limited and the development of Mn-depleted zones (MDZs) around inclusions was not sufficient. The higher diffusion capacity of Mn at a high austenitizing temperature promoted the formation of MDZs to a larger degree and increased the AF nucleation ability. Boron segregation at large-sized austenite grain boundaries played an important role in AF transformation. Austenite grain size, Mn-depleted zone development, and boron segregation at grain boundaries were the decisive factors influencing the transformation behaviors under different austenitization conditions for the test steel.
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