The microalloying with niobium (Nb) and titanium (Ti) is standardly applied in low carbon steel high-strength low-alloy (HSLA) steels and enables austenite conditioning during thermo-mechanical controlled processing (TMCP), which results in pronounced grain refinement in the finished steel. In that respect, it is important to better understand the precipitation kinetics as well as the precipitation sequence in a typical Nb-Ti-microalloyed steel. Various characterization methods were utilized in this study for tracing microalloy precipitation after simulating different austenite TMCP conditions in a Gleeble thermo-mechanical simulator. Atom probe tomography (APT), scanning transmission electron microscopy in a focused ion beam equipped scanning electron microscope (STEM-on-FIB), and electrical resistivity measurements provided complementary information on the precipitation status and were correlated with each other. It was demonstrated that accurate electrical resistivity measurements of the bulk steel could monitor the general consumption of solute microalloys (Nb) during hot working and were further complemented by APT measurements of the steel matrix. Precipitates that had formed during cooling or isothermal holding could be distinguished from strain-induced precipitates by corroborating STEM measurements with APT results, because APT specifically allowed obtaining detailed information about the chemical composition of precipitates as well as the elemental distribution. The current paper highlights the complementarity of these methods and shows first results within the framework of a larger study on strain-induced precipitation.
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