Low carbon microalloyed steels show interesting commercial possibilities by combining different “micro”-alloying elements when high strength and low temperature toughness properties are required. Depending on the elements chosen for the chemistry design, the mechanisms controlling the strengths and toughness may differ. In this paper, a detailed characterization of the microstructural features of three different microalloyed steels, Nb, Nb-Mo and Ti-Mo, is described using mainly the electron backscattered diffraction technique (EBSD) as well as transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The contribution of different strengthening mechanisms to yield strength and impact toughness is evaluated, and its relative weight is computed for different coiling temperatures. Grain refinement is shown to be the most effective mechanism for controlling both mechanical properties. As yield strength increases, the relative contribution of precipitation strengthening increases, and this factor is especially important in the Ti-Mo microalloyed steel where different combinations of interphase and random precipitation are detected depending on the coiling temperature. In addition to average grain size values, microstructural heterogeneity is considered in order to propose a new equation for predicting ductile–brittle transition temperature (DBTT). This equation considers the wide range of microstructures analyzed as well as the increase in the transition temperature related to precipitation strengthening.
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