When low temperature nitriding of austenitic stainless steels is carried out, it is very important to remove the surface passive layer for obtaining homogeneous incorporation of nitrogen. In the glow-discharge nitriding technique this surface activation is performed by cathodic sputtering pre-treatment, which can heat also the samples up to nitriding temperature. This preliminary study investigates the possibility of producing modified surface layers on austenitic stainless steels by performing low pressure glow-discharge treatments with nitrogen, similar to cathodic sputtering, so that surface activation, heating and nitrogen incorporation can occur in a single step having a short duration (up to about 10 min). Depending on treatment parameters, it is possible to produce different types of modified surface layers. One type, similar to that obtained with low temperature nitriding, consists mainly of S phase and it shows improved surface hardness and corrosion resistance in 5% NaCl solution in comparison with the untreated steel. Another type has large amounts of chromium nitride precipitates, which cause a marked hardness increase but a poor corrosion resistance. These surface treatments influence also water wetting properties, so that the apparent contact angle values become >90°, indicating a hydrophobic behavior.
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