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Analysis and Prevention of Cracking during Strip Casting of AISI 304 Stainless Steel

DONG-KYUN CHOO, SUNGHAK LEE, HEE-KYUNG MOON, and TAEWOOK KANG In this study, a microstructural investigation was conducted on the cracking phenomenon occurring during strip casting of an AISI 304 stainless steel. Detailed microstructural analyses of the cracked regions showed that most of the cracks were deep, sharp, and parallel to the casting direction. They initiated at the tip of dendrites and propagated along the segregated liquid films between primary dendrites, indicating that they were typical solidification cracks. This cracking phenomenon was closely related to the inhomogeneous solidification of cast strips, represented by depressions, i.e., uneven and somewhat concave areas on the strip surface. The depressions, which were unavoidable in flat rolls due to the presence of a gas gap between the roll and the cast strip, were finely and evenly distributed over the cast strip surface by intentionally providing homogeneous roughness on the roll surface; then, the number and size of cracks were considerably reduced. In addition, the nitrogen gas atmosphere, which retained high solubility in the melt during cooling and good wettability with the roll surface, was successfully used to prevent cracking, because the thickness of the gas gap was minimized.

I. INTRODUCTION

RECENTLY, intensive studies have been undertaken on a strip-casting process of austenitic stainless steels to produce thin strips, in order to develop a new technology with lower production costs. In this process, only 10 to 70 pct cold rolling is applied, with complete omission of hot rolling.[14] Several companies have already finished constructing plant facilities for commercialization, and new products are currently under commission.[5] Since solidification proceeds much faster in strip casting than in conventional continuous casting, there are many advantages such as refinement of the solidified structure, reduction of microsegregation, and expansion of the solubility limit. Strip casting also lowers the production cost by cutting the labor and energy costs and is an environmentally conscious strip production process. However, it is imperative that the quality of the surface and interior of the final strip-cast products meet the quality level of hot-rolled products produced by continuous casting, because the rolling ratio available after strip casting is limited. Among the quality problems posed by strip casting, the occurrence of solidification cracks on the surface of cast strips is the most critical one. It has been reported that solidification cracking is caused by hot brittleness, inhomogeneous roll cooling, variances in the solidified shell thickness due to heat-transfer barriers, and melt fluctuation in the meniscus region, where contact between the melt and rolls starts.[6,7] The solidification cracking occurring during continuous casting is interpreted by associating the deformation due to thermal stress and transformation stress with the
DONG-KYUN CHOO and HEE-KYUNG MOON, Senior Research Engineers, and TAEWOOK KANG, General Manager, are with the Strip Casting Project Team, Research Institute of Industrial Science and Technology, Pohang, 790-600 Korea. SUNGHAK LEE, Professor, Center for Advanced Aerospace Materials, Pohang University of Science and Technology, Pohang, 790-784 Korea, is jointly appointed to the Materials Science and Engineering Department, Pohang University of Technology. Manuscript submitted November 10, 1999.
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brittle-temperature region.[8,9] It mainly occurs in the region between the melting point and 1200 C, which corresponds to the first brittle region among the three divided regions in the cooling period from the melting point.[10] It also arises from the distribution of a low-melting-point liquid phase between dendrites, caused by interdendritic segregation.[8] Since it readily arises under small strains when penetration of the liquid phase is not allowed due to an insufficient gap between dendrites, it is generally observed that the solidification cracks initiate and propagate between dendrites. Many studies on the solidification cracking in an AISI 304 stainless steel (a representative austenitic steel) have also been made in the areas of welding and conventional continuous casting.[11,12] Very few studies have been made on the solidification cracking during strip casting,[13] particularly on the correlation between the microstructure, surface cracks, crack initiation mode, and mechanisms involved. In the strip-casting process, solidification proceeds under direct contact of a roll with a solidified shell, wherein a gas gap alone exists without the presence of mold powders, and, thus, different approaches and solutions from those for the cracking occurring in continuous casting are required. In other words, more studies should be done on the close correlation of the cracking with the pattern of depressions which frequently occur when a solidified shell is in direct contact with a roll. In the present study, the solidification cracking occurring during strip casting of an AISI 304 stainless steel was investigated, and the mechanisms involved were defined by analyzing the solidification cracks microstructurally. For this purpose, the cracked region and its fractured surface were observed, and the results were correlated with the solidification behavior in order to determine the strip-casting conditions in which the cracking can be prevented or minimized.
II. EXPERIMENTAL The material used in this study is an AISI 304 stainless steel (chemical composition: 0.044C-18.3Cr-8.2Ni-0.045Si0.9Mn-Fe (wt pct)) and consists of an equilibrium phase of
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Fig. 1Schematic drawing of a twin-roll strip caster used for strip casting of an AISI 304 stainless steel. Fig. 2Photograph of the surface of an as-cast strip of an AISI 304 stainless steel. Cracks are well revealed by infiltration of a dye-check solution.

Table I. Details of an Experimental Twin-Roll Strip Caster


Roll diameter, width Roll material Ladle capacity Tundish capacity Maximum casting speed Strip size 1250 mm, 1300 mm copper (nickel coated) 10 ton 2 ton 130 m/min 2 to 5 1300 mm

austenite ( ) and a small amount of nonequilibrium phase of -ferrite, which are formed by reactions of L L L during solidification. The steel was melted in an induction melting furnace of 10-ton capacity and then fed into a twin-roll strip caster having two revolving rolls via a ladle, a tundish, and a nozzle to fabricate cast strips. The experimental twin-roll strip caster is composed of two copper rolls of 1300 mm in width and 1250 mm in diameter, with coolant channels installed inside the copper roll sleeves. Figure 1 shows a schematic drawing of the twin-roll strip caster, which is composed of a ladle, tundish, nozzle, and rolls, and Table I provides additional details. The roll surface was coated with a 1- to 3-mm-thick layer of nickel, to improve the durability and to moderate the cooling performance. The possible strip thickness ranges from 2 to 5 mm, and the maximum casting speed is 130 m/min. To minimize the formation of inclusions due to reoxidization of the melt during casting, the feeding nozzles were completely sealed by argon gas. The casting speed and thickness and roll separating force could be controlled as desired. The final cast strips in this study were 2- to 3-mm thick, and the casting speed was 50 to 90 m/min. A number of cracks were found on the surface of the cast strips. The cracked regions were pickled to eliminate the surface oxide film and were sectioned to obtain metallographic specimens. The specimens were polished and electroetched for 1 minute at 4 V in a 50 pct HNO3 solution, and then microstructural observations were made by an optical microscope and a scanning electron microscope (SEM). For the analysis of -ferrite, the specimens were electroetched for 3 to 6 minutes at 4 V in a 10 N KOH solution. In order to investigate the fracture mode, the cracked regions were fractured after they were quenched in liquid nitrogen, and the fractured surfaces were observed by SEM.
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Fig. 3Low-magnification optical micrograph of a cross-sectional microstructure of a longitudinally cracked region in a 304 stainless steel strip. Electroetched by 50 pct nitric acid.

III. RESULTS A. Microstructure of the Cracked Region Figure 2 is a photograph of the surface of the cast strip after the cracked region was infiltrated by a dye-check solution. Many longitudinal cracks parallel to the casting direction are observed, together with occasional transverse cracks. A low-magnification optical micrograph of a cross-sectional area of a well developed longitudinal crack is shown in Figure 3. An equiaxed zone of even thickness is formed in the uncracked region of the cast strip. The equiaxed zone is expanded near the cracked region, and the surface region is accompanied by a depression (the range marked by an arrow). The depression, as marked by an arrow, indicates the uneven and somewhat concave area on the surface, where solidification was delayed. The crack is aligned parallel to the direction of dendrite growth, and micropores or segregation are found in the lower part of the crack, as indicated by an arrow. Most of the longitudinal cracks are sharp, narrow, and deep (Figure 4(a)). Some of these sharp cracks contain pores or internal cracks below the surface cracks. Figures 4(b)
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Fig. 4Optical micrographs of cross-sectional microstructures of longitudinal cracks, showing (a) a typical longitudinal crack, (b) and (c) an internal crack and a depression, and (d ) a smooth longitudinal crack. (a) was not etched, and (b) through (d) were electroetched by a 50 pct nitric acid and 10 N KOH solution, respectively.

and (c) show an example of a cracked region containing a subsurface internal crack. A depression formed by the bending of the solidified shell is clearly observed (the arrow marked in Figure 4(b)), and an internal crack formed by the bending of the columnar grains and by the extension of the
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primary dendrite arm spacing is also observed.[14,15] When the microstructure of the cracked region is magnified (Figure 4(c)), the crack is noted to propagate along the primary dendrite arms of the columnar grain structure, and the segregation line is connected to this crack. In this case, the main
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crack tends to initiate inside the cast strip. It is, thus, found that cracks generally initiate inside the solidified shells and propagate toward both the surface and the interior as the cast strip becomes thicker during solidification. There are also some dull longitudinal cracks, as shown in Figure 4(d). When electroetched by a KOH solution, coarse lamellar -ferrite is observed at the crack tip and its sides. In some solidification-delayed regions, the cooling rate is slowed, and, thus, diffusion is insufficient here to completely decompose -ferrite.[16] A -ferritefree zone is also observed, as indicated by an arrow. This region looks like an equiaxed zone, as the secondary dendrite arm spacing (SDAS) is coarser, in general, here than in the surrounding area. Segregation lines and coarse -ferrite are connected to the interior of the equiaxed zone. Transverse cracks exist as surface grooves of a hemispherical or oval shape, in general (Figures 5(a) and (b)). Their depth and depth/width ratio are much smaller than the longitudinal cracks. At the groove tip, a sharp secondary crack is also present in the crack shown in Figure 5(b). Figure 5(c) is an optical micrograph of the same region of Figure 5(b) after it was etched by a HNO3 solution. It is believed that a secondary crack can initiate and grow when stress arises mechanically due to the rolling load near the roll nip and is concentrated by the notch effect. Coarse -ferrites and segregations are found at the tip and sides of the secondary crack. B. Depressions As shown in Figures 3 and 4(b), most of the cracked surfaces contain depressions, on which further studies are required. In order to examine the contact mode, the distribution of the noncontacted areas between the roll and the solidified shell was investigated, and an example is provided in Figure 6. It is not a kind of inhomogeneous solidification region like the caster folds or oscillation marks associated with local surface depressions, which are formed in a wide range when using mold powders during continuous casting.[17] Smaller inhomogeneous solidification regions like the ones occurring during chill casting, in which direct contact with a mold is made without using mold powders, are formed in strip casting.[18] The areas well in contact with the roll are shiny and show lower roughness and a thin oxide-scale layer. Those in poor contact with the roll are not shiny and show higher roughness, occasional undulations, and a thick oxide-scale layer. When the surface is etched, the well-contacted areas are observed to have smaller grains, whereas the noncontacted areas have larger grains. C. Fractured Surface Figures 7(a) and (b) are SEM fractographs showing both the crack surface and the intentionally fractured surface. The dendrite shape in the crack surface is not clearly seen, but fine secondary dendrite arms covered with oxide scale are observed to have undulations (Figure 7(a)). The SDAS is 9 to 10 m at a location of 360 m away from the surface (a region where solidification is delayed by a slow cooling rate), larger than the spacing of 4 to 5 m in the normal region. Figure 7(b) shows another fractured surface. Dendrites are clearly visible in the crack surface, and dimples are observed in the intentionally fractured surface. Figures
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Fig. 5Optical micrographs of cross-sectional microstructures of transverse cracks, showing (a) a typical transverse crack and (b) and (c) a secondary crack formed inside a transverse crack. (a) and (b) were not etched, whereas (c) was etched by a 50 pct nitric acid.

8(a) through (c) are high-magnification fractographs of the top, central, and interfacial regions of Figure 7(b), respectively. Extremely coarse primary dendrite arms covered with
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Fig. 6Example showing distribution of noncontacted areas between a roll surface and a solidified shell during solidification.

Fig. 8SEM fractographs showing (a) a near-surface region of the cracked surface, (b) a center region of the cracked surface, and (c) an interfacial region between the cracked surface and the intentionally fractured surface.

Fig. 7(a) and (b) SEM fractographs showing the cracked surface and the intentionally fractured surface. The cracked and the intentionally fractured regions are marked by arrows.

than in Figure 7(a). The intentionally fractured surface below the interfacial region shows dimpled rupture identical to a typical tensile fracture surface, and oxide scale is not observed (Figure 8(c)). D. The SDAS Distribution The SDAS (which indicates the solidification rate of the columnar structure) of the cracked region is different from that of the uncracked normal region. When -ferrite is retained at the center of columnar grains and has a vermicular-shaped
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oxide scale are well developed in the top region (Figure 8(a)), while coarse secondary dendrites are formed in the central region (Figure 8(b)). The SDAS measured on the crack surface at a position of 360 m below the sheet surface is 14 to 18 m, showing that the solidification-delayed region associated with a surface depression is much coarser
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Fig. 9SDAS vs distance from the surface for the cracked region and the normal region.

cast structure,[19] the SDAS can be measured. Figure 9 shows the SDAS data of the normal region and the cracked region. The relation between SDAS ( 2) and cooling rate (R) in the 20.41R 0.2111. Since cooling at the normal region is 2 surface is fast, the surface structure is very fine, and its SDAS is small. The cooling rates of the normal and the cracked regions at the location of 0.8 mm below the surface, which is the solid/liquid interface next to the equiaxed zone, are calculated to be 183 and 46 K/s, respectively, according to the previous equation. They correspond to spacings of 6.8 and 9.1 m in SDAS terms. The SDAS of the cracked region is wider than that of the normal region by about 2 m. This is because the contact of the solidified shell with the roll is incomplete in the cracked region, and, thus, cooling is slowed due to the slower growth of solidified shells as heat absorption to the rolls is disrupted. IV. DISCUSSION Numerous longitudinal and transverse cracks are observed on the surface of the 304 stainless steel strips fabricated by strip casting. Major factors affecting the formation of these cracks are depressions resulting from a gas gap between the roll and the cast strip, the cooling rate, and the gas atmosphere. Since these factors are closely related, their correlations should be investigated to understand the mechanisms involved in the crack formation. A. Effects of Roll-Surface Treatment on Cracking Because depressions often cause cracks, as shown in Figures 3 and 4(b), they should first be eliminated or dispersed homogeneously in order to prevent cracking. As shown in the distribution of noncontacted areas of Figure 6, they are inhomogeneously distributed over a wide area. These noncontacted areas are created by the uneven contact and the presence of the gas gap, and, thus, it is quite difficult to completely eliminate them during strip casting. In the present study, therefore, it was intended to distribute the noncontacted areas finely, so as to solve the cracking problem. For
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this purpose, rolls which were intentionally surface treated to have some roughness were used instead of those having a flat and smooth surface. According to studies on strip casting,[20] there is a close correlation between the roughness of the roll surface and the cracking. As aforementioned in Section IIIB, the cracking phenomenon is closely related to the distribution of the noncontacted areas. It is, thus, necessary to minimize the local stress as much as possible and to control the deformation within the allowable limit by distributing the contact areas between the melt and rolls evenly and finely. To provide uniform solidification sites on the roll surface, dents were formed by photoresist etching. Then, casting was carried out using rolls divided into two regions, with the nondented region on the left-hand side and the dented region on the right-hand side, as shown in Figure 10(a). In the left-hand-side strip, cast using the nondented roll region, a number of cracks form continuously along the casting direction, whereas the right-hand-side strip, cast using the dented roll region, shows a homogeneous solidification mode and very few cracks. The temperature of the cast strip surface was measured using a noncontact-type infrared image analyzer, and the thermography is shown in Figure 10(b). The surface temperature of the left-hand-side is low, and irregular temperature peaks are observed at cracked sites, whereas that of the right-hand-side is high and even. Figure 11(a) is a photograph of the right-hand-side strip, cast using the dented roll region, which shows depressions (the white areas), as marked by arrows. They are much more uniform and more regular in size than those on the left-hand side. They are 40 to 70 m in depth and 2 to 4 mm in width. An optical micrograph of the cross-sectional area of a depression is shown in Figure 11(b). Segregation is not present below the depression, and the grain size of the concave area is slightly coarser than in nearby areas, while the equiaxed zone is expanded over a much wider area than in the cracking case. Depressions that do not cause cracking are presumed to have occurred, as solidification is delayed by the gas-gap formation. Figure 12 illustrates the relation between the crack length per unit area and the surface roughness of the dented roll. At a roll roughness of 8 to 9 m, the cracking is more obvious as the roughness decreases below it, whereas there is only minor cracking above it, since the stress occurring in the cast strip is effectively dispersed. The rolls surface roughness also influences the heat absorption of the rolls, as shown in Figure 13. The heat flux of 9.6 MW/m2 at a roll roughness of 2 m is reduced to 6.1 MW/m2 at a roughness of 14 m. Here, the heat flux was measured from the following relationship: Heat flux (W/m2) amount of coolant (kg/s)

temperature rise of coolant (K) heat capacity of coolant (J/kg K) contact area between a roll and a cast strip (m2) This reduction in heat flux is largely associated with the gas-gap thickness, which significantly affects heat transfer between a roll and a cast strip. As the cast strip is solidified, hot deformation results from thermal contraction and deformation contraction of solidified shells. Heat transfer is fast in rolls having a lower amount of roughness, since the initial
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Fig. 10(a) Photograph and (b) thermography of the strip surface cast using a roll, where the right side was dented and the left side was not. Note longitudinal cracks on the left side (nondented) of the strip surface in (a).

gas gap is hardly formed, and the amount of thermal contraction increases. Consequently, the cracking is more likely to occur because of inhomogeneous solidification caused by the large thermal contraction. On the contrary, in rolls having a higher amount of roughness, the possibility of inhomogeneous deformation and cracking is low, because the heat absorption is reduced by the larger gas gap and because thermal contraction at high temperatures is also reduced. B. Effects of Gas Atmosphere on Cracking Gas atmospheres such as argon (Ar) and nitrogen (N2) are used during strip casting to minimize the formation of inclusions caused by reoxidization of the melt. Ar gas has a low heat-transfer coefficient and poor wettability with a roll surface because of its larger interfacial energy, and it is hardly soluble in the melt. On the other hand, N2 gas leads to good wettability with a roll surface, since it reduces the surface tension of the melt,[21] and heat transfer is improved, as it increases the heat-transfer coefficient.[22] Wetting of the contacting interfaces with a roll is good, because of easy solubility in the melt.[23] In the present study, Ar gas was first used for casting, but, because the cracking phenomenon persisted, N2
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gas, which has good wettability with the roll surface and a higher solubility in the melt, was used for casting. Then, the effects of different gases on the cracking were compared. Figures 14(a) and (b) are optical micrographs of the crosssectional areas of strips cast using Ar and N2 gases, after coarse dents of 800 m in width and 150 m in depth were intentionally formed on the roll surface. In the case of Ar, there are sunken areas on the surface at sites corresponding to roll dents (Figure 14(a)). However, when N2 is used, the surface is protruded, and depressions of relatively homogeneous size are revealed (Figure 14(b)). Figures 14(c) and (d) are optical micrographs of the surface microstructures of the strips cast using Ar and N2 gases. When N2 is used, the columnar zone is well developed and thicker, and the grains are slightly finer in most areas. The amount of retained -ferrite is smaller, because N2 provides faster decomposition of -ferrite than does Ar. This is because the heat transfer is accelerated and cooling is speeded due to the thinner gas gap when N2 is used. Figures 15(a) and (b) are schematic drawings of the two solidification conditions, respectively. Using a N2 gas atmosphere, solidification occurs preferentially around the dent, and columnar grains are intensely grown. These preferentially grown sites play
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Fig. 13Mean heat flux vs surface roughness of the dented rolls.

Fig. 11(a) Photograph and (b) cross-sectional optical micrograph showing depressions (white area, arrow marks) of the strip cast using a dented roll.

a role in evenly distributing the stress occurring during solidification (Figure 15(b)). However, using an Ar gas atmosphere, there are no sites for preferential solidification (Figure 15(a)). Variations in surface shape displayed at sites corresponding to the roll-surface dents are associated with differences in heat transfer between the roll and the strip, the gas solubility, and the stress distribution, depending on the physical and chemical properties of gases present inside the roll dents during solidification.[24] Consequently, even in dented rolls, some level of cracking persists when Ar is used, but the cracking is gone when N2 is used, so that protrusions are well developed on cast strips, as shown in Figure 12. To examine the effects of the gas atmosphere on the heat absorption of the rolls, casting was carried out using a mixed gas atmosphere of N2 and Ar, and the results are shown in Figure 16. As the Ar/N2 gas ratio increases, the heat flux decreases. This reduction in heat absorption is attributed to the deterioration of the Ar gas solubility, the development of sunken areas, and the inhomogeneous solidification caused by the increased gas-gap size. Therefore, the possibility of the cracking also increases when increasing the Ar amount. In the present study, the cracking phenomenon occurring during strip casting of an AISI 304 stainless steel was investigated by analyzing the formation mechanisms of cracks and depressions and by correlating them with solidification behavior. Based on the results, methods to forecast the cracking and to prevent it were suggested. Particularly, for the improvement of strip-casting performance and product quality, it is a valuable suggestion to distribute depressions (which are unavoidable in flat rolls due to the presence of the gas gap) finely and homogeneously over the whole area of the cast strip. The cracking can be prevented by intentionally providing homogeneous roughness on the roll surface and by using a N2 gas atmosphere. V. CONCLUSIONS

Fig. 12Crack length per unit area of the strips cast using dented rolls vs roll surface roughness.

In this study, cracks occurring during strip casting of a 304 stainless steel were analyzed, producing the following conclusions.
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Fig. 14Optical micrographs of cross-sectional microstructures of strips cast using (a) Ar and (b) N2 gas atmosphere. (c) and (d ) are surface microstructures of (a) and (b), respectively.

Fig. 15Schematic drawings of cross-sectional microstructures of the strips cast using (a) Ar and (b) N2 gas atmosphere, showing cross-sectional surface shapes and growth directions of dendrites.

1. Cracks occurring in cast strips were mostly deep, sharp, and longitudinal ones, together with a few occasions of dull, transverse cracks. At crack tips, segregation and ferrite were mainly retained, indicating that these cracks were typical solidification cracks.
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2. Investigation into the fractured surfaces of the cracked regions revealed that the surfaces were covered with oxide scale and that dendrite arms were visible. The distribution of the SDAS in the cracked region was much coarser than in the normal region.
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Fig. 16Mean heat flux for the dented roll vs Ar concentration in atmosphere.

3. The cracking phenomenon was closely related to inhomogeneous solidification, as represented by depressions. By increasing the size of the depressions, the possibility of cracking also increased. Thus, the number and size of cracks were considerably reduced by distributing the depressions finely and evenly over the cast strip surface by treating the rolls to provide intentional roughness. 4. An Ar gas atmosphere was, in general, used for strip casting. However, by using N2 gas, which provided good wettability with the roll surface and remained soluble in the melt, the thickness of the gas gap between the roll and the cast strip was minimized. Preferential solidification sites, which played a role in evenly distributing stress, were also formed during solidification, and, thus, the cracking was prevented. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This work has been supported by 1997 Pohang Iron and Steel Co. (POSCO) under Contract No. 97A002. The authors thank the strip-casting team members of the Research Institute of Industrial Science and Technology (RIST) for their help on the strip-casting experiment.

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