Maraging steel is an extremely low-carbon, nickel-rich alloy that is best known for its malleable and sturdy microstructure.
The term maraging is composed of “Mar,” its strengthening solution—martensite, and “Aging,” the heat treatment—age hardening—that helps produce its strong yet pliable microstructure.
What differentiates maraging steel from other steels is that it does not get its strength from carbon compounds but rather from the precipitation (settling) of other intermetallic compounds such as nickel, cobalt, titanium, and molybdenum.
As maraging steel is a strong and malleable alloy, it is beneficial for various manufacturing processes.
Before it is aged (heat-treated), maraging steel can be cold-rolled, case-hardened, or nitrided without cracking.
Currently, there are two ways to make maraging steel: through conventional means and additive manufacturing techniques.
The conventional method includes an “aging” process that combines both cold-rolling and heat treatment cycles to refine the grainy interior structure of steel into a more durable, harder, and more uniformed substance.
The conventional method consists of the following steps:
This cooling process may also utilize water and oil to cool the steel more rapidly.
The extra heating helps form a finer dispersion of precipitates within the martensite, making its microstructure even stronger.
While the conventional process of creating maraging steel may vary a bit depending on its intended usage, the main components of this method always involve cooling and heating cycles. They make the steel strong enough to endure harsh conditions and environments yet flexible enough to be reshaped and molded for various manufacturing applications.
Since maraging steel has a low-carbon, high-nickel structure, it is weldable and, therefore, the right candidate for additive manufacturing techniques.
Selective Laser Melting (SLM) is one such technique that can be used to form maraging steel.
When SLM additive manufacturing fabricates maraging steel, laser melting, and various heat treatments are combined to create a variety of alloy variations with different microstructures, precipitation characteristics, and residual stress properties to meet the demands of industry-specific applications.
Ultimately, the combination of laser melting and heat treatments creates a strong microstructure that relieves residual stress and eliminates mechanical variations, which are in direct opposition to an intended application.
Some materials are strong and tough.
Others are malleable and workable.
Few, however, are both—maraging steel is the exception.
Unlike other steels, maraging steel does not contain strong compounds, so it remains malleable and easy to work with. Despite its pliable nature, it can remain strong enough to use in a variety of industry-specific environments and manufacturing processes that only the strongest of steels can endure.
You can use maraging steel successfully in both mechanical engineering and manufacturing processes due to the combination of its tough and long-lasting microstructure and malleability.
Some of the distinctive features, properties, and characteristics of this alloy are as follows:
The above characteristics, properties, and applications of maraging steel have made it very popular among metal parts manufacturers looking for high-strength steel that can be shaped and formed into workable and jointed parts.
There is not just one form of maraging steel, but various grades categorized based on their alloy compositions, properties, and tensile strengths.
You can choose the different steel alloy compositions depending on what manufacturing process and applications you need.
The different grades of maraging steel are named using the term “Maraging ” followed by a number which classifies the percentage of alloy compositions it contains.
Commercial maraging steel grades go from 200 to 350.
The following is a list of the most popular commercial maraging steel grades followed by a brief explanation of each.
Known for its softer and lighter tensile strength, this particular grade contains lower molybdenum than the other grades of maraging steel but still maintains an 18 percent nickel composition.
Maraging steel 200 is usually available in both annealed and aged forms.
As this grade is softer and more pliable than other forms of maraging steel, it can be machined and formed quite easily. However, you should not confuse its “softness” with weakness because when it hardens, it becomes quite tough—tough enough to support most tooling applications required by manufacturers.
Like maraging steel 200, maraging steel 250 contains 18 percent nickel and is strengthened even further with cobalt.
The factor differentiating maraging steel 250 from the rest of the grades is a very high level of strength and hardness, which allows it to maintain its structure in extreme environments—those that would alter or cause significant damage to other steels.
Since maraging steel 250 can withstand high-temperature environments, it is an especially useful material to incorporate in airplane engines, landing and takeoff gear, missiles, and motor cases.
While tough and strong, maraging 250 still maintains a high degree of workability, which gives it enough flexibility to be reshaped and formed into moving parts and tools.
Composed mostly of nickel and iron, maraging steel 300 exhibits much of the same strength and toughness as the other grades. However, its distinguishing feature is that it exhibits a strong resistance to crack propagation (i.e., it does not crack easily).
Maraging 300 is mostly used in extreme environments and applications where resistance to fractures and cracking is required, and you need to minimize structural dimensions changes.
Due to its crack-resistant nature, it is used with great success in the aircraft and aerospace industries and can also be leveraged in the production of parts for race car engines.
Maraging steel 350 contains a higher percentage of titanium and cobalt than do other grades of maraging steel. The high density of these two elements gives this grade the ability to withstand sudden and drastic changes in both speed and temperature.
Its strength and ability to withstand extreme conditions have made maraging 350 an ideal material for the production of rocket motor cases, defense company munitions, and aircraft takeoff and landing gear.
While the majority of companies that utilize maraging 350 are within the aerospace, aircraft design, and defense industries, you can also use it for more commercial and less drastic applications like high-performance shafting and die casting.
Maraging steel’s strength, durability, and malleability can offer you many advantages. However, there are some drawbacks when working with this material as well.
First, let’s take a look at the advantages.
Maraging steel works exceptionally well with electro-magnetic components, as they require ultra-strength materials and excellent dimensional stability.
This means its properties are dynamic enough to be used in a host of industrial capacities that require jointed and electrical parts.
Other advantages of maraging steel are as follows:
Maraging steel’s machinability, plasticity, strength, toughness, and corrosion-resistance, and crack-resistance make it an ideal metal to use in a variety of manufacturing processes and industry-specific applications.
There are three main disadvantages to working with maraging steel: price, supply, and nickel allergy.
The alloys found within maraging steel are usually quite expensive, especially nickel and cobalt.
Nickel costs around $7.70 per 100 grams, and cobalt cost roughly $21 per 100 grams.
What is more, these two metallic elements happen to be the two highest compositions within maraging steel, nickel (17-19%) and cobalt (8-12%). Therefore it carries a much higher price tag than other metals that do not contain these two elements.
While maraging steel is useful and advantageous for many reasons, you should know that these advantages do come with a price.
Smaller metal companies do not typically carry maraging steel as it is reserved for larger consumers who work with various military and space programs.
If you are looking to purchase maraging steel, you may have to go through distributors who work within the aeronautical and aerospace industries.
Even if you can find and contact these distributors, they may not help you in obtaining the quantity you need unless you have a substantial order.
Some people get severe skin reactions from nickel, so depending on what you are going to use it for, maraging steel may not be suitable to use in your specific application or end-product.
The unique properties of maraging steel have made it particularly useful for creating and forming various products in several major industries.
Below are some examples of industries that use maraging steels to create a variety of products along with a brief explanation of why they choose it over other forms of steels and metals.
Since maraging steel has an ultra-high tensile strength level and good ductility, it is used in many aerospace applications.
These applications include the following:
Aerospace applications like rockets and missiles use maraging steel because it can be shaped into a variety of aerodynamic dimensions and remains strong under constant pressure and hot temperatures.
Missiles and rockets require a specific weight to propulsion ratio. So, aerospace manufacturers can use maraging steel in the form of thin sheets that can retain their strength at temperatures of around 400 degrees Celsius (752 degrees Fahrenheit).
Maraging steel is also used with great success in many aircraft applications such as landing gears, rocket motor cases, and helicopter carriages, all of which need high strength-to-weight material to maintain structural integrity.
Maraging steel’s unique ultra-high-strength levels and toughness make it a perfect fit for aircraft structures that require critical safety features.
Since the alloys in maraging steel remain stable during sudden and elevated temperatures, defense manufacturers use them for several applications.
These applications include the following:
The above applications tend to cycle from hot to cool temperatures quite rapidly. So a stable material that does not fracture under pressure, such as maraging steel, must be used to form their working parts.
While maraging steel was initially created and used for private defense contractors, it has grown in popularity within civilian economic sectors due to its stable and malleable properties and its strong and tough structure.
Machines tend to run at very high temperatures and need to be made from materials that can withstand hot environments.
Since maraging steel can retain its properties and structure at mildly-elevated temperatures, you can use it to manufacture various machines.
Examples of machines that utilize maraging steel are as follows:
When it comes to machinery, maraging steel is a better choice than other high-strength steels because of its combined machinability and high damage tolerance.
Maraging steel’s resistance to breakage is the main reason why it is used in many sports equipment today.
Maraging steel’s propensity to fracture and break is 10 times less than that of carbon steel.
In the fencing world, blades formed with maraging steel, have resulted in less blade breakage during competitions and reduced the number of injuries and accidents suffered by competitors.
Maraging steel is also used in other sports equipment like bicycle frames and golf club heads because of its crack-resistant nature and propensity to prevent injuries due to malfunction.
The healthcare industry uses maraging steel in a variety of applications.
Some of these applications are as follows:
Such healthcare equipment requires constant use in critical emergencies and is therefore made out of durable and long-lasting materials like maraging steel to form the basis of its structure.
You should note two things, however, when it comes to maraging steel and medical equipment:
First, healthcare equipment made from maraging steel may not be suitable for some people who are sensitive to nickel (previously discussed above).
Secondly, maraging steel is not regularly used for scalpel blades because its lack of carbon prevents the ability to hold a right cutting edge.
While not widespread yet, maraging steel has been used in musical instruments to deliver more output and better response.
Ernie Ball, an American instrument string producer, used maraging steel to make an electric guitar string, which he claimed enhanced tonal response and delivered more output.
While this is the only case we are currently aware of where maraging steel has been used in musical instruments to enhance the sound, we expect many more examples in the future amongst various musical instruments and their applications.
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