Structural steel is usually produced today by one of two production processes. In the traditional process, iron or hot metal is produced in a blast furnace and then further processed in a basic oxygen furnace to make the steel for the desired products. Alternatively, steel can be made in an electric arc furnace that is charged mainly with steel scrap instead of hot metal. In either case, the steel must be produced so that undesirable elements are reduced to levels allowed by pertinent specifications to minimize adverse effects on properties.
In a blast furnace, iron ore, coke, and flux (limestone and dolomite) are charged into the top of a large refractory-lined furnace. Heated air is blown in at the bottom and passed up through the bed of raw materials. A supplemental fuel such as gas, oil, or powdered coal is also usually charged. The iron is reduced to metallic iron and melted; then it is drawn off periodically through tap holes into transfer ladles. At this point, the molten iron includes several other elements (manganese, sulfur, phosphorus, and silicon) in amounts greater than permitted for steel, and thus further processing is required.
In a basic oxygen furnace, the charge consists of hot metal from the blast furnace and steel scrap. Oxygen, introduced by a jet blown into the molten metal, reacts with the impurities present to facilitate the removal or reduction in level of unwanted elements, which are trapped in the slag or in the gases produced. Also, various fluxes are added to reduce the sulfur and phosphorus contents to desired levels. In this batch process, large heats of steel may be produced in less than an hour.
An electric-arc furnace does not require a hot metal charge but relies mainly on steel scrap. The metal is heated by an electric arc between large carbon electrodes that project through the furnace roof into the charge. Oxygen is injected to speed the process. This is a versatile batch process that can be adapted to producing small heats where various steel grades are required, but it also can be used to produce large heats.
Ladle treatment is an integral part of most steelmaking processes. The ladle receives the product of the steelmaking furnace so that it can be moved and poured into either ingot molds or a continuous casting machine. While in the ladle, the chemical composition of the steel is checked, and alloying elements are added as required. Also, deoxidizers are added to remove dissolved oxygen. Processing can be done at this stage to reduce further sulfur content, remove undesirable nonmetallics, and change the shape of remaining inclusions.
Thus significant improvements can be made in the toughness, transverse properties, and through-thickness ductility of the finished product. Vacuum degassing, argon bubbling, induction stirring, and the injection of rare earth metals are some of the many procedures that may be employed.
Killed steels usually are deoxidized by additions to both furnace and ladle. Generally, silicon compounds are added to the furnace to lower the oxygen content of the liquid metal and stop oxidation of carbon (block the heat). This also permits addition of alloying elements that are susceptible to oxidation. Silicon or other deoxidizers, such as aluminum, vanadium, and titanium, may be added to the ladle to complete deoxidation. Aluminum, vanadium, and titanium have the additional beneficial effect of inhibiting grain growth when the steel is normalized. (In the hot-rolled conditions, such steels have about the same ferrite grain size as semikilled steels.) Killed steels deoxidized with aluminum and silicon (made to finegrain practice) often are used for structural applications because of better notch toughness
and lower transition temperatures than semikilled steels of the same composition.
(W. T. Lankford, Jr., ed., The Making, Shaping and Treating of Steel, Association of Iron and Steel Engineers, Pittsburgh, Pa.)