Precision cold-forging processes are used to produce near-netshape parts that may then be carburized. During carburization thermal cycles, abnormal grain growth (AGG) after cold forging is known to develop microstructures which limit fatigue strength. In the present study, a small 0.04 wt.% Nb addition was made to a low-alloyed AISI 4121 steel containing 0.3 wt.% Mo. Subcritically annealed specimens were cold rolled (to simulate cold forging) at selected reduction ratios up to 50%, heated according to a simulated gas carburizing cycle at 930 °C, and water quenched to produce a final martensitic microstructure. The number density of abnormally grown grains increased rapidly as the cold rolling reduction ratio increased from 0 to 10%. With a further increase in reduction ratio, the extent of AGG decreased and was absent in samples subjected to the maximum reduction ratio of 50%. The evolution of fine (Nb, Mo)(C,N) precipitates at various stages of processing was characterized by thermodynamic calculations and electron microscopy and compared to the occurrence of abnormal austenite grain growth. The significance of these results for controlling AGG and thus optimizing fatigue performance in commercially-produced cold-forged and carburized components is discussed.

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