High-strength low-alloy steel

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High-strength low-alloy steel (HSLA) is a type of alloy steel that provides better mechanical properties or greater resistance to corrosion than carbon steel. HSLA steels vary from other steels in that they are not made to meet a specific chemical composition but rather to specific mechanical properties. They have a carbon content between 0.05–0.25% to retain formability and weldability. Other alloying elements include up to 2.0% manganese and small quantities of copper, nickel, niobium, nitrogen, vanadium, chromium, molybdenum, titanium, calcium, rare earth elements, or zirconium.[1][2] Copper, titanium, vanadium, and niobium are added for strengthening purposes.[2] These elements are intended to alter the microstructure of carbon steels, which is usually a ferrite-pearlite aggregate, to produce a very fine dispersion of alloy carbides in an almost pure ferrite matrix. This eliminates the toughness-reducing effect of a pearlitic volume fraction yet maintains and increases the material's strength by refining the grain size, which in the case of ferrite increases yield strength by 50% for every halving of the mean grain diameter. Precipitation strengthening plays a minor role, too. Their yield strengths can be anywhere between 250–590 megapascals (36,000–86,000 psi). Because of their higher strength and toughness HSLA steels usually require 25 to 30% more power to form, as compared to carbon steels.[2]

Copper, silicon, nickel, chromium, and phosphorus are added to increase corrosion resistance. Zirconium, calcium, and rare earth elements are added for sulfide-inclusion shape control which increases formability. These are needed because most HSLA steels have directionally sensitive properties. Formability and impact strength can vary significantly when tested longitudinally and transversely to the grain. Bends that are parallel to the longitudinal grain are more likely to crack around the outer edge because it experiences tensile loads. This directional characteristic is substantially reduced in HSLA steels that have been treated for sulfide shape control.[2]

They are used in cars, trucks, cranes, bridges, roller coasters and other structures that are designed to handle large amounts of stress or need a good strength-to-weight ratio.[2] HSLA steel cross-sections and structures are usually 20 to 30% lighter than a carbon steel with the same strength.[3][4]

HSLA steels are also more resistant to rust than most carbon steels because of their lack of pearlite – the fine layers of ferrite (almost pure iron) and cementite in pearlite.[citation needed] HSLA steels usually have densities of around 7800 kg/m³.[5]

Swebor-brand high-strength low alloy steel plate, showing both sides, after plastic deformation from defeating projectiles in ballistics testing. Note: When exposed to fire, steel first expands and then loses its strength, exceeding critical temperature at 538°C or 1000°F per ASTM E119[6] unless treated with fireproofing.

Military armour plate is mostly made from alloy steels, although some civilian armour against small arms is now made from HSLA steels with extreme low temperature quenching.[7]


  • Weathering steels: steels which have better corrosion resistance. A common example is COR-TEN.
  • Control-rolled steels: hot rolled steels which have a highly deformed austenite structure that will transform to a very fine equiaxed ferrite structure upon cooling.
  • Pearlite-reduced steels: low carbon content steels which lead to little or no pearlite, but rather a very fine grain ferrite matrix. It is strengthened by precipitation hardening.
  • Acicular ferrite steels: These steels are characterized by a very fine high strength acicular ferrite structure, a very low carbon content, and good hardenability.
  • Dual-phase steels: These steels have a ferrite microstruture that contain small, uniformly distributed sections of martensite. This microstructure gives the steels a low yield strength, high rate of work hardening, and good formability.[1]
  • Microalloyed steels: steels which contain very small additions of niobium, vanadium, and/or titanium to obtain a refined grain size and/or precipitation hardening.

A common type of micro-alloyed steel is improved-formability HSLA. It has a yield strength up to 80,000 psi (550 MPa) but only costs 24% more than A36 steel (36,000 psi (250 MPa)). One of the disadvantages of this steel is that it is 30 to 40% less ductile. In the U.S., these steels are dictated by the ASTM standards A1008/A1008M and A1011/A1011M for sheet metal and A656/A656M for plates. These steels were developed for the automotive industry to reduce weight without losing strength. Examples of uses include door-intrusion beams, chassis members, reinforcing and mounting brackets, steering and suspension parts, bumpers, and wheels.[2][8]

SAE grades[edit]

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) maintains standards for HSLA steel grades because they are often used in automotive applications.

SAE HSLA steel grade compositions[9]
Grade % Carbon (max) % Manganese (max) % Phosphorus (max) % Sulfur (max) % Silicon (max) Notes
942X 0.21 1.35 0.04 0.05 0.90 Niobium or vanadium treated
945A 0.15 1.00 0.04 0.05 0.90
945C 0.23 1.40 0.04 0.05 0.90
945X 0.22 1.35 0.04 0.05 0.90 Niobium or vanadium treated
950A 0.15 1.30 0.04 0.05 0.90
950B 0.22 1.30 0.04 0.05 0.90
950C 0.25 1.60 0.04 0.05 0.90
950D 0.15 1.00 0.15 0.05 0.90
950X 0.23 1.35 0.04 0.05 0.90 Niobium or vanadium treated
955X 0.25 1.35 0.04 0.05 0.90 Niobium, vanadium, or nitrogen treated
960X 0.26 1.45 0.04 0.05 0.90 Niobium, vanadium, or nitrogen treated
965X 0.26 1.45 0.04 0.05 0.90 Niobium, vanadium, or nitrogen treated
970X 0.26 1.65 0.04 0.05 0.90 Niobium, vanadium, or nitrogen treated
980X 0.26 1.65 0.04 0.05 0.90 Niobium, vanadium, or nitrogen treated
SAE HSLA steel grade mechanical properties[10]
Grade Form Yield strength (min) [psi (MPa)] Ultimate tensile strength (min) [psi (MPa)]
942X Plates, shapes & bars up to 4 in. 42,000 (290) 60,000 (414)
945A, C Sheet & strip 45,000 (310) 60,000 (414)
Plates, shapes & bars:
0–0.5 in. 45,000 (310) 65,000 (448)
0.5–1.5 in. 42,000 (290) 62,000 (427)
1.5–3 in. 40,000 (276) 62,000 (427)
945X Sheet, strip, plates, shapes & bars up to 1.5 in. 45,000 (310) 60,000 (414)
950A, B, C, D Sheet & strip 50,000 (345) 70,000 (483)
Plates, shapes & bars:
0–0.5 in. 50,000 (345) 70,000 (483)
0.5–1.5 in. 45,000 (310) 67,000 (462)
1.5–3 in. 42,000 (290) 63,000 (434)
950X Sheet, strip, plates, shapes & bars up to 1.5 in. 50,000 (345) 65,000 (448)
955X Sheet, strip, plates, shapes & bars up to 1.5 in. 55,000 (379) 70,000 (483)
960X Sheet, strip, plates, shapes & bars up to 1.5 in. 60,000 (414) 75,000 (517)
965X Sheet, strip, plates, shapes & bars up to 0.75 in. 65,000 (448) 80,000 (552)
970X Sheet, strip, plates, shapes & bars up to 0.75 in. 70,000 (483) 85,000 (586)
980X Sheet, strip & plates up to 0.375 in. 80,000 (552) 95,000 (655)
Ranking of various properties for SAE HSLA steel grades[11]
Rank Weldability Formability Toughness
Worst 980X 980X 980X
970X 970X 970X
965X 965X 965X
960X 960X 960X
955X, 950C, 942X 955X 955X
945C 950C 945C, 950C, 942X
950B, 950X 950D 945X, 950X
945X 950B, 950X, 942X 950D
950D 945C, 945X 950B
950A 950A 950A
Best 945A 945A 945A


  1. ^ a b "Classification of Carbon and Low-Alloy Steels". Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "HSLA Steel". 2002-11-15. Archived from the original on 2010-01-03. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  3. ^ Degarmo, p. 116.
  4. ^ Same density as carbon steel, see next paragraph
  5. ^ "Stainless steel properties for structural automotive applications" (PDF). Euro Inox. June 2000. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-08-14. 
  6. ^ ASTM E119
  7. ^ "Swebor Armor 500 ballistic protection steel" (PDF). Swebarmor. 
  8. ^ Cold rolled sheet steel, archived from the original on 2008-04-30, retrieved 2008-10-11 
  9. ^ Oberg, pp. 440-441.
  10. ^ Oberg, p. 441.
  11. ^ Oberg, p. 442.


  • Degarmo, E. Paul; Black, J T.; Kohser, Ronald A. (2003), Materials and Processes in Manufacturing (9th ed.), Wiley, ISBN 0-471-65653-4 .
  • Oberg, E.; et al. (1996), Machinery's Handbook (25th ed.), Industrial Press Inc