Four different tool steel materials, P20, H13, M2 and D2, were nitrocarburised at 570°C in a fluidised bed furnace. The reactive diffusion of nitrogen and carbon into the various substrate microstructures is compared and related to the different alloy carbide distributions. The effect of carbon bearing gas (carbon dioxide, natural gas) on carbon absorption is reported, as well as its influence on compound layer growth and porosity. Partial reduction of Fe3O4 at the surface resulted in the formation of a complex, epsi-nitride containing oxide layer. In H13, carbon was deeply absorbed throughout the entire diffusion zone, affecting the growth of grain boundary cementite, nitrogen diffusivity and the sharpness of the compound layer: diffusion zone interface. When natural gas was used, carbon became highly concentrated in the compound layer, while surface decarburisation occurred with carbon dioxide. These microstructural effects are discussed in relation to hardness profiles, and compound layer hardness and ductility. The surfaces were characterised using glow discharge optical emission spectroscopy, optical and scanning electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction.
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