In any given sample, at any step of the steel production process, the possibility exists that there are inclusions of varying chemistry and morphology that may impact product quality. Traditional examination of inclusions in a processed material could take a trained analyst as much as a week to characterize using microscope techniques. Even so, the analysis of a single or even several samples, might not be able to adequately assess the impact of inclusions on the process or the corrective action needed. Despite the recognized need to understand inclusion control, there was not a rapid and accurate analysis method to provide the level of detailed information or to collect the number of samples necessary to determine how to improve productivity and quality.
Seeking to address this problem, RJ Lee Group collaborated with a number of industry partners, including large and small steel companies. These companies needed to make informed decisions on how to control inclusions to produce cleaner, higher quality steels in order to be competitive and more profitable. This collaborative effort, aided by a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant, led to the development of comprehensive inclusion analysis on a fast turnaround basis. This would become an integral part of process monitoring for steel production.
Development of Automated Technology – ASCAT
What the steel industry needed was an analytical tool that could perform an analysis of the inclusions in their process samples and would provide size, shape and chemistry/composition, reporting the results in a clear, easy-to-understand manner. Since inclusions at different stages in the process were not the same, it was imperative to know their morphology and chemistry to understand if the problem was with the material or the process. The Automated Steel Cleanliness Analysis Tool (ASCAT) designed and brought to market by RJ Lee Group fulfilled these requirements. The combination of a scanning electron microscope (SEM) using intelligent software to emulate specialized knowledge and an automated digital scan generator, was designed to detect an inclusion and then almost instantaneously measure both the chemical and morphological features and separate them into different size and chemistry classes. Using this technology, 1000 inclusions can be analyzed in less than 45 minutes. This means that steel companies can now obtain comprehensive data on more samples in significantly less time, enabling them to evaluate every step of their process rather than just one. This innovation was recognized with an award by the American Institute of Steel Technology (AIST) and was the subject of contributions to peer-reviewed literature.
Our Turf Or Yours
By integrating process data with inclusion analysis results, it is possible to obtain a fundamental understanding of the role of inclusions in the process and to identify the possible cause of the problem. Using this knowledge, informed decisions can be made on how to control inclusion formation or, in the opposite sense, on how to evaluate what effects process changes have on inclusion production or content
RJ Lee Group provides the ASCAT technology as one of its services to steel companies to assess and improve product quality which results in higher productivity and cost savings. As an example, one steel company using ASCAT technology was able to increase its production by two heats per day significantly impacting their bottom line. Another steel company purchased an ASCAT system so that they could perform their own inclusion analysis at their research center.