It is well known throughout the PM HIP (Powder Metallurgy Hot Isostatic Pressing) industry that PM HIPed 316L material in general exhibit higher strength than conventional 316L. However, previous studies have shown an uncharacteristic behavior in impact toughness properties at cryogenic temperatures compared to conventional forged material. The uncharacteristic behavior consists of unexpectedly large drop in impact toughness at cryogenic temperatures which is not seen in the same extent in conventional material e.g. forged 316L. With the recent code case approval for PM HIPed 316L material, this behavior can be seen as an uncertainty regarding the performance of the material and its use in nuclear applications can therefore become limited. The behavior and underlying mechanisms is yet to be explained in detail. One possible explanation is that it is caused by oxides in the material, of which a large amount originates from oxygen picked up by the very large surface area of the powder during the manufacturing process. The correlation between impact toughness at room temperature and oxygen content is often referred to.

In this study the non-metallic inclusion content is correlated to the impact properties at −196°C (−321°F), and a suggested explanation for the behavior of PM HIP 316L/316LN vs. conventional 316L is presented. The size and number of inclusions constitutes a major difference between the PM HIPed and conventional material. The results show that the size of the inclusions is significantly smaller in the PM materials compared to the conventional material and as a consequence they are present in larger numbers in the PM materials. Furthermore, the results clearly show the correlation between inclusion content and the impact toughness at cryogenic temperatures. The correlation is not as clear at room temperature where the different materials behave more similar. The suggested explanation is further supported by literature on cryogenic properties of 316L/316LN, 316L weld material and PM HIP 316LN with greatly reduced oxygen content. The impact toughness testing was performed using instrumented test equipment capable of recording load vs. displacement during testing. From this data the crack propagation and crack initiation energy can be estimated.

Furthermore, it is known that grain size can influence mechanical properties. In this study no clear relationship between impact toughness and grain size could be observed. However, a correlation between the grain size and the amount of inclusions in the material was observed. It was found that larger amounts of inclusions in the PM HIPed material are correlated to a finer grain size. The results indicate that the inclusion particles inhibit grain growth during the HIP and heat treatment process by pinning of grain boundaries.

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