Return to Introduction to Continuous Casting
Some of the important phenomena which govern the continuous casting process and determine the quality of the product are illustrated in the figure below.
Steel flows into the mold through ports in the submerged entry nozzle, which is usually bifurcated. The high velocities produce Reynolds numbers exceeding 100,000 and fully-turbulent behavior.
Argon gas is injected into the nozzle to prevent clogging. The resulting bubbles provide buoyancy that greatly affects the flow pattern, both in the nozzle and in the mold. They also collect inclusions and may become entrapped in the solidifying shell, leading to serious surface defects in the final product.
The jet leaving the nozzle flows across the mold and impinges against the shell solidifying at the narrow face. The jet carries superheat, which can erode the shell where it impinges on locally thin regions. In the extreme, this may cause a costly breakout, where molten steel bursts through the shell.
Typically, the jet impinging on the narrow face splits to flow upwards towards the top free surface and downwards toward the interior of the strand. Flow recirculation zones are created above and below each jet. This flow pattern changes radically with increasing argon injection rate or with the application of electromagnetic forces, which can either brake or stir the liquid. The flow pattern can fluctuate with time, leading to defects, so transient behavior is important.
Liquid flow along the top free surface of the mold is very important to steel quality. The horizontal velocity along the interface induces flow and controls heat transfer in the liquid and solid flux layers, which float on the top free surface. Inadequate liquid flux coverage leads to nonuniform initial solidification and a variety of surface defects.
If the horizontal surface velocity is too large, the shear flow and possible accompanying vortices may entrain liquid flux into the steel. This phenomenon depends greatly on the composition-dependent surface tension of the interface and possible presence of gas bubbles, which collect at the interface and may create a foam . The flux globules then circulate with the steel flow and may later be entrapped into the solidifying shell lower in the caster to form internal solid inclusions.
The vertical momentum of the steel jet lifts up the interface where it impinges the top free surface. This typically raises the narrow face meniscus, and creates a variation in interface level, or "standing wave", across the mold width. The liquid flux layer tends to become thinner at the high points, with detrimental consequences.
Transient fluctuations in the flow cause time-variations in the interface level which lead to surface defects such as entrapped mold powder. These level fluctuations may be caused by random turbulent motion, or changes in operating conditions, such as the sudden release of a nozzle clog or large gas bubbles.
The molten steel contains solid inclusions, such as alumina. These particles have various shapes and sizes and move through the flow field while colliding to form larger clusters and may attach to bubbles. They either circulate up into the mold flux at the top surface, or are entrapped in the solidifying shell to form embrittling internal defects in the final product.
Mold powder is added to the top surface to provide thermal and chemical insulation for the steel. This oxide-based powder sinters and melts into the top liquid layer. Its melting rate and ability to flow and to absorb detrimental alumina inclusions from the steel depends on its composition, governed by time-dependent thermodynamics. Some liquid flux resolidifies against the cold mold wall, creating a solid flux rim which inhibits heat transfer at the meniscus. Other flux is consumed into the gap between the shall and mold by the downward motion of the steel shell, where it encourages uniform heat transfer and helps to prevent sticking.
Periodic oscillation of the mold is needed to prevent sticking of the solidifying shell to the mold walls, and to encourage uniform infiltration of the mold flux into the gap. This oscillation adds to the level fluctuations and associated defects. It also creates periodic depressions in the shell surface, called "oscillation marks", which affect heat transfer and act as initiation sites for cracks.
Initial solidification occurs at the meniscus and is responsible for the surface quality of the final product. It depends on the time-dependent shape of the meniscus, liquid flux infiltration into the gap, local superheat contained in the flowing steel, conduction of heat through the mold, liquid mold flux and resolidified flux rim, and latent heat evolution. Heat flow is complicated by thermal stress, which bends the shell, and nucleation undercooling, which accompanies the rapid solidification and controls the initial microstructure.
Further solidification is governed mainly by conduction and radiation across the interfacial gap between the solidifying steel shell and the mold. This gap consists mainly of mold flux layers, which move down the mold at different speeds. It is greatly affected by contact resistances, which depend on the flux properties and shrinkage and bending of the steel shell, which may create an air gap. The gap size is controlled by the amount of taper of the mold walls, which is altered by thermal distortion. In addition to controlling shell growth, these phenomena are important to crack formation in the mold due to thermal stress and mold friction, which increases below the point where the flux becomes totally solid.
As solidification progresses, microsegregation of alloying elements occurs between the dendrites as they grow outward to form columnar grains. The rejected solute lowers the local solidification temperature, leaving a thin layer of liquid steel along the grain boundaries, which may later form embrittling precipitates. When liquid feeding cannot compensate for the shrinkage due to solidification, thermal contraction, phase transformations, and mechanical forces, then tensile stresses are generated. When the tensile stresses are high enough to nucleate an interface from the dissolved gases, then a crack will form.
After the shell exits the mold and moves between successive rolls in the spray zones, it is subject to large surface temperature fluctuations, which cause phase transformations and other microstructural changes that affect its strength and ductility. It also experiences thermal strain and mechanical forces due to ferrostatic pressure, withdrawal, friction against rolls, bending and unbending. These lead to complex internal stress profiles which cause creep and deformation of the shell. This may lead to further depressions on the strand surface, crack formation and propagation.
Lower in the caster, fluid flow is driven by thermal and solutal buoyancy effects, caused by density differences between the different compositions created by the microsegregation. This flow leads to macrosegregation and associated defects, such as centerline porosity, cracks, and undesired property variations. Macrosegregation is complicated by the nucleation of relatively pure crystals, which move in the melt and form equiaxed grains near the centerline.
Large composition differences through the thickness and along the length of the final product can also arise due to intermixing after a change in steel grade. This is governed by transient mass transport in the tundish and liquid portion of the strand.