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52100 steel bearings. Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/Petar Ivanov Ishmiriev

52100 Steel: Uses, Composition, Properties

Xomety X
By Team Xometry
July 7, 2023
 12 min read
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52100 steel is a high-carbon chromium alloy steel that has gained significant recognition for its remarkable properties and wide-ranging applications. Given its exceptional hardness, wear resistance, and durability, this steel has become a popular choice in many industries. It finds extensive use in components that are subjected to high loads and rolling friction. The metal is generally made using electric arc furnaces (EAF) or basic oxygen furnaces (BOF), followed by secondary refining, casting, hot rolling, annealing, and heat treatment. The steel contains approximately 1.00% carbon and 1.50% chromium alongside trace amounts of silicon, manganese, and other elements.

This article will discuss 52100 steel, including its definition, uses, compatible manufacturing processes, and basic chemical composition. 

What Is 52100 Steel?

52100 steel is a high-carbon, chromium-alloy steel primarily used in bearings and other high-wear applications. It is also known as AISI 52100 alloy steel, 52100 carbon steel, or ASTM 52100 bearing steel. The first digit (5) indicates that this steel is primarily alloyed with chromium, while the second digit (2) signifies an alloying percentage greater than 1%. It's important to note that the second digit doesn't specify the exact percentage of chromium but rather indicates that it is alloyed at a higher percentage than most similar steels. The last three digits represent the average percentage of carbon used in the steel; 52100 steel’s average carbon content is 1.00%.

AISI 52100 steel typically consists of approximately 0.98-1.10% carbon, 1.30-1.60% chromium, 0.15-0.30% silicon, 0.25-0.45% manganese, and small amounts of other elements such as phosphorus (<= 0.025%) and sulfur (<= 0.025%). The high carbon content provides excellent hardness and wear resistance, while the chromium contributes to the steel's notable strength, toughness, and resistance to corrosion. For more information, see our guide on Carbon Steel Composition.

What Is 52100 Steel Used For?

52100 steel is primarily utilized in steel bearings and equipment made for bearing manufacturing. Here are several common applications where 52100 steel is used:

  1. Due to its high wear resistance and ability to retain lubricants, 52100 steel is extensively used in anti-friction bearings.
  2. The toughness and strength of 52100 steel make it well-suited for punches, taps, and dies, which are essential tools in metalworking and fabrication.
  3. The hardness and durability of 52100 steel make it suitable for mill rolls, which are used in various industrial milling processes.
  4. The hardness and strength of 52100 steel make it suitable for fasteners, such as bolts and screws, that need to withstand high loads and provide secure connections.
  5. 52100 steel finds applications in the production of automotive and aircraft components that must be strong, durable, and resistant to wear.

How Is 52100 Steel Made?

The production of 52100 steel involves several steps, including:

  1. The raw materials (which include iron, chromium, and carbon), are melted together in an electric arc furnace or an induction furnace. The precise composition of the steel may vary depending on the specific manufacturer and desired properties.
  2. Once the steel has melted, it goes through a refining process to remove impurities. This is usually done through methods such as argon oxygen decarburization (AOD) or vacuum degassing. These processes clean the metal and help it settle into the proper chemical composition. 
  3. After refining, the molten steel is cast into forms such as ingots, billets, or continuous casting molds. This initial casting provides a starting point for subsequent shaping and processing.
  4. The cast steel is heated to a high temperature and shaped through hot working processes such as rolling, forging, or extrusion. These processes help refine its grain structure and improve its mechanical properties.
  5. After the hot working steps, the steel is typically annealed to relieve internal stresses and further refine the microstructure. The annealing process heats the steel and holds it at a very specific temperature for a pre-calculated period, after which it is cooled in a controlled manner. This process pushes it toward the intended hardness and toughness ratings. 
  6. The next crucial step is heat treatment. It typically involves two main processes: hardening and tempering. During hardening, the steel is heated to a high temperature and rapidly quenched in a suitable medium such as oil or water to achieve a high hardness level. After hardening, the steel is tempered by reheating it to a lower temperature and holding it there for a specific period. Tempering removes some brittleness from the steel and makes it tougher while maintaining a desirable hardness value.
  7. Once the heat treatment process is complete, the steel is often subjected to finishing operations such as machining, grinding, or polishing to achieve the final dimensions, surface finish, and overall quality required for its intended application.

What Is the Chemical Composition of 52100 Steel?

The chemical composition of 52100 steel is outlined in Table 1:

Table 1: 52100 Steel Composition
FeCCrMnPSiS
Fe
Balance (96.5-97.32%)
C
0.98-1.1%
Cr
1.3-1.6%
Mn
0.25-0.45%
P
<=0.025%
Si
0.15-0.3%
S
0.03%

Table Credit: https://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=6704

What Is the Carbon Content of 52100 Steel?

The carbon content of 52100 steel typically ranges between 0.98% and 1.10%. This high percentage contributes to the steel's hardness, wear resistance, and ability to retain its shape under high-stress conditions. The precise carbon content may vary slightly depending on the specific manufacturing process and steel supplier, but it generally falls within this range.

What Are the Properties of 52100 Steel?

The mechanical properties of 52100 steel are given in Table 2:

Table 2: 52100 Steel Properties
PropertyMetricImperial
Property
Machinability (spheroidized, cold drawn, and annealed. Based on AISI 1212 steel as reference with a 100% machinability)
Metric
40%
Imperial
40%
Property
Hardness, Knoop (converted from Rockwell C hardness)
Metric
875
Imperial
875
Property
Bulk Modulus
Metric
140 GPa
Imperial
20300 ksi
Property
Density
Metric
7.81 g/cm3
Imperial
0.282 lb/in³
Property
Fracture Toughness
Metric
15.4-18.7 MPa•m½
Imperial
14.0 - 17.0 ksi•in½
Property
Poisson’s ratio
Metric
0.27-0.30
Imperial
0.27-0.30
Property
Modulus of Elasticity
Metric
190-210 GPa
Imperial
27557-30458 ksi
Property
Shear Modulus
Metric
80 GPa
Imperial
11600 ksi

Table Credit: https://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=6704

Machinability Rating of 52100 Steel

The machinability rating of 52100 steel is 40%. AISI 52100 alloy steel can be cut and shaped using standard metal machining techniques. However, it can also benefit from a spheroidizing annealing process to make it more machinable. This involves subjecting the steel to a steady temperature of 649°C (1200°F) for a designated duration, followed by a gradual cooling process. The spheroidizing annealing procedure helps improve the machinability of the steel by refining its microstructure and reducing its hardness.

What Are the Thermal Properties of 52100 Steel?

The thermal properties of 52100 alloy steel can be found in Table 3 below:

Table 3: Thermal Properties of 52100 Alloy Steel.
PropertyMetricImperial
Property
Melting point
Metric
1424°C
Imperial
2595°F
Property
Thermal expansion coefficient (@ 23-280°C/73.4- 36°F, annealed)
Metric
11.9 µm/m•°C
Imperial
6.61 µin/in•°F
Property
Thermal conductivity
Metric
46.6 W/m•K
Imperial
323 BTU•in/hr•ft²•°F

Table Credit: https://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=6704

51200 Steel Heat Treatment

The recommended heat treatment for 52100 steel involves several steps. It is best to perform a divorced eutectoid transformation (DET) anneal prior to the heat treatment process, which involves specific temperature and cooling cycles. The DET anneal consists of holding the steel at 1460 °F for 30 minutes, followed by a furnace cooling to 1260 °F and then air cooling. The primary cooling rate used for the DET anneal is approximately 665 °F per hour. The steel is then austenitized at a temperature range of 1500-1525 °F for 10-30 minutes. After the austenitizing step, the steel is quenched in oil and then tempered at a temperature between 300-500 °F. 

It is worth noting that variations in the austenitizing temperature and the use of cryogenic processing can affect the hardness and toughness of the steel. Higher austenitizing temperatures result in higher hardness, and cryogenic processing can further harden it by converting retained austenite to martensite. However, cryo-processed steel may not be as tough as non-cryo samples.

What Are the Common Forms of 52100 Steel Material?

The common forms of 52100 steel material include sheets, plates, hot-rolled bars, annealed bars, and cold-drawn bars. These are further discussed below:

Sheet

Sheets are flat pieces of 52100 steel material that come in various thicknesses. They are commonly used if a flat, sturdy surface is required, such as in: machine components, tooling, and industrial equipment.

Bar

Bars are cylindrical solid forms of 52100 steel material that come in different diameters. They are often utilized for applications that require high strength, hardness, and wear resistance, such as: bearings, shafts, gears, and other mechanical components.

Plate

Plates are thicker versions of sheets, and they are commonly used in applications that demand more strength and durability, such as: heavy machinery, structural components, and tooling.

Hot Rolled

Hot-rolled bars are formed by heating the 52100 steel material to a high temperature and then rolling it into the desired shape. This process improves the mechanical properties of the steel, making it stronger and tougher. 

Annealed

Annealed bars are heat-treated to relieve internal stresses and improve machinability. This process involves heating the steel to a specific temperature and then gradually cooling it, resulting in a softer and more workable material.

Cold Drawn

Cold-drawn bars are produced by pulling the 52100 steel material through a die to form it into the proper shape and size. This process enhances the surface finish, dimensional accuracy, and mechanical properties of the bars, making them suitable whenever precise dimensions and excellent surface quality are paramount.

What Are Equivalents of 52100 Steel?

The equivalents for 52100 steel are provided in the table below:

Table 4: Worldwide Equivalents of 52100 Steel
CountryEquivalent Grade
Country
USA
Equivalent Grade
52100
Country
China (GB)
Equivalent Grade
Cr2; GCr15
Country
EU (EN)
Equivalent Grade
102Cr6 (1.2067)
Country
France (AFNOR)
Equivalent Grade
100Cr6; 100Cr6RR
Country
Germany (DIN,WNr)
Equivalent Grade
100Cr6
Country
Japan (JIS)
Equivalent Grade
SUJ2
Country
England (BS)
Equivalent Grade
534A99; 535A99
Country
Italy (UNI)
Equivalent Grade
100Cr6
Country
Sweden (SS)
Equivalent Grade
2258
Country
Poland (PN)
Equivalent Grade
LH15
Country
Russia (GOST)
Equivalent Grade
KH; ShKh15

Table Credit: http://www.steelnumber.com/en/equivalent_steel_iron_eu.php?zname_id=558

What Are the Advantages of Using 52100 Steel?

There are several advantages to using 52100 steel in various applications:

  1. It has a high level of hardness, especially if heat treated, quenched, and tempered. 
  2. 52100 exhibits excellent wear resistance due to its high carbon content and the inclusion of chromium. It can withstand significant stress and friction without significant wear.
  3. It has good fatigue strength and can withstand cyclic loading and repeated stress without failure.
  4. It has a high load-carrying capacity with its balance of hardness and toughness. It can withstand heavy loads and distribute them effectively.
  5. 52100 steel has excellent dimensional stability. It maintains its shape and size even under challenging conditions.
  6. It is very machinable when properly heat treated. It can be easily machined into complex shapes.

What Are the Disadvantages of Using 52100 Steel?

While 52100 steel offers many advantages, there are also some disadvantages associated with its use:

  1. Although 52100 steel contains chromium, which provides a certain level of corrosion resistance, it is not as resistant as stainless steel. 
  2. Due to its high carbon content and alloying elements, this metal comes with distinct welding limitations. It requires preheating and specific welding procedures to prevent cracking and maintain the desired properties. 
  3. 52100 steel, especially in its fully hardened state, can exhibit brittle behavior. It  may be susceptible to cracking or fracturing under impacts or sudden loads.
  4. Compared to some other steel grades, 52100 steel can be relatively expensive. The alloying elements and specific heat treatment processes contribute to its higher cost.
  5. 52100 can present challenges if machined in its fully hardened state. It is difficult and time-consuming to machine because it’s so hard, requiring specialized cutting tools and techniques.

What Is the Difference Between 52100 Steel and 1095 Steel?

52100 steel and 1095 steel are two types of high-carbon steels that differ in their chemical composition, properties, and applications. 52100 is renowned for its hardness, reaching up to 60-65 HRC when properly heat treated. This steel is very resistant to wear, making it ideal for bearings that must withstand high loads and rolling friction. 

On the other hand, 1095 steel is a plain carbon steel. It exhibits a hardness of 55-58 HRC and offers good wear resistance, although not as high as 52100 steel. However, 1095 steel is very tough and resilient, making it a good choice for parts that need to absorb energy and shocks. In terms of corrosion resistance, 52100 steel outperforms 1095 steel due to the presence of chromium. 

What Is the Difference Between 52100 Steel and D2 Steel?

52100 steel and D2 steel are two types of tool steels that have distinct compositions, properties, and applications. 52100 steel is a high-carbon chromium alloy steel. It is renowned for its exceptional hardness, reaching up to 60-65 HRC when properly heat treated. It offers excellent wear resistance, making it ideal for bearings that must carry high loads and rolling friction. This steel also has good toughness and fatigue resistance.

On the other hand, D2 steel is a high-carbon, high-chromium tool steel. It is also very hard, typically ranging from 58-62 HRC after heat treatment. It provides excellent wear resistance, good toughness, and moderate corrosion resistance. D2 steel is commonly used in cutting tools, punches, dies, and forming tools.

What Is the Difference Between 52100 Steel and S30V Steel?

52100 steel and S30V steel are two different types of steel that have notable differences in their composition, properties, and applications. 52100 steel is a high-carbon chromium alloy steel renowned for its exceptional hardness, reaching up to 60-65 HRC when properly heat treated. It offers excellent wear resistance, making it suitable for bearings that must support high loads and rolling friction. This steel also possesses good toughness and fatigue resistance.

S30V steel, on the other hand, is a high-performance stainless steel specifically designed for knife blades. It is known for its excellent edge retention, corrosion resistance, and overall durability. It can be hardened to around 58-60 HRC, providing a balance between hardness and toughness that is well-suited for knife blades. However, 52100 alloy steel is tougher and easier to sharpen than S30V steel. 

Summary

This article presented 52100 steel, explained it, and discussed its various applications and properties. To learn more about 52100 steel, contact a Xometry representative.

Xometry provides a wide range of manufacturing capabilities and other value-added services for all of your prototyping and production needs. Visit our website to learn more or to request a free, no-obligation quote.

Disclaimer

The content appearing on this webpage is for informational purposes only. Xometry makes no representation or warranty of any kind, be it expressed or implied, as to the accuracy, completeness, or validity of the information. Any performance parameters, geometric tolerances, specific design features, quality and types of materials, or processes should not be inferred to represent what will be delivered by third-party suppliers or manufacturers through Xometry’s network. Buyers seeking quotes for parts are responsible for defining the specific requirements for those parts. Please refer to our terms and conditions for more information.

Xomety X
Team Xometry
This article was written by various Xometry contributors. Xometry is a leading resource on manufacturing with CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, 3D printing, injection molding, urethane casting, and more.

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