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Micro Examination of a material generally means observing the structure of material through a
microscope at magnifications between 50 to 1000 times. It is very useful method to find the
materials behavior and properties. So materials engineers widely use this method.
Grain size and shape, distribution of phases, inclusions, and other non-uniformities of a metal
can be observed in a micro examination of that metal. Then through various metallurgical
processes we can change the microstructure of metals to achieve certain desired properties.
To accurate microstructural observations, correct use of the microscopic techniques and degree
of magnifications are very important. A higher magnification reveals more data. But it hides
the features that affect a grater area. To compare microstructures it is essential to use same
magnification while micro examination. So the conclusions made by a micro examination of a
metal become meaningful only when the magnification is mentioned.
Materials can exist in different states. These states are known as the phase of a material.
Existence of particular phase depends on temperature, pressure and the composition of the
When considering steel it contains 3 solid solutions and 1 intermediate compound.

a phase - Ferrite

g phase - Austenite

d phase - Delta Ferrite

Fe3C - Cementite

In normal conditions steel can be exist in one or more phase simultaneously. This can be
observed by a micro structure examination of steel. In room temperature higher percentage of
steel is in Pearlite form. Perlite is formed by lamella structure of a phase steel and cementite.
Formation of these forms happened in the process of making steel. It can clearly understand
through a phase diagram of steel.

Fe-C Phase diagram

As in the diagram the structure of the steel vary with the

temperature and the composition. As we are examining metals at
room temperature the different forms in the bottom part of the
diagram can only be observed.

Micro Structure of Perlite


Preparation of the specimen:

Mounting: The specimen is incased in a plastic material, so that only the surface under
study is exposed.
Grinding: The specimen is ground on a consecutively finer series of grades of emery
Polishing: The specimen is polished by a suitable polishing medium impregnated on the
rotating laps.
Etching: This process brings out the structure of the polished specimen

Chemical Etching: Polished surface of specimen is subjected to the

chemical action of an suitable reagent.


Electrolytic Etching: Direct current from an external source is

supplied to the electrolytic cell. So the anodic dissolution reveals the
micro structure.

Observe the micro structure of the following pre-prepared samples at x100 magnification

Sample no



Low Carbon Steel (0.03% C)


Medium Carbon Steel (0.4% C, 0.26% Si, 0.8% Mn)


High Carbon Steel (1.3% C, 0.47% Si, 0.97% Mn)


Gray Cast Iron


Brass (Cu + 37% Zn)


Properties and applications of metals used

Metal Used
o Low Carbon



-Good formability and weld

-To make deep drawing parts.


-To manufacture wires, pipes, and chains.

-Low strength.
-Low cost.
o Medium
Carbon Steel

-Good toughness and

-To manufacture rolls, axels, screws,


cylinders and crank shafts.

-Relative good strength.

-To make heat treated machine parts.

-Can be hardened by
o High Carbon
o Gray Cast Iron

-High strength, hardness and

-To manufacture rolling mills, rope wire,

wear resistance.

screw drivers, hammers, wrenches, band

-Moderate ductility.


-High compressing strength,

-To manufacture parts of power train of

fatigue resistance and wear

vehicles, bearing caps, steering gear


housings, agricultural equipment, and

-Good vibration damping

railroad equipments.

o Brass

-Relatively resistant to

-To manufacture screws, hinges, water


fittings and electrical parts.

-Good malleability

-To manufacture musical instruments such as

-Good acoustic properties

horns and bells

-Relatively low melting point

-Low coefficient of friction

Engineering applications of microstructure examination

o To identify metal alloys and to predict its composition, thermo-mechanical history
and properties such as mechanical, chemical, physical properties.
o To examine impurities, defects and faults of heat treated metal alloys.
o To examine defects and faults in welded or brazed joints.
o To analyze the causes for structural failures of materials.

To examine defects in IC devices

o To measure the thickness of a coat applied on a material.

Relationship between the phases present in the microstructure and properties of the

All the metals we observed are composite materials which are composed of two or more
distinct phases. From these phases the primary phase is known as the Matrix phase and others
are known as the dispersed phases. Normally matrix is the more ductile and less hard phase.
And the dispersed phases are usually stronger than the matrix phase. In all the materials we
observed the dispersed phases were in forms of particles. So the dimensions of these particles
affect the properties of the material.
Very small dispersed particles finely distributed in the matrix interrupt the movement of
dislocations and deformations. So it strengthens the material. On the other hand the dispersed
phase is usually stable at high temperatures. So the material is relatively stable at high
temperatures too. In our observation High Carbon Steel, Gray Cast Iron, Brass had small
dispersed phase areas. So there properties and applications discussed above can be explained
through this fact.
Larger dispersed particles in a matrix have a low strengthening effect. But they are capable of
sharing the load applied to the material resulting increase of stiffness and decrease of ductility.
In our observation Low Carbon Steel and Medium Carbon Steel had this kind of structure. So
there properties and applications can be explained by this fact.


Microstructure examination of metals can be used in many engineering applications to

predict material properties.

Structure of a composite material affects its properties to a significant extent.

Presence of different phases also affects the properties of materials.

Small dispersed phase particles in a matrix strengthen the material and materials which
have larger dispersed particles are more stiff and brittle.