Alloy steels comprise a wide variety of steels which have compositions that exceed the limitations of C, Mn, Ni, Mo, Cr, Va, Si, and B which have been set for carbon steels. However, steels containing more than 3.99% chromium are classified differently as stainless and tool steels. Alloy steels are always killed, but can use unique deoxidization or melting processes for specific applications. Alloy steels are generally more responsive to heat and mechanical treatments than carbon steels.
During the last sixty years engineers have demanded steels with higher and higher tensile strength, together with adequate ductility. This has been particularly so where lightness is desirable, as in the automobile and aircraft industries. An increase in carbon content met this demand in a limited way, but even in the heat-treated condition the maximum strength is about 700 MPa above which value a rapid fall in ductility and impact strength occurs and mass effects limit the permissible section.
Heat treated alloy steels provide high strength, high yield point, combined with appreciable ductility even in large sections. The use of plain carbon steels frequently necessitates water quenching accompanied by the danger of distortion and cracking, and even so only thin sections can be hardened throughout. For resisting corrosion and oxidation at elevated temperatures, alloy steels are essential.