The Modern Industry of Steel

Humanity has always made use of materials for making buildings, tools, and weapons for countless millennia, right up to the present day. In fact, some periods of human history were named for the types of metals used for tools and weapons, such as the Iron Age, Copper Age, and Bronze Age. Metals such as these and more have been used ever since, and modern foundries, steel mills, and factories are using metals and alloys in ways no one in the Bronze Age could have imagined. Today, while stainless steel is not truly a catch-all metal, stainless steel is abundant in the world today, and thin steel sheets are constantly being produced around the world and sold in rolls. Brass and copper see plenty of production too, and combined metals also have their uses. In fact, many modern alloys can do work that even stainless steel or titanium cannot handle. When is stainless steel used? And what about its production rates and methods of manufacture?

All About Steel

Steel has been used since at least the Middle Ages, if not earlier, when blacksmiths could forge knight armor and swords from it on a non-industrial scale. Today, knight armor and swords have given way to steel goods such as I-beams, vehicle bodies, parts in home appliances, surgical tools, medical needles, and more. Stainless steel is known for resisting corrosion or rust in everyday applications, making stainless steel among the most commonly used metals today. Even forks, knives, and spoons in the home or a restaurant are made with stainless steel. Thin metal strips or thin sheet metal from a factory may be made into nearly anything in the hands of other producers.

Unsurprisingly, steel is a major import and export around the world, and the United States, Germany, China, and Canada make and use a lot of it. The United States produces a lot of steel for domestic use, but also imports a lot from those other nations mentioned above. The United States, in particular, is Canada’s single largest trade partner and buys a lot of its exported steel. Meanwhile, domestic American production of steel is a major part of the U.S. economy, with sheet metal accounting for $30 billion in U.S. revenue every single year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, meanwhile, has stated that the metal fabrication industry is due to grow 9% from 2016 to 2026, and it may add some 12,000 more jobs to this sector during that time frame. And as of 2016, some 138,900 sheet metal workers were employed across the United States.

A factory such as a car plant will buy wholesale sheet steel rolls to make into finished goods, and manufacturers of steel have more than one way to prepare it. Hot rolled steel is subjected to high temperatures as it is sent through pressurized metal rollers, hence the name. This steel is ideal for applications that don’t call for a great deal of precision, such as building railroad tracks. By contrast, cold rolled steel is first rolled hot, then rolled again at room temperature to further temper and refine it. Cold rolled steel takes time to make and it must be shipped carefully, but its dimensions are more exact. This makes cold rolled steel ideal for precise applications such as building car bodies or household electronics and appliances.

Alloys

Stainless steel is everywhere and quite useful, but it cannot truly do everything. While items such as I-beams and car bodies and surgical tools are made from stainless steel, some specialized industrial items are made from alloys instead. An alloy is made up of two or more ingredient metals to form a composite, and the alloy’s performance is dictated by the metals involves and their ratios. Steel, titanium, copper, brass, nickel, iron, and others are used to make alloys for various applications. Some alloys are used for metal bellows, for example, flexible metal tubes that can flex and bend without rupturing. Such bellows may endure extremes of pressure or heat where ordinary metals would be damaged and leak. Chemical refineries use other alloys that can survive exposure to strong chemicals in valves, pipes, and tanks, and underwater pipes are made of alloys that can endure exposure to salt water.

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