The birth of stainless steel can be considered somewhat accidental, when Harry Brearley, the acclaimed metallurgist, was closely inspecting the development of new steel alloys to be used in gun barrels in England more than a century ago. Upon his investigation, he was fortunate enough to observe that some samples did not oxidize due to the high consistency of chromium. The subsequent development of other high-strength stainless steel types continued in France and today, the annual demand and consumption of stainless steel in various industries are growing at a whopping rate of 5%.
Stainless steel products are preferred in the construction and household appliances industries, due to their high resistance to corrosion, attractive appearance, low maintenance, and high ductility. While it remains one of the most expensive metals, its unique properties are a testament to the outstanding lifetime value it provides and its ability to outperform any other metals.
But why exactly is stainless steel such a precious metal? Stainless steel’s unparalleled strength can be attributed to another corrosion-resistant chemical element, chromium. Chromium can be found at a rate of 10.5% in stainless steel, forming a self-healing protective oxide layer. Serving as a strong protective shield, chromium also provides stainless steel the ability to self-heal. Thus, stainless steel’s surface remains intact during the fabrication process.
Stainless steel can be enhanced with other elements besides chromium. Depending on the chemical element used to modify stainless steel’s surface and composition, we can further categorize this ductile metal into austenitic stainless steel, ferritic stainless steel, martensitic stainless steel, and duplex stainless steel. Austenitic steel contains chromium and nickel and is used to design kitchen sinks, doors, food processing equipment, ovens, chemical tanks, and other types of equipment. Ferritic stainless steel contains only chromium and is typically found in cooking utensils, domestic appliances, or architectural parts. Martensitic steel consists of low chromium and high carbon and is great for manufacturing surgical instruments, knives, shafts, or fasteners. Lastly, duplex stainless steel contains high chromium and lower nickel and can be found in heat exchangers, marine applications, and oil and gas installations.
The attractiveness and durability of stainless steel are certainly reasons for manufactures to use it in their respective industries. The initial higher upfront cost will pay off in the long run since stainless steel can provide increased service life and recyclability.
The stainless steel kingdom also includes many different shapes that are important for various manufacturing applications. Listing all the benefits and applications of stainless steel can fill an entire book so for the remainder of this article, we will shed some light on the most popular stainless steel shapes and their uses.
Stainless Steel Shapes
Stainless Steel Sheet/Plate
Longevity, corrosion resistance, and formability are some of the qualities that can be ascribed to stainless steel sheets and plates. It’s typically available in various grades, such as 300, 400, and 200, with each type having its own unique characteristics. 304 grades are the most popular because they are easy to form and weld. 316 is particularly effective in acidic environments as it contains molybdenum. Sheets and plates can also have various finishes but they are usually cold-rolled and annealed in a controlled environment to maintain a reflective finish.
Tough and shiny, stainless steel sheet is a metal preferred by many manufacturers and can be easily manipulated. Welding, bending, and cutting can be a breeze with the right technology. Stainless steel sheets are all around us since their most common applications are construction, architecture, automotive, energy, and heavy equipment industries.
Stainless Steel Angles
Stainless steel angles, as the name implies, are types of steel that form a 90° angle. With great durability and grainy mill finishes, stainless steel angles can be ideal for many fabrication projects. 304 stainless steel angles are the most common types of angle products and they are easily machined, non-magnetic, and provide great long-term value.
The most widely accepted and used type of stainless steel angle is 304 alloys stainless steel and it must be cold worked. It’s highly resistant to damage and has a good strength-to-weight ratio. Typical applications include the aerospace industry, architecture, food processing equipment, and furniture.
Stainless Steel Coil
The stainless steel coil is usually the result of putting stainless steel slabs through a conversion process. Then, once the coils are produced, they are further processed using other manufacturing techniques, such as slitting. With slitting, the coil is cut into numerous strands which are called strip coils or slit coils.
Steel in coil form can be used in buildings to maintain their appearance. Used mostly for aesthetic purposes, coils provide structural support and impermeability to large structures, like industrial buildings and roofs.
Stainless Steel Bars
Serving as the foundation in many manufacturing applications, stainless steel bars are versatile products that come in various shapes and sizes. There are flat, round, hexagonal, and square bars and they all have distinct qualities.
Flat bars are hot rolled and have great thickness and strength. Common applications are escalators and underground stations. Round bars are crucial players in machinery and stand out because they are malleable and corrosion-resistant. They are frequently used to produce automotive components. Hexagonal bars are used in the construction industry and are designed to carry heavy weight. Lastly, square bars are used to manufacture large industrial equipment due to their hardness and immense wear resistance.
Stainless Steel Pipes
Steel pipes can be further divided into types. There is a seamless or welded pipe, which has its own special capabilities. Seamless pipes are able to withstand intense levels of pressure and temperature. Welded pipes are lightweight and flexible. Generally, steel pipes can be used in oil and gas industries, where harsh environmental conditions exist. Sturdy pipes are necessary to prevent oil leaks and damages.
Stainless steel is a wonder metal, known for great corrosion and heat resistance. Many industries have benefited greatly from stainless steel’s unparalleled aesthetic appearance, strength-to-weight ratio, and resistance to friction and heat. If you’re looking for a reliable and affordable stainless steel supplier, there are many great service centers in the eastern U.S.