October 4, 2022

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The Many Uses of Steel and Alloys

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It is safe to say that metal is one of the most important materials that humanity has ever used for production. In fact, a number of prehistoric eras such as the Iron Age and Bronze Age are named after the most commonly used metals of the time. Fast forward to the Industrial Revolution, and steel mills in Great Britain and the United States were producing steel in incredible quantities to fuel the construction of railroad tracks, skyscraper I-beams, steam ships, and more. Today, not only are various grades of steel used for similar purposes, but alloys such as ASTM B 584, A 286 alloys, and Cupro Nickel 70 30 are used around the world. When is it time to use bronze alloys such as ASTM B 584 or the like? These composite metals can perform work that even steel and aluminum cannot.

Steel and Aluminum

Steel is made from iron, and steel has been forged since the Middle Ages in limited quantities to make knight swords and armor. The steel mills of the 19th century changed that, and foundries were making steel in vast amounts to allow new construction. Both then and now, steel is vital for making cars, trains and railroad tracks, buildings, and much more. This has led to quite an impressive economic sector: today, the sheet metal industry employs over 100,000 Americans, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that this industry may grow quickly from 2016 and 2026 and create over 12,000 new jobs. Steel is one of the most widely traded resources in the world and the United States accepts a lot of imported steel from Canada, China, and Germany.

How to make steel? Once the metal is produced from iron, it will be passed through pressurized rollers at a high temperature, and this “hot rolling” process results in rolls of steel. Such steel has imprecise dimensions, but that is acceptable for applications such as making railroad tracks and I-beams. Sometimes, that hot rolled steel can be passed through the rollers again but at room temperature this time, and this produces cold rolled steel. Such metal has a protective coat and as precise dimensions, making it useful for making all sorts of manufactured goods. Stainless steel, meanwhile, will resist rust and corrosion and is useful for making surgical tools and cutlery.

Aluminum is another common metal in today’s manufacturing, and in fact it is even lighter than steel is. Aluminum is being used more and more in the production of vehicles, which makes them lighter and thus more fuel-efficient. Aluminum strips can also be bought wholesale so that a factory can make electronic goods with aluminum. Finally, many cars and trucks today make use of aluminum wheel rims.

Alloys

While steel and aluminum are widely used, they cannot handle every type of job, so alloys such as ASTM B 584 are used. An alloy is a composite metal, made up of two or more ingredient metals that are combined in a certain ratio to make the intended end product. Alloys such as ASTM B 584 and many others are designed for specific work environments due to their properties, and they may include metals such as iron and steel, aluminum, nickel, titanium, copper, brass, and more.

The military makes good use of alloys, such as to make the components (including the hull) of navy vessels, and alloys are used to make missiles. In the civilian sector, alloys with copper in them are used to make undersea pipes, which must endure constant exposure to salt water both on the outside and the inside without corroding. Steel would be compromised in that work, but not copper alloys. The same is true for tanks, pipes, and valves in a chemical plant. Other alloys are designed to endure extremes of pressure or heat, which would compromise other metals, such as making components for a jet or train’s engine. Some alloys are designed to have excellent strength to weight ratios, and some can endure extremes of cold without getting warped or damaged. Finally, metal alloys are a great choice for making metal bellows, or flexible metal tubes that must flex, expand, and contract without bursting while containing heated and pressurized contents. Only specialized alloys can handle that job.