Steel – it’s absolutely everywhere. It is in our kitchens, cars, bridges, homes and office buildings. Everywhere you look, steel is being used to add strength and durability to the things that we use in our everyday lives.
Early Uses of Steel
History shows that steel had been used by blacksmiths for thousands of years, however its use became much more important in the 17th century, after more efficient methods of production were developed. In the mid-19th century the Bessemer process was developed, which allowed for steel to be mass-produced inexpensively. Additional developments allowed for the cost of production to be further decreased, while increasing the quality of the finished product at the same time.
Steel is currently one of the most common materials used around the globe. Each year over 1.3 billion tons of steel is produced and is identified by various grades and standards. It is used as a major component in tools, machines, appliances, weapons, automobiles, buildings, ships, infrastructure, appliances and much more.
What Is Steel?Steel is an alloy that is made of iron and a combination of other elements, including carbon. There are different types of steel based upon the other elements that are used to create it. For example, when carbon is the primary element in the alloy, its content in the steel must be somewhere between 0.002 and 2.1 percent by weight.
While other alloys can be used, the following elements must always be present in steel:
In addition to these elements, other elements that can be added intentionally to change the characteristics of the finished steel product include:
Carbon, as well as other elements used in the creation of steel, work as a hardening agent. By changing the amount of the alloy elements and the form that they are used in the steel will alter qualities, such as strength, ductility and hardness. For example, steel that has a higher content of carbon can be made to be stronger and harder, yet still less ductile, than iron.
Steel can be easily distinguished from two popular alloy versions known as cast iron and wrought iron. Cast iron has an alloy that includes more than 2.1 percent carbon. Wrought iron contains just a small amount of carbon, making it easier to bend and twist into shape.
In addition to basic types of steel as determined by the elements used in alloy creation, there are also many different types of heat treatment options available. Tempering, quenching and annealing are the most common types of treatment used in steel manufacturing today.
Quenching and tempering is achieved by heating the steel to what is known as the “austenite phase,” before quenching it in a solution of oil or water to rapidly cool it. This quick cooling process creates a hard and brittle structure, which is then tempered using a specialized type of annealing. Annealing is a process that involves heating the steel until it is softened through a three-part process Of recovery, recrystallization and grain growth.
How Steel is Used Today
Steel is used in a wide number of applications in modern construction, including the building of railways, roads, buildings, appliances and other infrastructures. In fact, most modern structures, such as skyscrapers, stadiums, airports and bridges, are created with a durable steel skeleton. Even structures that use concrete also use steel as a reinforcing material.
Steel is also used in many different types of vehicles and appliances. It is also used in basic construction materials, due to its durability and strength. Some of those materials include screws, nails and bolts. It is also used in industries, such as mining, pipeline transport, aerospace, shipbuilding and heavy equipment design.
Steel is also found in other common materials, such as basic tools, steel wool and personal armored vests for security and law enforcement. In addition to practical uses, steel is also employed in artistic uses, such as sculptures, framing and display structures.