Stainless Steel: Origin, History & Uses

One hundred years after it was first discovered, stainless steel has become an integral part of everyday life. As technology develops, the potential of stainless steel for the coming century is impressive and exciting to anticipate.

The Discovery Of Stainless Steel
In the eighteenth century scientists made a series of innovative breakthroughs regarding hitherto undiscovered metals. Between 1751 and 1797, scientists discovered a variety of metals including chromium and nickel. In 1900, a group of metallurgists propitiously experimented with iron chromium alloys, which they found to be exceptionally corrosion resistant. The first patent to manufacture stainless steel was issued in 1912 to two German scientists named Eduard Maurer and Benno Strauss.

Stainless Steel – How It’s Made
The key ingredients of stainless steel are iron, nickel, silicon, nitrogen, carbon, manganese and chrome. This mixture is melted in an electric furnace for several hours at a very high temperature. After the melting is complete, the steel is cast into various semi-finished forms, including rectangular, round and square shapes, tubes, rods and slabs. The semi-finished steel is then heated and passed through giant rolls in a process called hot rolling. This is then followed by further treatment, in which the steel is heated and cooled to make the metal softer and also relieve internal stresses. The steel is then descaled to remove any residue, and the process is completed by cutting and polishing the steel.

Stainless Steel Production
China produces most of the world’s stainless steel, followed by Asia, with the Americas, Eastern and Central Europe, Africa and Western Europe producing the least, according to the International Stainless Steel Forum. Global stainless steel production was just under 10 million tonnes in the first three months of 2013, which is an increase of 6 percent overall for the same period in the previous year.

Most Popular Uses For Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is very popular for domestic use, and it is also an ideal material for thousands of applications. Cutlery, saucepans, cookware, dishwasher and washing machines, sinks, microwave ovens and razor blades are just a few uses at consumer level, whereas stainless steel tables, work surfaces, trolleys etc. are all used commercially. Stainless steel is also used for surgical instruments, surgical implants and hospital machinery such as scanners. It is also used storage and transportation of foods because of its resistance to corrosion.

The Future Of Stainless Steel
From 1970 to 2010, the demand for stainless steel grew rapidly, from three to thirty million tons yearly. Nowadays, unpolluted water is accessible in very dry areas and stainless steel also makes major scale pharmaceutical production possible. Most industries are dependent on this versatile metal for low cost, high volume production. As it is durable, the future is very bright for stainless steel. It retains its elemental qualities, whilst being completely recyclable.

Stainless steel makes the use of alternative energy viable, playing a vital role in fuel cells, nuclear fusion research and the production of bio-gases. In future years, man will face many new challenges, and stainless steel may well be the solution to many of them.

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  • License: Image author owned
  • License: Image author owned

Author Graeme K: It all started with simple question from my son asking what the difference between steel and stainless steel is. All I could remember is that steel came from iron, and that was all, so I ended up becoming a professor in knowledge! An incredible metal though, it’s used everywhere from stainless steel tables in the medical trade to sinks and worktops for catering.

Author: Tech Poster

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