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Interested In Stainless Steel? Here Is The Journey It Takes Before Reaching The Consumer

One of the most used alloys in the world is stainless steel, with use in industries as far ranging as culinary to rocket science. It is able to be used in these wide-ranging industries because of its unique properties that are forged in the manufacturing stage. The most famous of these properties is its almost complete resistance to corrosion, specifically rust, but it is also very popular because of its strength and longevity. So what is it that makes stainless steel so special?

The Ingredients

Stainless steel is an alloy which means that there is more than one type of metal (or element) involved in creating the finished product. In the case of stainless steel, these ingredients are four metals — iron (where the steel is derived from), nickel, chromium and manganese — and three non-metallic elements: silicon, carbon and nitrogen. Proportionally, stainless steel is mostly iron which makes up about three-quarters of the total recipe, with chromium being a further 10% of the total. The rest is made up of varying amounts of the other elements in small amounts. 

The Process

The first process is to melt all the elements together in one large, industrial furnace. This is where it becomes stainless steel, but it is not ready for commercial use yet. After being melted together, the large quantity of stainless steel has to be formed into workable shapes. Depending on the order the company is fulfilling, this could range from smaller, compact pieces to large slabs. After the stainless steel is given a rough shape, it is then heat treated (a process called 'annealing') to relieve any stress in the metal caused by its formation. The metal is then cleaned and is now ready to be shipped to fabrication warehouses or straight to the consumer. 

Minor Differences

While the process might sound very simple, that is really just the basic outline for how stainless steel is formed. In reality, there are many different grades of stainless steel, and each of these grades has a different set of instructions to follow. They also do not all have the same amount of each element in their construction — for example, stainless steel meant for construction will need to be stronger, which requires more steel, while stainless steel meant for kitchen knives will have an emphasis on the non-corrosive elements, namely chromium. So while the overall process remains quite similar, underneath this broad umbrella is an industry with many intricacies and nuances. Next time you see a piece of stainless steel in your car or on a machine in your office, think of it is a monument to the industrial stainless manufacturing industry and its ability to create such universally relevant materials for Australia.