The Many Uses of Steel and Alloys

Among all construction materials the human race has ever used, metals rank very highly. In fact, a few prehistoric eras were named after the most commonly used metals of the time, such as the Iron Age and the Copper Age. Later, in the Industrial Revolution, the mass production of refined metals (often steel) became a reality, and steel was used to build I-beams, railroad tracks, steam engines, and other marvels to rapidly advance technology. Now, in the 21st century, thin sheet metal and thin metal strips are widely manufactured and bought wholesale, from stainless steel to brass and copper alloys. Thin sheet metal is a robust part of the American economy, and thin sheet metal pieces can be used to make anything from computer parts to car parts and forks. And what about combined metals and alloys, such as AMS 5510 and 70 30 Cupro Nickel?

The Modern Metal Industry

It is safe to say that the American thin sheet metal industry is alive and well, and in fact, estimates say that this sector will grow even more in the coming years. As of 2016, for example, some 138,900 Americans were employed as sheet metal workers, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted that the metal fabrication industry will grow 9% from 2016 to 2026. This could add nearly 12,000 new jobs to the American economy, and as of now, sheet metal accounts for $30 billion in American revenue. The United States exports a lot of steel, and it also imports a lot from Canada, China, and Germany. A lot of this steel is recycled; 69% of all steel in North America, some 80 million tons of it, is recycled each year, and around the world, 405 of steel production is done with recycled materials. So, what is all this steel used for? And what about aluminum and alloys?

Steel and Aluminum

Thin sheet metal made of steel or aluminum can be put to use in all sorts of ways. Steel, for example, is widely used to make railroad tracks and skyscraper I-beams, and it is also quite useful for making automobile parts. Stainless steel, for its part, is the go-to material for making cutlery (forks and spoons) as well as surgical equipment, such as scalpels. True to its name, stainless steel is resistant to corrosion and rust, a desirable trait to have. During manufacture, steel is passed through pressurized rollers at a high temperature, and this results in hot rolled steel. Such steel is great for making I-beams and railroad tracks. Meanwhile, if that steel is passed through the rollers again but at room temperature, then the result is cold rolled steel, which has precise dimensions and a protective coat.

Aluminum is a soft metal that’s even lighter than steel, and its light weight makes it a fine choice for making vehicle bodies, such as high-speed trains (to make the vehicles more fuel efficient due to lower weight). Long distance power lines tend to be made of aluminum rather than copper, since aluminum is lighter and more ductile than copper and thus ideal for long-distance lines. Many electronic goods, such as laptops and tablets, are being made with aluminum, since it is lighter than steel and tougher than plastic. It can also cool down easily, helping to prevent overheating in devices like these.

Using Alloys

Steel and aluminum are excellent materials for construction, but they can’t do everything. Some jobs involve extremes of heat, pressure, cold, or corrosion that would ruin ordinary metals, so alloys are used. An alloy is a combined metal that features desired traits for certain applications, and ingredient metals range from steel and aluminum to iron, copper, brass, magnesium, nickel, and titanium, among others. For example, some alloys are used to make jet or train engine parts, which can endure extremes of heat without getting compromised. Other alloys involve copper, and these are used to make corrosion-resistant pipes and tanks, such as undersea pipes that are constantly exposed to salt water. The same is true of pipes, tanks, and valves in chemical plants. Yet other alloys are geared for extreme strength and toughness, and they are popular for military applications such as battleship engine parts and missile casings.

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