- Education and Science
Taking a look at stainless steel
Stainless steel is a component that is used in a wide array of products all over the world. As its name suggests it is stainless which makes it ideal for its various applications. However, what is stainless steel, how is it made and what are some of the uses for it?
What is stainless steel?
Stainless steel is an alloy that is composed of various different elements. The most common element in stainless steel is iron. However, what makes stainless steel stainless is the addition of chromium to this alloy.
The chromium literally acts as a protective barrier over the iron which would otherwise corrode over time when exposed to the elements. It is the oxygen in the air that would otherwise bind to the iron and cause rusting and degradation of the metal. However since the oxygen comes into contact with chromium first, chromium oxide is formed.
The significance of this is that it blocks the further penetration of oxygen deeper into the metal thus giving the aforementioned protective effects.
How is stainless steel made?
Stainless steel is unique in a sense that it is made from recycled metals. Whilst the formation of stainless steel is rather complex, it’s production can be simplified to a certain degree. Like some other alloys, it is created in a furnace whereby scrap metal along with chromium, nickel etc. come into contact with electrodes which are composed of carbon.
Due to the conductive nature of the components, as well as carbon itself this will bring about a massive increase in the temperature of the mixture which in turn causes the individual components to melt and mix in with each other.
This mixture is then transferred to a different container wherby the carbon molecules that will have been added from the electrodes are removed. The reason for this is that the carbon molecules can cause degradation of the alloy over time, and therefore by removing it is limiting the chances of this happening. At this point the alloy will also be washed in acid that will remove any contaminants that are left behind from the various stages of the process and will help to promote the protective barrier that the chromium oxide confers to the metal.
Stainless steel is an extremely robust and durable alloy and as such its lifespan can be up to 100 years depending on the conditions in which it is in. However this will also depend on the quality of the alloy at the time of production as well as how well it is maintained over time, which is true of any product. This long term use is a great benefit and allows it to be used for the various suggestions mentioned below.
Some uses for stainless steel
Stainless steel has hundreds if not thousands of uses. One such example of this is in cutlery that will most likely be residing in your kitchen drawers. The fact that it is strong and does not tarnish, unlike some metals, makes it a great addition to any kitchen since you don’t need to continuously keep on changing your cutlery as it starts to degrade and become unsightly.
Another use for it is in watches. Watch manufacturers such as Omega have a wide array of watches in which the bracelet and the rest of the case is entirely composed of stainless steel. This is of great benefit for those that buy these watches since some lines (such as the Seamaster line of Omega watches) were originally developed for divers in mind. With the high content of salt in the sea and ocean, the stainless steel bracelet and case means that the watch is protected at all times.
It is also possible to get stainless steel fittings for a wide array of uses. For example, if you have a hydraulic setup for your machinery, a stainless steel connector would be a great way of ensuring that you’re picking a strong and sturdy component that is also modestly priced. By choosing a stainless steel fitting in an application such as this, it will save you money since other fittings could possibly corrode over time with the continued exposure to the hydraulic fluid.
Further, a vast majority of bridges are composed in part or in whole of stainless steel. This is due to it being extremely strong as well as its lifespan as mentioned above.