Stainless steel was invented over 100 years ago. Since then, it’s become one of the most popular materials in the world.
You might know it best from your stainless steel kitchen appliances. It actually has a wide range of uses across many industries.
What is stainless steel, exactly, and how is stainless steel used? These are common questions, which this guide will answer for you.
What is Stainless Steel?
Steel is one of the strongest materials in the world, but it does have some limitations. Stainless steel offers an improvement on those weaknesses.
How is stainless steel different from plain old steel? Steel is an iron alloy, with some carbon added to it. The carbon enhances strength.
It doesn’t do much to protect steel from iron’s reaction to corrosive elements like oxygen.
Stainless steel generally has other additives. These substances form a protective film, which means it won’t corrode. Steel can still rust, whereas stainless steel typically doesn’t.
Properties of Stainless Steel
Stainless steel has some common properties, which help to account for its popularity. They include:
- Resistance to corrosion
- Resistance to extreme temperatures
- Ease of use and cleaning
Stainless steel retains the strength of steel. That makes it a good choice for heavy-duty applications.
You can also machine and weld it, which makes it easy to work with. You can see here for more information on the different ways you can work with stainless steel.
Types of Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is an alloy, which means it has different elements mixed into it. Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon. Stainless steel generally has other metals, like nickel and chromium, in it.
There are a few different types of stainless steel, though. Generally, they’re classed by the crystalline structure of the metal. They include:
- Austenitic stainless steel, which has a high chromium content
- Ferritic stainless steel, which has magnetic properties and a lower nickel content
- Martensitic stainless steel, which is less resistant to corrosion
Other elements, like cobalt and titanium may be in the mix to amplify specific properties. Austenitic stainless is the most common. Its high chromium content makes it more resistant to corrosion.
Martensitic stainless steel is the least common. These alloys are particularly noted for their hardness. That makes them ideal for uses that need high tensile strength or impact resistance.
A protective polymer can prevent corrosion on martensitic stainless. Heat treatments will harden these type of stainless steels.
Industry Uses of Stainless Steel
You now know about some of the common properties of stainless steel and the different types. So, how is it used? What industries use stainless steel?
It’s a long list. The construction industry is probably the best-known example. Stainless steel is used for everything from structures to scaffolding.
Stainless steel is also used for a wide variety of piping in buildings, such as heating and cooling. It’s often used for water and sewer piping as well, both in homes and in commercial applications.
Aerospace and Automotive
Stainless steel is also a popular choice for the aerospace and automotive industries. Aerospace particularly chooses stainless steel for its high strength and its impact resistance. It’s also a good choice for environments with extreme temperatures.
The aerospace industry requires materials that withstand both heat and cold. Since stainless steel can also be machined and welded, it’s little wonder that it’s a natural choice for aerospace applications.
The automotive industry has been slower to adopt stainless steel. It been in exhaust systems for decades. It’s also used for decorative features, such as trim and grills.
Many automakers are now adding stainless steel to structural components. This will help them meet new environmental standards.
Other transportation industries also make use of stainless steel. Shipping containers, for example, are often made of stainless steel.
The Energy Industry
Think of any type of energy, and it likely uses stainless steel at some point. Hydroelectric dam turbines are usually made of stainless steel.
The oil and gas industry chooses stainless steel pipes to move a wide variety of products. Pipes may move liquid crude, or they may pump in chemical additives to liquefy heavy crudes. Stainless steel is also used for water transport.
Stainless steel is also the choice for nuclear energy. Its ability to withstand high temperatures, as well as protect itself from corrosion, make it a good choice.
Even batteries may have touched stainless steel at some point. Mining operations use stainless steel for a wide variety of tasks. They may very well be mining lithium, a key component in rechargeable batteries.
Medical and Pharmaceutical Uses
Any industry that needs to focus on sanitation is likely to choose stainless steel. Due to its resistance to corrosion, you don’t need to worry about medical tools rusting or contaminating a mixture. Some scientists have even been working on antibacterial stainless steel.
It’s also easy to sanitize the material. That makes it a great choice for environments where sterilization is key.
Food and Beverage Industry Applications
The food and beverage industry also has high standards for sterilization. Stainless steel is likely to be found throughout the industry for that reason.
Food producers are likely to use stainless steel in the production process. Vats and pipes are easily cleaned and sanitized. Their resistance to corrosion means they’ll be in good working order for years to come.
The same is true of stainless steel pots, dishes, and even cutlery. There’s a reason industrial kitchens are usually decked out in stainless steel.
The Strength Your Business Needs
Stainless steel is one of the most popular materials out there, and for good reason. Its properties make it incredibly versatile. It’s suited to a whole host of different applications, from the fork you eat with to the hydroelectric turbines turning to power your computer while you read this.
Stainless steel might be a good investment for your business. If you’re looking for other bright ideas and great business advice, you’re in the right spot! Check out the archive and discover all kinds of how-tos and tips for growing your business idea.