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Stainless steel is widely credited to have been discovered by Harry Brearley from Sheffield, UKin the year 1913 , when he added 12.8% chromium to molten iron, thus stumbling upon “Rustless Steel”. In the year 1919, Martensitic steel was invented by Elwood Haynes, followed by precipitation-hardening stainless steel, discovered in 1929 by William Kroll, and the subsequent production of the first ever duplex stainless steel in the year 1930 by The Avesta Ironworks in Sweden. In a short span of 17 years, stainless steel earned the reputation of being an anti-corrosive metal with hygienic aspects.
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Stainless steel is an alloy created using a higher percentage of chromium, iron ore, nickel, carbon, nitrogen, silicon, and manganese in its manufacturing process. The percentage of chromium varies per the type of stainless steel being produced.
Appropriate quantities of raw materials are heated in an electric arc furnace for around 8 to 12 hours.
The molten steel is then poured into moulds of various dimensions and kept aside to cool.
The cooled semi-finished steel then undergoes the forming process to create desired shapes using the hot-rolling technique.
After the forming process is completed, annealing takes place. The annealing process involves providing heat treatment to the steel and later cooling it under temperature-controlled conditions. This process strengthens the stainless steel, while relieving the internal stress of the metal.
Upon completion of the annealing process, the descaling process takes place to remove the scale build-up formed during annealing. Various methods of descaling are used depending on the stainless steel type, such as pickling or electro-cleaning.
The descaled stainless steel is then prepared for cutting into various shapes and sizes. Cutting of stainless steel metal is done using different methods, such as straight shearing, circular shearing, sawing, nibbling, blanking, and flame cutting.
The last process is finishing of the cut stainless steel. The surface finish treatment of stainless steel is a very important step to get the trademark smooth surface. The process of surface finish involves different types of methods varying per the finish required.
• A dull surface finish is achieved by using the hot-rolling, annealing, and descaling processes
• A bright surface finish is produced by hot-rolling, and later cold-rolling using polished roll
• A high reflective surface finish is obtained using the cold-rolling technique combined with the annealing process under controlled conditions, after which it is further subjected to grinding and buffing
• A mirror surface finish is achieved through the process of polishing the stainless steel with very fine abrasives, followed by extensive buffing
There are five families of stainless steel, classified based on their crystalline structures:
• Austenitic Stainless Steel
This is the most common of the five kinds of stainless steel produced today. This stainless steel has high formability and weldability, is non-magnetic and durable, and does not harden under heat treatment. The austenitic stainless steel is used for a wide range of applications, such as the in the manufacturing of equipment for automotive parts and trims, mining, food, beverage, chemical, and pharmaceutical purposes. This steel is also used to make cookware, cutlery, sinks, tanks, storage vessels, pressure vessels, architectural components, and many such things
• Ferritic Stainless Steel
This stainless steel has magnetic properties but, like the austenitic stainless steel, this too does not harden with heat treatment. The ferritic stainless steel has five manufacturing grades depending on their composition. This is the least expensive type of stainless steel to produce. The ferritic stainless steel is used to manufacture automotive parts, household and industrial kitchenware equipment, and a variety of equipment used by different industries. Due to its good ductility and corrosion resistance, the uses of ferritic stainless steel are still growing
• Martensitic Stainless Steel
The martensitic stainless steel is easy to produce as a high carbon or low carbon steel. This steel can be hardened using heat treatment using the austenitizing, quenching, and tempering processes. In recent developments, carbon has been replaced with nitrogen in the martensitic stainless steel in order to obtain greater strength and higher anti-corrosive property. This steel has magnetic properties but is less corrosion-resistant in comparison to austenitic and ferritic stainless steel. The martensitic stainless steel is used in aerospace, marine, petrochemical, food processing, and turbine energy sectors
• Duplex Stainless Steel
This family of stainless steel gets its name due to the two-phase molecular micro-structure containing grains of the austenitic and ferritic stainless steel grains. This double combination gives it numerous properties such as strength, toughness, ductility, corrosion resistance, and resistance to stress corrosion cracking. Due to a list of attractive properties inherited from the austenitic and ferritic stainless steel families, the duplex stainless steel has a multitude of uses in various industries dealing with chemical processing, petrochemical, oil and natural gas, pharmaceutical products, geothermal units, sea water desalination, biomedical, mining equipment, energy and utilities, nuclear power plants, solar power energy, and many more
• Precipitation-Hardening Stainless Steel
The precipitation hardening stainless steel is similar in corrosion resistance to the austenitic steel. However, this steel can be hardened to obtain four times greater strength than the austenitic stainless steel using the age hardening technique. The three types of steel in this category are low carbon martensitic, semi-austenitic, and austenitic. Uses of the precipitation-hardened stainless steel are mostly in the aerospace and high-tech industries due to its strength in manufacturing valves and gears, other engine components, high-strength shafts, blades for turbines, casting and moulding dies, and nuclear waste caskets.
Stainless steel can be found in everything around us. From construction to medical, food to energy, and every other sector today relies on stainless steel metal. Be it a safety pin or an artificial hip joint, stainless steel is the king of all metals. It is 100% recyclable with no loss of its original properties and a strong life span, making it the metal of the future.
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