The Many Uses of Steel and Alloys


There is no doubt that metals are among the most important manufacturing materials that humanity has ever used, widely used to make tools, weapons, and even jewelry. In fact, a number of prehistoric eras are named after commonly used metals at the time, such as the Iron Age and the Bronze Age. By the Industrial Revolution, the mass production of pure, strong metals became a reality, especially where steel was concerned. This transformed production around the world, and that still continues today, but with many metal alloys too such as the ASTM B 584 family of alloys, or copper and aluminum alloys. Many stainless steel products can be found today, and high yield steel can be found in high-stress work environments. When is it time to use ASTM B 584 alloys or K400 alloys, for example? There is always the right metal for the job.

All About Steel

While there is no single “best” metal, and while no metal is truly universal, it is easy to see that steel is a heavyweight in today’s manufacturing world. Many goods are made from steel, from I-beams in skyscrapers to railroad tracks to vehicles to cutlery or even surgical equipment. Steel has been forged since the Middle Ages, but only in modest quantities until the steel mills of the Industrial Revolution appeared. Today, steel is widely manufactured and traded around the world, especially between nations such as the United States, Canada, Germany, and China. Much of the steel the U.S. imports comes from China or Canada in particular, but there is more than one way to make this light but strong metal.

Stainless steel, which can resist rust and corrosion, is a staple for making cutlery and surgical equipment, while hot and cold rolled steel are used in other manufacturing. What does that mean? At first, all steel is sent through pressurized rollers at a very high temperature to create steel sheets. Once those sheets cool down, they are considered hot rolled steel, which is imprecise in its dimensions. Such steel is useful for applications such as railroad tracks or making steel I-beams. Meanwhile, other manufacturers will want to buy cold rolled steel, which is made when steel sheets are sent through rollers again, but this time at room temperature. Such steel has a glossy protective finish and has precise dimensions, making it ideal for making electronic goods or car parts. Care should be taken when transporting cold rolled steel to avoid damaging it.

Other Metals and Alloys

Steel is far from alone. Some applications call for other metals that offer different properties, such as tungsten or titanium. Those metals are extremely durable in the face of pressure or heat, and are often used in factories. Meanwhile, aluminum is a very light metal that is fairly tough for its limited weight, making it ideal for building fuel-efficient vehicles such as trains or cars. Many car wheel rims are made of aluminum in particular, rather than steel.

But what about alloys, such as ASTM B 584 or the like? ASTM B 584, monel, cupro nickel, and other alloys are composite metals made up of two or more ingredient metals combined in pre-determined percentages and ratios. The idea is that these alloys offer unique and desirable properties that pure metals mined from the earth cannot offer. They are tailor-made for particular jobs, offering resistance to extremes of pressure, temperature, or corrosion.

A good example of this may be copper alloys, which are often used to make pipes, valves, and pumps that are constantly exposed to, or carry, seawater. Such pipes can carry fast-moving, polluted seawater without suffering corrosion or ruptures, where other metals would certainly be compromised. Similar alloys may be used to make tanks, pipes, pumps, and valves in chemical plants, which will not corrode or degrade easily.

Other alloys may be used to make metal bellows, or flexible metal tubes that can carry hot, cold, or pressurized liquids or gases without rupturing. These tubes may flex and expand without trouble, but ordinary metals might suffer if used this way. Instead, tailor-made alloys can handle the job, even if the contents are extremely hot or change pressure many times during the work day.

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