27 December 2016

Stainless steel turns 100 years old

An alloy that changed the world


Harry Brearley stainless steel inventor

Sheffield, Great Britain, 1913. First World War is about to begin, and weapon production is through the roof. However, the interior surfaces of gun barrels keep corroding quickly: the problem must be solved as soon as possible. This is where Harry Brearley, metallurgical technician and steel expert, comes into play.

The researcher begins to experiment with new steel alloys. One of these contained 0.24% carbon and 12.8% chromium. Once the alloy was prepared, it was necessary to clean its surface to be able to study its physical structure. Harry noted that the new steel was much more resistant to chemicals than other alloys: the stainless steel era had begun. it was initially called “rustless steel”, but soon it became to be marketed as “stainless steel”.

petrochemical industry sheet metal stainless

Nowadays, this incredible material is used in many sectors: from catering to the medical field, from automotive to construction, from the oil industry to metallurgy, as well as in mechanical and manufacturing industry.

chrysler building stainless steel

Thanks to its resistance against corrosion and heat, its recyclability, and its ability to be transformed to obtain various types of components and products, stainless steel has been used to build numerous famous monuments around the world; from the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles (California, USA), to the Chrysler Building in New York (USA); from the Gateway Arch in St. Louis (Missouri, USA) to the Kelpies in Scotland.

st louis gateway arch stainless sheet metal
kelpies sheet metal steel

For those who do not know, the Kelpies is a work about 30 meters high, representing a pair of horse heads made entirely of stainless steel. P lanning and assembly took artist Andy Scott approximately 9 years.

Last year production of stainless steel increased by 5%, from 127 million tons in 2015 to 132.4 million tons in 2016 (as of November 2016, source: World Steel Association). In 2013, the hundredth anniversary of the discovery and commercialization of stainless steel has been celebrated and for the occasion, the ISSF (International Stainless Steel Forum) has made an interesting and illustrative video, which narrates the story and the various fields of application of this material, since its discovery until today.

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