In his 1913 quest to create a corrosion-resistant metal for weapons, Harry Brearley, an English metallurgist, experimented with chromium steel and carbon. Upon noticing that the chromium metals were oddly resistant to the polishing chemicals he was using, he made the accidental discovery of “rust-less steel” – now known as stainless steel.
More than a century later, stainless steel has become one of the most used materials in fabrication as well as residential, commercial, and industrial projects. You’ve likely seen it in many places including siding on houses, parts on an airplane, and even in landmarks like the Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park. The reason being – it’s proven to be an extremely versatile, adaptable product.
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of stainless steel and why you should choose this powerhouse product for your custom metal fabrication needs.
Easy to Fabricate
While stainless steel was first used for armaments and fine cutlery, people quickly realized it worked well in other capacities: construction, manufacturing, machinery, appliances, and even the aerospace industry.
Stainless steel is easy to store, move, and work with. It features high impact resistance and doesn’t become brittle when exposed to extreme cold or heat. Despite its strength, stainless steel is malleable and can be easily shaped and manipulated (with the right equipment and skills) into:
- And countless other products
When you combine the advantages of stainless steel with custom metal fabrication, you can obtain components perfectly matched to your project while maintaining optimal efficiency and affordability.
Requires Low Maintenance
Stainless steel requires minimal maintenance during its lifetime. Throughout fabrication and installation, it’s recommended to protect the surface to avoid exposure to and adherence of impurities.
Indoors, stainless steel is a breeze to clean and since it’s non-porous, the material is very hygienic. For most exterior applications in areas with normal rainfall, you only need to prioritize a thorough cleaning once or twice a year using a mild detergent and warm water. However, in coastal environments where stainless steel is exposed to the elements – like deicer or salt – the material needs be cleaned annually at minimum, but plain soap and water will do the trick.
Reduces Environmental Impact
As construction, manufacturing, and demolition materials pile up quickly, companies are needing to look for ways to go green. Not only is stainless steel easy to clean, but it’s also completely recyclable. When you consider its lifecycle, stainless steel has a minimal impact on the earth when compared to other engineering materials.
About half of new stainless steel manufactured in the United States is made from scrap metal – obtained as a byproduct of manufacturing or from end-of-life metal products. Instead of taking up space in a landfill, studies show:
- 85% of stainless steel is recycled at the end of its initial life
- 56% is used to make new stainless steel that retains the strength and durability of the original
- 29% is used to make new carbon steel
Since it’s valuable, in high-demand, and no sorting is required, stainless steel scrap is considered a worthwhile recycling effort. The high recycling rate supports the efficiency of the process, which eases environmental impact, reduces resource depletion, and cuts back on energy use. Since recycled steel retains is original qualities, it can be recycled indefinitely provided product designs and recycling technology allows for it.
Stainless steels long lifespan is largely due to its high corrosion resistance. An invisible layer of chromium oxide sheaths the surface of the steel, protecting the iron in it from air, water, and other corrosives. That protective chromium oxide layer is also self-healing, so a scratch on the surface will repair itself if oxygen is present.
This means stainless steel holds up in a wide range of environments compared to other metals and can also be used in the presence of acidic or alkaline solutions. The more chromium present in the alloy, the higher its corrosion resistance. Low alloyed stainless steel can withstand harsh atmospheric conditions (like coastal climates, salt air, and high humidity) while high alloyed stainless steels can resist corrosion from acids and alkaline solutions in addition to harsh environments.
Available in a Variety of Materials
Stainless steel is comprised of iron-based alloys that give it the strength, corrosion resistance, and durability its known for. The proportions and additives vary depending on what type of stainless steel is being produced and each type is geared toward different uses. There are four types commonly seen today, including:
- Austenitic – the most corrosion-resistant among the different types of stainless steel, austenitic stainless is often paired with shape-preserving nickel or nitrogen. This type of stainless has many uses, largely in construction and industrial applications.
- Ferritic – is strong, durable, and has magnetic properties. Lower grades aren’t as strong as austenitic but have higher resistance to nitric acid and are strong enough for heavy-duty requirements. Higher grades feature high tensile strength, maximum operating temperature, and pitting resistance.
- Martensitic – this type of steel is extremely strong and easily formed into a variety of shapes for a wide array of uses. Though not as resistant to corrosion as other types, it provides adequate protection from mild acids, some alkalis, and food compounds. For example, cutlery is often made of martensitic stainless steel.
- Duplex – is a family of stainless steel that’s made of austenitic and ferritic in almost equal proportions, resulting in a product that is stronger and more corrosion-resistant than typical stainless steel. Usually less expensive than other types, Duplex is often used in the oil and gas industry, chemical engineering, and architecture (mainly bridges, seawalls, and tunnels).
Different metals in the alloy enhance distinct properties. Variations in the composition are made to precise standards and these unique combinations yield different types of stainless, each with individual pros and cons.
Resistant to Fire and Heat
Resilience and resistance are key features of stainless steel, and they hold true when it comes to heat and fire. Stainless has high temperature oxidation resistance, which means it effectively keeps its strength, even when exposed to extreme temperature. Once again, it’s chromium that gives it this ability and makes stainless steel a terrific choice when heat resistance and fire prevention are major concerns.
When high temperature strength is required, chromium continues to play a starring role. It enhances the metal’s ability to remain strong and resist scaling at high temperatures.
The high-temperature strength of a material is usually discussed in terms of its “creep strength” – the ability of the material to resist distortion over long term exposure to a high temperature. In this regard, stainless steel (especially the austenitic varieties) is particularly good making it a superior choice over other materials (like plastic polymers) for many applications.
With a well-earned and time-tested reputation as a strong, dependable metal that is easy to work with, stainless steel has proven to be a sustainable, low-maintenance option for a variety of uses. The combination of these unique features brings many benefits and will help you achieve your project goals while offering optimal efficiency and affordability.
If you’re ready to experience the benefits of stainless steel, request a quote from CMI today and find out which material choice is best for your project.