There’s no denying that stainless steel is an essential part of our everyday lives, with over 150 grades available.
Created in a variety of forms including tubings, coils, bars, sheets and plates, in both domestic and industrial settings; stainless steel is extremely versatile.
What is stainless steel made of?
Stainless steel refers to any type of steel that contains more than 10.5% of chromium content. It can also be identified by its passive layer, which is where the oxygen chromium has formed a sealed, fixed-adhering chromic oxide layer.
Stainless steel differs to aluminium, and has several benefits, which is what makes it such a popular choice in applications across a range of industries:
- High strength: It retains its strength in a range of high and low temperatures.
- Aesthetically pleasing: Despite being extremely functional, stainless steel also looks classic, yet contemporary.
- Resistant to corrosion: It’s resistant to both water stains and rust, in a variety of pressures and temperatures.
- Easy to clean: As it’s so easy to sterilise, it doesn’t support the growth of bacteria, making it one of the most hygienic materials around.
- Recyclable: Up to 90% of stainless steel is made from recycled steel, and its qualities don’t deteriorate during the recycling process.
What is the most common stainless steel?
There are numerous variations of stainless steel, with each formulation boasting its own unique properties in terms of corrosion resistance, tensile strength, oxidation resistance, and melting point.
Despite this wide range, they can all be categorised into these three broad types:
- Austenitic: Compared to other steel alloys, these have a higher chromium content, which makes them extra resistant to corrosion. They’re also not magnetic – although this can change after cold working.
- Ferritic: Unlike austenitic stainless steel, ferritic ones are magnetic, and can be hardened through cold working. Because they have reduced nickel content, they also tend to be cheaper.
Martensitic: This is the least common category, and despite their high hardness, they tend to have lower levels of resistance to corrosion. For this reason, they are often used for applications that require high impact resistance and tensile strength.
Five most common stainless steel uses
These clear benefits make stainless steel a popular material in many industries, for a range of applications.
Food and drink
Stainless steel is commonly used for cutlery, cookware and other kitchen accessories. More ductile grades of steel are used for cookers, saucepans and any other items that can be molded into shape; whereas steel with less ductile grades are used to create knife blades. One of the other common stainless steel uses are larger pieces of kitchen equipment, such as fridges, freezers and dishwashers.
This particular metal is also used for the storage and production of food, as it doesn’t have any impact on the flavour; plus the fact that it’s corrosion resistant and easily cleanable, means it can kill bacteria to keep the environment hygienic.
As stainless steel is so resistant to corrosion and can be easily sterilised, one of its most common uses is for medical uses, due to its high hygienic standards. Operating tables, MRI scanners and other surgical instruments are all made out of stainless steel; as are replacement joints such as hip joints, and they also help to fix broken bones as they make plates and steel pins.
Its resistance to corrosion makes stainless steel a popular choice in many industries; and the fact that it’s strong and flexible makes it sought-after in construction.
The exterior cladding of large buildings are usually made out of stainless steel, but it’s also used in interiors too – from countertops in kitchens, to handrails on staircases and much more.
With a growing trend towards more sustainable buildings, stainless steel has never been more popular. Not only is it low-maintenance with an attractive finish, but on average, stainless steel is made up of up to 90% of recycled metal. Plus, its typically polished finish helps to reduce energy consumption, as it attracts natural light.
Some of the world’s most prominent architecture is made out of stainless steel, including Singapore’s Helix Bridge, and London’s Waterloo Eurostar terminal.
Ford was the first automotive company to start using stainless steel in their concept cars, back in the 1930s. Today, this is much more widespread, and is most commonly used in car grills and exhaust systems. However, with a growing trend towards more sustainable vehicles, stainless steel is being used in structural components too.
But it’s not just cars that are constructed out of stainless steel: so are refuse vehicles, shipping containers and road tankers. Due to its anti-corrosive nature, it’s also effective for the transportation of food products, chemicals and other liquids.
Toxic substances, and high levels of heat are commonplace in the oil and gas industry; and certain grades of stainless steel have been developed to enable them to be used in this environment.
For stainless steel that is corrosion resistant in an even wider range of temperatures, it is used during the production of components such as valves, pipes and storage tanks.
Another important stainless steel use is on off-shore oil rigs, as it can deal with highly corrosive crude oil, and sea water.
To conclude, stainless steel is highly versatile, with its many benefits sought-after for applications in various industries worldwide.
If you’d like to invest in stainless steel for your business’ uses, then take a look at our range of stainless steel supplies, or get in touch to find out how we can help you. Alternatively, for the latest news in the industry, head on over to our blog.