STEEL: The Key To The Modern World
Posted on February 19, 2014 | Posted by Joseph Fazzio Blogger
Steel is a critical component of human civilization. The development of modern technological society would likely have been effectively impossible without this key material. For a long time, societies relied upon cast iron to do the work that steel does today, using it to form tools and support large structures, transportation, and equipment, but while it is a hard material, cast iron is also remarkably brittle and difficult to work. Steel, on the other hand, is malleable, making it easy to form into a variety of different shapes for many different purposes.
A History of Steel
Our use of this material was limited for quite some time, as the mass creation of steel was, up until the 19th century, impossible. Instead, it was a high-quality material that came at a premium. The development of the Bessemer process, however, led to a series of technological developments in injection technology, process control, and mass production, allowing us to create and shape steel on a scale that would eventually come to supply the entire world economy.
Modern steelmaking is divided into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary steelmaking is the conversion of liquid iron in a blast furnace and steel scrap into steel through basic oxygen steelmaking, melting scrap steel and/or direct reduced iron in an electric arc furnace. Secondary steelmaking, on the other hand, is the refinement of crude steel prior to casting, with operations carried out in ladles. Allowing agents are added, dissolved gases in the steel are lowered, and inclusions removed or altered.
Men of Steel
Once upon a time, the United States was known as a major supplier of steel, with the U.S. producing 37% of the world’s steel in 1900. But those times have passed. The “rust belt,” as it is known, as known for its production of, and reliance upon, good American steel-producing corporations, and is so named because of the collapse of the steel industry there. Now, steel is largely produced at cheaper rates in faraway nations like China and India, where wages are low enough that the metal can be produced and sold cheaply. Asia now produces nearly 40% of the world’s steel, with Europe producing 36% and the United States only 14.5%.
Even as steel production has moved to those countries, continuing mechanization and automation of the steel process has phased out many of the people who formerly held positions making steel; more and more, it is a job for robots, not people! Of course, this is a trend many manufacturing-based industries have seen. In time, steelmaking may be an entirely automatic process, with not a single person directly involved with the material’s creation.
Today, a variety of different steels are manufactured to meet many different needs, from the banal to the absolutely essential to the strange. Long steel, for example, is often used as reinforcing bars and mesh in reinforced concrete – the unsung foundation of most construction projects. It is also used to build railroad tracks – still one of the most popular methods for shipping in the world – as well as for structural steel in modern buildings and bridges, potentially like the one you’re in right now.
Flat carbon steel is typically used for major appliances, for magnetic cores, and for the inside and outside body of transportation such as automobile, trains, and ships – in the event of an accident, you want plenty of steel between you and the rest of the world, after all. Stainless steel, the most famous kind of steel, is often used for cutlery, surgical instruments, and guns; it is easy to clean and maintain, and it holds a shine very well, making it great for everyday use.
Did you know, however, that steel produced after 1945 has been contaminated by radionuclides due to nuclear weapons testing, making all steel manufactured since somewhat radioactive? Not to a harmful degree, you understand, but such that in radiation-sensitive situations, pre-1945 steel is highly sought after!
When it comes to buying steel for your projects, it’s important to know what you’re getting – quality is not guaranteed unless you make a point of ensuring that your steel providers are well-versed in the industry. It is all too easy to purchase poorly made steel, which can have serious financial and even safety impacts later on down the line. Fortunately, with the knowledgeable and hard-working staff of Joseph Fazzio, you can be sure that you’re getting the best every time.