What Are Our Industrial Steels Made From?
Making industrial steel is like baking a cake: various ingredients are mixed together according to a recipe and then baked at temperature. When it comes to industrial steel supply, the ingredients are elements found in the earth such as carbon, iron, and manganese—and, much like making a cake, changing the recipe can drastically change the end product.
The main ‘ingredients’ in steel making are:
- CARBON: The 15th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, and the fourth most abundant element in the universe by mass after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. It also serves as a common element of all known life. It is the second most abundant element in the human body by mass (about 18.5%) after oxygen. Carbon can have very unique properties when worked in the right conditions—for example, as any fan of the old Superman movies might know, a lump of carbon (such as coal) can, with enough heat and pressure, become a diamond. In the industrial steel supply industry, carbon is mixed in as the main hardening agent. The more carbon, the harder the steel—however, if you add too much carbon, the steel becomes brittle. (If you want to learn more, see our post on Quenching and Tempering.)
- IRON: The main ingredient in all steels, iron comes from smelting iron ore. Think of it as the flour in the cake mix; while it might constitute most of the substance, it’s only by virtue of the other ingredients that it becomes special. The ability to smelt the impurities from iron ore and work it into useful tools is a benchmark that archaeologists use to characterize various civilizations, such as the Bronze Age and Iron Age.
- MANGANESE: With Manganese, we start to get into modern technology. Manganese is a chemical that increases the tensile strength of steel, but to a lesser extent than carbon. However, what makes it special in metallurgy is its ability to decrease the critical cooling rate during hardening, thus increasing the steels hardenability much more efficiently than other alloying elements.
- CHROMIUM: This is another element that aids in hardening the steel through heat treatment. Its use also increases the corrosion resistance of the final product, resulting in rust-resistant steel.
- NICKEL: Nickel is a sort of ‘all-around workhorse’ element, increasing hardenability and helping with corrosion resistance, strength, and toughness.
- MOLYBDENUM: This is a material that has been around for a long time but has only been workable with modern technology. It has an extremely high melting point, but its use can increase corrosion resistance, strength, hardness, and even change electric conductivity of the steel. Fun fact: Molybdenum is actually named after “Molybdos”, which means ‘lead’ in ancient Greece, because its ores look very similar to lead ore.
- TITANIUM: Titanium is named after the titans of Greek mythology, and for good reason: Titanium has the highest corrosion resistance and strength-to-weight ratio of any metallic element. In its unalloyed condition, titanium is as strong as some steels, just below diamonds, but less dense (meaning less weight per volume). The relatively high melting point (more than 1,650 °C or 3,000 °F) also makes it useful in increasing the heat resistance of the steel.
- COPPER: Copper can be added to a steel alloy to improve corrosion resistance, but it can also make it hard to weld if there are high levels present. Copper steels are commonly used in bridges and buildings, both due to its high resistance to elemental corrosion and its improved paint adhesion (lowering maintenance costs), but it is also extremely useful in industrial applications where the materials are exposed to chemical corrosions, such as acids and sulphites.
- BORON: Added in very small amounts, this element enhances heat treat response, meaning it helps improve strength and toughness.
- PHOSPHOROUS: Phosphorous can be a double-edged sword. It can increase strength and hardness, and when used with copper, can even further increase corrosion resistance. But it can create voids in the steel, and its use reduces the ductility of the end product.
- SULFUR: Sulfur is something you likely never want in your steel. This element is like getting eggshell in the cake mix: it’s an impurity that can ruin the end product, and it’s nearly impossible to fish it out if it gets mixed in. Sulfur creates voids or inclusions in the steel, allowing for chips to break when machining. Technically sulfur improves machinability—but only because it compromises the steels ductility and impact toughness. (In other words, the steel is easier to machine because it’s weak.)
ENDURA, ENDURA DUAL (with Titanium Carbides) and Titus MANGANESE are exotic wear steels that have a variety of highly specialized industrial uses. They have been developed based on secret recipes designed to retard abrasion and impact wear in very particular situations. Going back to the cake analogy, you could say they’re “secret recipes” that are used to make the “gourmet baked goods” of industrial steel, resulting from the research and science of generations of “master chefs” who have dedicated their lives on refining and perfecting their recipes.
If you’d like to learn more about the properties of our steel, or if you’d like us to help you determine which steel best suits your application or industry, please feel free to contact us.