Much of the modern world — from skyscrapers and bridges to cooking and home appliances — owes its progress and historical development to steel. An alloy made primarily from iron, carbon, and other minerals, steel has become the most important material for engineering and construction in the world.
However, the uses of steel go beyond building the world as we know it. As steel is made up of a mixture of different metals, slight changes in the percent composition of these metals create different types of steel that likewise have different defining properties.
Thus, depending on the type of steel, the material may be strong, non-corrosive, heat resistant, or all of the above. From Utah to the rest of the United States, any steel supplier would offer different types of steel that are used for a wide variety of materials that surround us every day.
Here are some of the most common types of steel and what we use them for.
Carbon steel, also called mild steel, is the most common form of steel. From its name, the primary element alloyed with iron is carbon, which can make up to 2% of the mixture and gives the metal carbon-like properties.
While heat treating can strengthen and increase its load carrying ability, carbon steel is relatively soft and weak compared to the other types of steel but is very ductile, tough, and inexpensive to produce.
As a result, it is commonly used in producing high-volume structural and manufacturing parts, such as fasteners, bolts, gears, shafts, couplings, and studs.
Alloy steel refers to steel that is alloyed, or mixed, with different minerals in addition to carbon, such as manganese, copper, silicon, chromium, titanium, or nickel. The alloying process requires heat treating, which then gives alloy steel properties that are added to carbon steel, primarily an increase in hardness, strength, and resistance to corrosion and wear and tear.
Because of this, they are commonly used in mechanical structures that are larger and require good overall strength, such as aircraft engines, landing gear, and shafts for power transmissions.
Tool steel is a specific kind of steel that is especially suited for use in hand-held, cutting, and shaping tools. Its distinctive properties include increased hardness, strength, and resistance to abrasion, wear, and overheating, which it owes to the presence of carbides made up of metals such as tungsten, chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium.
This makes tool steel the only type of steel that can be used to shape or mold other kinds of materials and minerals. Tool steel is often produced in small quantities, as it contains more expensive alloys and must be specially engineered to meet particular high-strength specifications. Common uses of tool steel are machine tools such as lathes and drills.
One of the most familiar kinds of steel, stainless steel is known for its resistance to corrosion. Unlike the other types of steel, it is low in carbon content and is instead primarily made up of iron and chromium, while metals like nickel and molybdenum may be added to increase corrosion resistance depending on the environment.
Because of this unique property, stainless steel is commonly used in surgical instruments, piping, and catering equipment. Around the house, stainless steel is a very common fixture in cutlery, pans, sinks, washing machine drums, and even jewelry.
With its wide variety of applications in everything from the home to the construction site, it is no wonder that steel has become so indispensable to daily life and still continues to be a symbol of strength and innovation.