Metals are among the most important construction materials that the human race has ever used. In fact, a number of prehistoric eras are named after commonly used metals of the time, such as the Iron Age and the Bronze Age. By the Industrial Revolution, steel mills in Europe and North America were producing incredible amounts of refined steel for uses such as railroads, steam ships, and skyscraper I-beams. Today, thin steel sheets are still used for many applications, such as building cars and their parts, household electronics, and even weapons of war. Thin sheet metal is often steel or aluminum, though a number of copper, brass, and titanium alloys are used for specialized jobs where steel or aluminum are insufficient. What is there to know about the production of thin steel sheets, and the uses of alloys?
Steel and Aluminum Manufacturing Today/h3>
Steel is one of the most widely traded and used materials today, and it also enjoys a high recycling rate. Making thin steel sheets employs many Americans; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the sheet metal fabrication industry employs around 138,900 people as of 2016. Predictions hold that by the year 2026, this industry will grow 9%, and it will add some 12,000 new jobs to that sector as well. Alone, sheet metal production (including thin steel sheets) makes up $30 billion in the American economy, and the U.S. imports and exports a lot of steel, often with China, Canada, and Germany.
Steel is refined and purified iron, and it is lighter, stronger, and more flexible than iron is. Steel also comes in many grades, types, and alloys, such as stainless steel (used for making kitchen cutlery and surgical equipment), or high yield steel. When steel is forged, it is passed through a series of pressurized rollers at a high temperature, and this produces hot rolled steel. Such sheet steel has imprecise dimensions, but that is acceptable for uses such as making I-beams or railroad tracks. Meanwhile, if thin steel sheets are passed through the rollers again but at room temperature, then the result is cold rolled steel, which has precise dimensions and a protective finish on it. This steel is often used to make products and goods in workshops and factories, such as car parts or cutlery.
What about thin aluminum strips and larger sheet aluminum pieces? This soft metal isn’t as strong as steel, but it is lighter, and it is also widely used in manufacturing, such as to make parts for electronic goods. Aluminum is ideal for making parts for computer tablets, since it is tougher than plastic and lighter than steel. Also, aluminum is widely used to make vehicle parts, such as car rims or vehicle body parts, since this light metal can make the vehicle lighter and thus more fuel efficient. Power lines also use long strands of aluminum rather than copper, since aluminum is light and will not sag when used this way, as opposed to copper.
Combined Metals and Alloys
While steel and aluminum are widely used for many applications, these metals cannot truly do everything. Some applications involve extremes of heat, cold, pressure, weight, or corrosion that steel and aluminum cannot handle, so alloys are used instead. An alloy is made up of two or more “ingredient” metals that combine to produce desired qualities, such as resistance to extreme heat or corrosion. Metals such as steel, aluminum, copper, brass, titanium, nickel, and more may be involved, and there are many different steel alloys out there. Often, alloys are used to make the hulls and engine parts of military battleships, as well as hull plates for space shuttles or engine parts for trains and jets. Meanwhile, undersea pipes are constantly exposed to salt water both inside and outside, so they are mode of copper alloys that can easily endure rusting. In a factory or large engine, alloys are used to make metal bellows; that is, flexible metal tubes that must carry very hot or cold contents without rupturing. Those bellows must also flex, bend, expand, and contract without rupturing, and only alloys can endure that kind of strain on the job.