Stainless steel is an alloy of iron, less than 2.1 percent carbon, and at least 10.5 percent chromium, prized for its wide range of applications due to its high resistance to corrosion, visually pleasing finish, and low maintenance requirements. Since its discovery around the late 19th century and early 20th century, and despite the subsequent discoveries of many other metal alloys and materials, stainless steel has become used in everything from architecture to houseware and home appliances and from gas pipelines to medical equipment. Here are the top five fields of application for reliable, versatile stainless steel.
Stainless steel sheets and beams are a mainstay in modern architecture. In concrete buildings, the beams help bear and distribute weight and thus must be strong enough to avoid warping under pressure. Architects may also use stainless steel on the exterior of buildings, such as roofs, trim, and plaques, for a finish that withstands weather conditions and the passage of time better than traditional materials such as copper or brick. Many modern bridges are also built with stainless steel beams, cables, and/or bars to add strength and durability to wood and concrete. Stainless steel is ideal for constructing roofs as well, particularly of airport roofs, according to a case study commissioned by Contrarian Metal Resources. Experts suggest stainless steel is not only resistant to high temperatures and UV exposure, it produces less glare and is less costly than titanium.
As with buildings, vehicles — cars, ships, and even airplanes — and the exhaust and piping systems within them often require stainless steel. Car manufacturers may use both steel and stainless steel parts within the car, to balance strength and affordability. Stainless steel is also ubiquitous throughout ships, especially in railings, tanker linings, and turbines. Although modern aircrafts are largely aluminum due to its light weight, stainless steel is needed for its hardness, corrosion resistance, and ease of shaping and forming in manufacturing any and all aircraft parts. Here, it is commonly used in springs, castings, cables, bearings, and exhaust collectors, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Stainless steel is an excellent choice for tankers because it is durable, easy to shape, but mostly importantly, easy to clean. Kitchen sinks, water pipes, and other surfaces that come into contact with food or drinking water use stainless steel for this very reason. Stainless steel is the most commonly used material in most kitchens, hospitals, bathrooms, and businesses that process food, drink, or water. In water treatment, pipes and tanks are usually made of stainless steel. Because cleanliness is of vital importance when it comes to medical supplies and machinery, most items from needles and surgical clamps to MRI scanners are also stainless steel. While stainless steel can already be easily sanitized, researchers are currently developing a method to coat it with a film that automatically kills bacteria, according to the American Chemical Society journal Langmuir.
Surgical knives are not the only knives that are stainless steel. Despite its name, most silverware today are stainless steel — after all, they are long-lasting and do not impart an unpleasant taste to food, yet are the cheapest to manufacture (excluding single-use plastic cutlery). Pots, pans, and baking sheets are typically stainless steel or other metals with stainless steel coatings as well. For sinks, tubs, and household appliances, stainless steel, along with ceramics and other materials, tend to grow and wane in popularity over time. However, stainless steel continues to be used and appreciated for its scratch resistance, “clean” appearance, and tasteful luster.
Surgical-grade stainless steel can be found on most people in the forms of piercings, jewelry items, and surgical implants or orthodontics. Two of the most commonly used materials for implants — including prosthetic parts, bone screws, and dental crowns — are titanium alloy and stainless steel, with the latter being significantly lower in cost. In jewelry, stainless steel is considered hypoallergenic and less likely to cause sensitivity and other skin problems, making it a good choice for those who like the look of metal jewelry but cannot wear other metals. Although it can be used in the grandest of man-made structures, stainless steel remains, in this way, one of the most useful and friendly materials available in the world today.Learn More