Stainless Steel turns 100 years old

This week stainless steel celebrates its centennial. On August 13th, 1913, Harry Brearley, a metallurgist with Brown Firth Laboratories in Sheffield, England discovered the alloy that first known as rustless steel. Brearley was researching new steels to be used for rifle barrels.
Arms manufacturing in the early twentieth century was growing, but problems with erosion persisted.
Small arms manufacturers were looking for a way to prolong the life of their gun barrels which were eroding too quickly. So Brearley was tasked to create erosion resistant steel, not corrosion resistant, which is what he ultimately discovered.
After experimenting with steel alloys containing varying levels of carbon and chromium, Brearley soon found that one particular grade containing 13 per cent chromium was very resistant to chemical attack and after many months had not rusted. This material composition would later be known as stainless steel.
The first major application for stainless steel was in cutlery. Until that time, utensils were prone to rust and required regular polishing. Significant quantities of stainless steel continue to be used for food and beverage purposes today.
Another early use for stainless steel was in the chemical industry. As early as 1925 stainless was being used to store nitric acid.
“Stainless steels have been a great enabler for the chemical industry. Chemical manufacturing could not have developed as quickly as it has without the invention of stainless steel 100 years ago,” said materials engineer Gene Liening from The Dow Chemical Company. “Since then, the chemical industry and stainless steels have evolved together. Ever greater demands from chemical manufacturers have been matched by ever greater performance from a broad family of stainless steels. Stainless steels have made it possible to manufacture chemicals at lower cost and with greater reliability. Lower cost improves society’s standard of living. Greater reliability reduces environmental impact and gives us safer manufacturing operations. In part, we can thank the evolution of the stainless steel family for that.”
With a century of continuous advancements, the real advantage of stainless steel over traditional carbon and low alloy steels is its corrosion resistance. Aside from its appearance, the corrosion resistance of stainless steel provides a cost effective performance that keeps designers and manufacturers coming back to stainless for many applications.
“According to the current U.S. corrosion study (by NACE), the direct cost of metallic corrosion is $276 billion on an annual basis. This represents 3.1 per cent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product,” said Wayne Geyer, the Executive Vice President of the Steel Tank Institute/Steel Plate Fabricators Association. “Stainless steel offers one solution to reduce this cost. With its inherent corrosion resistance and its ability to be fabricated into any shape and size, the life cycle of metallic structures such as tanks, pipes and pressure vessels can be substantially extended with the use of stainless steel.”
It is clear that after 100 years of proven strength, the lustrous metal will continue to be a valuable material used in homes, kitchens, factories, offshore operations, oil and gas applications and countless other purposes for centuries more.
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