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Stainless steel sheets

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General information about stainless steel sheets

There are five main families of stainless steel, austenitic, martensitic, ferritic, precipitation hardening and duplex stainless steel. Over 250 different grades offer varying mechanical, physical, thermal and anti-corrosive qualities. Hence the specific characteristics of a stainless sheet are determined not only by its relative family but also grade and chemical composition.

Usually stainless steel sheets contain 10.5% Chromium which when exposed to the surrounding atmosphere forms a protective/anti-corrosive layer on the sheets surface. The specific level of resistance however depends on the amount of chromium added to the melt.

The majestic Kelpies in Falkirk, Scotland are a perfect example of a modern application of stainless steel sheets. The impressive 99ft-tall horse head sculptures are completely clad in stainless sheets, providing the structures with an iconic shimmer associated with stainless steel. These majestic horses were built to honour Scotland’s inland waterways and highlight the role horses played in this industrial and agricultural transformation. Using stainless sheets provides the sculptures with an elegant, equine and contemporary aesthetic.

How are stainless steel sheets manufactured?

To transform primary products such as iron ore and scrap into stainless steel, two manufacturing processes using different furnaces (blast or electric arc furnace) can be applied. The most common production method utilizes a blast furnace to melt a mixture of iron ore, coal, coke, natural gas, oil and scrap metals at approximately 1500°degrees Celsius.

Once molten, the chemical composition of the melt is closely analysed and can depending on desired characteristics be manipulated (by adding certain chemical elements). When manufacturing stainless sheets for example nickel can be added to enhance toughness. On the contrary lower carbon contents and an absence of nickel creates sheets which are less resistant to corrosion but instead display other favourable characteristics such as being more weldable. The unique chemical composition of each sheet is made dependent on specific requirements and application of the end product.

Once the chemical composition is set, the material is cast using the continuous mold casting process. The resulting product is a solid ingot also referred to as a slab after cutting. The slab is cooled, subjected to annealing and then reheated for subsequent hot (and cold) rolling. Last the stainless sheet is once again subject to annealing and the surface treated depending on the desired characteristics of the end product.

Which industries utilise stainless steel sheets in their manufacture?

Stainless sheets are universally applicable and hence used in a multitude of industries, including:

  • Construction
  • Automotive / transportation
  • Petrochemical industry
  • Ship Building
  • Domestic appliances / goods
  • Medical industry

What are the benefits of stainless steel sheets?

There are various benefits associated with stainless steel. At first glance stainless sheets are corrosion resistant and thus have superior longevity. Stainless steel is an extremely durable and well ageing material. Due to its corrosion and weather resistance, stainless sheets are suitable for both indoor and outdoor application. Their long life cycle (over a hundred years if the right grade is selected) keeps maintenance costs to a minimum.

Sheets made from stainless steel also have architectural appeal because of their aesthetics - range of appearances (colours and finishes) available. The smooth finish hinders the accumulation of dirt on the material surface. Stainless steel is often applied in catering and medical sectors for its cleanliness and hygiene. Due to their cleanliness stainless sheets require little to no maintenance and are hence a very cost effective material.

Like most steels, stainless sheets are fully recyclable making them a sustainable and environmentally friendly choice.