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Stainless steel is a material that is known the world over and has a hugely diverse range of uses in everyday life; From the unforgettable accents of the Chrysler Building in New York to the essential components of an MRI scanner and more commonly, the humble spoon or coat zipper. But how has it become so prevalent in such a diverse range of applications? And how can you choose the right type of stainless steel for your project? Read on to find out more.
Just like steel, stainless steel is an alloy which means that it consists of different materials. When steel has a chromium content of more than 10.5% it is considered to be ‘stainless’.
When this chromium is combined with oxygen it forms a thin, sealed, fixed-adhering, chromic-oxide layer – the so-called passive layer. It is this passive layer that gives stainless steel its distinctive corrosion resistance. While not truly stainless, even the most basic stainless steel alloys have an ability to withstand the elements and maintain their shine.
The variety of alloying elements that make up different grades of stainless steels is what allows it to have a range of properties and subsequently be so versatile with many applications.
Probably the main reason that stainless steel has become indispensable is its unique and beneficial range of properties. Not only does stainless steel have incredible strength but it is also highly resistant to corrosion, needs relatively little maintenance, has a long-life cycle and in most cases is also 100% recyclable.
There are five main types of Stainless steel, each of which are known for their diverse set of properties, and consequently, are used for different applications:
There are over 150 grades of stainless steel and it can be made into various different forms, including plates, coils, bars, sheets and tubing for use in industrial and domestic settings.
This variety of forms allow stainless steel to be used in many applications and industries such as:
Although there are various other metals that are used in the Energy and Heavy Industries, steel is the most common and popular. It is fair to say that whenever any energy product has to be transported, steel in some form is used.
Because the chemical, oil and gas industries operate in demanding environments involving high heat and highly toxic substances, special grades of stainless steel have been developed for use in these industries which feature enhanced resistance to corrosion over a wider range of temperatures. Stainless steel can be found in piping systems, separators, scrubbers, pumps, manifolds, heat exchangers, flowlines, and storage tanks.
Super duplex steel is often used due to its high strength and the fact that it can be produced in large sheets which minimises the need for welding, helps to preserve its structural integrity and reduces the need for extra structural support, therefore potentially cutting construction costs as well.
Stainless steel also forms an essential component of most off-shore oil rigs and marine environments. Crude oil’s corrosive nature means that stainless steel is a perfect material to contain it, similarly so in sub-sea conditions such as deep-sea drilling where the equipment being used has to be highly durable and resistant to corrosion.
Likewise, renewable energy technologies including solar, geothermal, hydro and wind power also use stainless steel components as it is able to withstand the rigours of highly corrosive seawater environments.
Properly selected, stainless steel permits safe containment of oil and gas process fluids and its durability ensures long life. Overall, stainless steel is an exceptional life cycle performer in both the environmental and economic senses.
Realistically, it will be a specialist engineer who will be making the final decision on what stainless steel is right for a project, but it is important to consider the following requirements:
Whether you need a new set of hard-wearing cutlery or a full suite of new pipes and flanges for your upcoming sub-sea drilling project, chances are that there will be a type of stainless steel for you. If it is the heavy industry material that you are after, then make sure you get in touch with Special Piping Materials today and we’ll help to source the grade of stainless steel and the product that’s right for you. . . if it’s a spoon you need then maybe head down to your nearest kitchen showroom!