Steel is by far one of the most important and popular resources in every manufacturing activity. Since the beginning of the industrial society steel had a key role in changing the world, so that industrial revolution is often associated with the creation of big steelworks. As a matter of fact the technological evolution of our society went along with steel that thanks to its high strength (to high pressure, high temperatures, weather conditions, and corrosion) and to its ductility (a steel component can be buckled before breaking) can be used in the widest applications.
Not many other materials are so extremely versatile and formable without losing their features of resistance to external stress. A steel rope, for example, can sustain very heavy loads without breaking and in the same time it maintains a high flexibility. Strength and ductility are two specific features of every type of steel and their combination leads the choice of the material for its use. At the end of the life cycle every steel product can be completely recycled and re-used for endless times.
Steel was always considered a precious material because of its wide range of applications. However all its potential was exploited only after carrying out the industrial production in the big steel units. As a matter of fact 40% of the steel products in use did not exist in Europe few years ago; today steel and its products are employed in every manufacturing activity and thanks to the range of their applications we find it in every aspect of our lives, making more functional and modern our towns, home and place of work.
Here is just a selection of its uses:
Building and infrastructures
Steel has the utmost importance in building and infrastructure industries because of its high weatherability and of its stress resistance. The modern lightweight tensile structures are the best examples of how features like flexibility, lightness, resistance to stress and to temperatures allow to build works otherwise impossible (urban complexes, bridges and so on). Moreover the modern architecture finds steel a beautiful building material with a high aesthetic appeal to be used in high quality environments.
Travel and transport
The transport industry is still nowadays one of the main sector of the economy in the industrialized countries and the use of steel in this sector is very important: 50-70% of the weight of a car is made up of steel. Besides its outstanding importance in the automotive sector, steel is important in the shipping and aircraft industries and also in the railway industry, where it is used for trains and for tracks.
Extraction and distribution of hydrocarbons
Oil extraction is an extraordinary test bench for the development and the production of special steels that can resist to high stress, as they are employed under very difficult conditions. Steel is indeed used in oil wells in extremely hard operating situations (like offshore platforms or arctic regions) where the high temperatures and the strong pressures require reliable and safe solutions that nowadays can be obtained only by employing this material.
As to the distribution of hydrocarbons, steel pipelines are the most efficient means of transporting oil and gas thanks to their structural and economic characteristics.
Chemical and petrochemical industry
In chemical and petrochemical plants steel allows to make pipelines that have corrosion resistance to aggressive fluids and stand particularly high temperatures and pressure.
Electric power stations
In power stations generating electrical energy all the main components in use are made up of steel: boilers (where the main components are seamless steel pipes resistant to flowing as well as to thermal, mechanical and corrosive shocks), turbines (made through differential steels to withstand high temperatures and the wear of the mobile parts), condensers (made of stainless steel to withstand corrosion).
The household appliances industry relies heavily on rolled stainless steel sections, which are used to manufacture large appliances (washing machines, dishwashers, air conditioning units, fridges, and so on), their components (i.e. electric motors and compressors), sanitary fixtures (like tubs, showers, water heaters etc.).
Packaging and containers
As to food preservation, steel guarantees a high level of hygiene and resistance to bacteria, therefore it is widely utilized for long-term storage products. Its resistance to corrosion makes it ideal for tins and drums used for paints and other chemical products.
Mechanical and manufacturing industry
In this field the use of steel tools and equipments is so wide and various that it is impossible to give full details. We mention here just only few examples of steel products: gears, shafts, bearings, cylinders, dies, shears, punches, saws and tools in general.
The international market pressed the steel industry to bring in key innovation elements in its technology, organization and finance systems.
The new technologies raised productivity levels, safety performance and sound environmental practices.
Through advanced IT technologies the employees of the companies are now able to program, to carry out and to check the making of the product, its quality and the reliability of the steel plants by means of highly automatized processes. However, to utilize technology in the steel industry at the best, both the sector’s commitment and investments in research must be steady and aim at improving all the production aspects. The technical and scientific innovation is changing so dramatically the steel world that steel is again at the forefront of the technological revolution.
Steel is a green material, as it is a fully recyclable one. At the end of its life cycle every steel product can be fully re-used for endless times. The proof is 300 million tonnes of recycled steel per year, 35% of the worldwide production. Thanks to the continuous investments in electric arc furnaces, steel is the world’s most recycled material and this aspect is one of the best environmental quality of the steel industry, making its life cycle the closest to sustainable development.
Steel is very “environment friendly” because of the completely recyclable inner quality of its products, the high rate of recovery and re-use of its by-products and the compliance with the relevant environmental legislation.