Steel – The Most Used Material


Steel – The Most Used Material

If people are asked to name the critical components needed for sustaining everyday life, the obvious answer will include the elements like water, food, and air. If people are asked to name necessities of life then the answer will include food, clothing and housing. No one will ever include steel in the list of the critical and necessary items. However, steel is the most common material that one comes into contact with every moment, all the day and every day. There is hardly any object that people use today which does not contain steel or which is not created with equipment made of steel. In fact, today it is hard to imagine a life without the use of steel in some shape or form.  One has to just think of what would be missing in his everyday life if there is no steel.

Without steel the very existence of man would be prehistoric. Today the society is wholly dependent on steel and the steel is an indispensable part of the human existence. It adds to the quality of life, is essential to ensure the safety of water and food supply, provides energy efficiency, ensures warmth, transports energy, connects people all around the world and makes the lives of the people secure. One cannot imagine today what his life would be, if there is no steel.  Steel is environmentally sound and utterly reliable. Tried and tested yet always new and exciting, steel is everywhere, making the lives of people easier and livelier.

Steel is the measure of progress of modern civilization. Steel began its ascent in the Iron Age and is now both visibly and invisibly omnipresent in everyone’s everyday life. Most household items contain steel and people entrust their lives, homes and comfort to the strength and power of steel. Today life without steel is inconceivable.

Steel and health

Steel is the material which in many ways benefits people’s health. It helps to facilitate the health of the people from birth and throughout the life’s journey. It provides hygienic surfaces which are easy to clean. It is an ideal material for sterile surgical instruments used in delicate operations, for screws to repair bone fractures, for pharmaceutical equipment used for the production of medicines, and for hypodermic needles used for vaccinations.

Steel is also there in the background. It provides the infrastructure of the hospital buildings, delivers clean water to hospitals using pumps and pipes, and helps in free movement in dispensaries with the help of lifts and wheel chairs. It is used in the emergency equipments and vehicles as well as in ambulances and the mobile hospitals.

The strength and durability of steel also make it suitable for exercise equipment, like weights, treadmills and exercise bikes that contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

Steel and water

Steel plays a fundamental role in helping to make freshwater accessible for everyone. It plays a crucial role in meeting the challenge of safe drinking water. It helps in meeting the growing need of water. Steel is there at every step from obtaining and purifying the water to make it suitable for drinking, and for delivering it safely to the point of use. It is used to line boreholes, in filtering and holding tanks at water treatment facilities as well as pumps and pipes that carry the fresh water to the points of use. It is used for the storage of rainwater, drilling wells and desalination facilities.

In and around cities, steel enables the building of water infrastructure such as canals, harbours, culverts, sewers and storm-water detention. Steel bridges and tunnels allow people to get around water easily. Steel barriers are also important to prevent flooding in areas of increasing sea-levels. In fact steel enables the complete management of water, from raindrops to ocean waves.

Steel and agriculture

Agriculture is vital for the sustenance of the modern civilization. It provides people with food, clothing, and increasingly, the energy. Agriculture also continues to provide livelihoods to a big percentage of population. Steel has been involved in agriculture since historical times. It is there every step of the way, making agriculture easier and more efficient. From basic tools, such as hoes, picks, shovels, and forks, to the most technically advanced tractors, ploughs and harvesters, one can find the use of steel.

Agriculture without steel is unimaginable. From tilling of the land, planting of seeds, watering of the fields, harvesting, storing and transportation of crops, steel is a vital part of agriculture. Steel also facilitates the feeding, shelter and transportation of livestock. Steel industry by-products are even used as fertilisers.

Steel’s durability and versatility make it ideal for countless farming applications. It is used for pipes and irrigation systems, for water tanks and buckets, and in scythes, sickles and shovels. Wool and fleece are gathered using steel shears and scissors. Many types of feed storage facilities are built of steel, including barns and silos. Steel is also an ideal material for automated animal-feeding systems. Crops and livestock are brought to the markets on trucks, trains or other types of transport means made with steel.

Steel and food

Steel is there at the every step of the food supply network. It is an essential part in the cultivation, manufacture, preservation, delivery, storing, and preparation of the food. The use of steel cans also provides reassurance that the food remains fresh and nutritious as on the day it is packed.

The machines and equipment that process the food materials are also made with steel. Trucks and steel containers are used to transport the food. Shopping carts, cars, buses, trucks and trains (all made with steel) help to carry the food to the homes. In the kitchens, steel is used in the cooking of the food as well as in the knives, pots, pans, cutlery, eating utensils, storing vessels, ovens, stoves, water taps, refrigerators and kitchen sink etc.

Steel cans are an important part of the food distribution system. More than 200 billion cans of food are globally produced every year. Steel cans are strong, tamper-resistant and protect food and drinks from moisture, oxygen and light. Steel cans naturally preserve their contents without any additives.

Steel and housing

Humans need shelter in the form of housing to live in. Housings provide human beings comfort and shelter from various elements of the nature such as rain, sun, wind etc. Steel is an ideal material for meeting this need. It is used both for basic housing as well as in luxury apartments. Steel can make a building stand for many decades.

Steel frames, structural beams and foundations support the houses. Steel panels and roofs protect from extremes of temperature, water and wind. Steel almirahs, safes, locks and bolts help to keep the valuables items safe in every house. Within the homes there are many items which uses steel. These are washing machines to make the lives easier, refrigerators to keep the food fresh, air conditioners to protect from hot and humid atmosphere etc. Steel pipes, and taps provide clean drinking water. Steel also provides elegant light fixtures and furniture. Steel is used in bathrooms in showers and taps.

The possibilities of building with steel are limitless. Its strength-to-weight ratio is the highest of any residential building material (Fig 1). Steel can be easily formed and joined. It can withstand natural disasters including hurricanes and earthquakes. Steel is also impervious to attacks from termites or fungi. Steel facilitates the conversion of obsolete buildings into modern living or working spaces, extending their useful life.

Comparison of tensile strength and price of materials

Fig 1 Comparison of the tensile strength and price in UK for some well-known materials.

Steel provides innovative steel solutions which are fundamental to the meeting of the growing need for shelter. It is one of the most sustainable building materials with unique characteristics that favour its use in the construction of buildings.

Steel and transport

Steel has moved human beings through the centuries. From carriages to bicycles, automobiles, trains, boats and ships, submarines, planes, and spacecraft, steel facilitates the mobility. Steel is essential in all transport infrastructure. Roads, railways, bridges, tunnels, seaports, and airports all use the strength and versatility of steel for moving humans as well as the materials which are used by the human beings.

Regardless of whether a two-wheeler, a car, a commercial vehicle, or a railway coach, wagon or locomotive, whether driven by petrol diesel, electricity or even horses – no mobility is possible without steel. No wheel can turn without steel bearings, no combustion engine can run without steel valve springs and camshafts, and no electric drive can operate without magnetic sheet. Air planes cannot take off or land without steel, neither the ships can leave the ports. Steel is the most important material which is used in all types of transport.

Automobiles are one of the most popular modes of transport today in the world. Steel makes up around 55 % to 60 % of the overall mass of an automobile. Power trains, gear boxes or automobile bodies are all made from steel. Seat-belt buckle and anchors and crash-energy absorbing side-bars are also made from steel to keep travelling people safe. Even tyres are strengthened with steel wire.

Mobility is essential in our modern society. Steel provides transport solutions that move people quickly, efficiently and economically. It also helps to keep people safe as they move. Innovative advances in steel design ensure that steel will continue to contribute to the development of fuel-efficient transport solutions long into the future.

Steel and technology

The range of properties of steel combined with the numerous product and delivery variants available (such as sheets, pipes, profiles, castings and forgings, rods, wires or cables) make steel indispensable in almost all the areas of technology. Steel is the dominant material in many end-products. Machine and plant construction offer convincing examples here. And, in almost every end-product, steel is the constituent that must provide a particularly high performance.

Steel has been the most important basis for technical and commercial advances for over 3,000 years. Without steel, many of the huge advances in development (such as steam engines, the railway, power engineering, the car, the synthesis of ammonia, gas turbines, gas liquefaction plants, power stations, or magnetic levitation trains) would never have led to the industrial achievements that we now take for granted. And, despite its great age, steel is not a thing of the past. Constant further development has led to a large number of steel types that are continuously being adapted to rising demands in a wide variety of fields of application.

New types of steel are opening up greater opportunities in machine and plant construction, for economical light construction concepts, for increasingly efficient designs, for ever-better processing properties, and for operation under extreme conditions.

Steel and energy

Steel powers the world day and night. It is critical for supplying of energy to the people which they need every moment during the day. Steel is indispensable for energy production, distribution and application. It is used in mines and offshore oil platforms, oil tankers and gas pipelines used for the delivery of the fuels, hydroelectric dams, backing for solar panels and storage for fuel cells.

Steel is also used for transmission towers and cables for the distribution of electric power. Generators, transformers, and electric motors made of electrical steel create energy to provide power for daily use.

Steel helps to make clean and renewable energy available. It is used in the construction of wind turbines, and in photovoltaic solar panel systems that harness energy from the sun. Steel-based solutions can convert ocean wave energy into electricity. Steel is also needed for hydrogen storage tanks and hydrogen fuel cells.

Steel also reduces the need for energy by providing energy-efficient solutions. Fuel-efficient automobiles and innovative modular construction methods are just two examples of how steel reduces energy consumption, and thus minimizes the impact on the environment.

Steel and safety

Steel provides essential safety in all aspects of human lives. Steel protects humans in simple ways, such as steel-toed boots that keep the feet safe, or cans that store food safely. Property gates, door locks, keys, and safes keep us and our personal belongings secure. Hand, guard railings and over-bridges help to prevent accidents. Steel is used in fire extinguisher casings, water sprinkler systems and fire doors. Steel is also the material of choice when constructing earthquake-resistant buildings and skyscrapers.

One of the most important safety attributes of steel is its ability to collapse like an accordion, thereby absorbing the energy of a crash. Steel becomes stronger as it bends, reducing the chance of intrusion into the passenger compartment when an automobile or a train meets an accident. The steel skeleton of the vehicle or the coach provides its base strength. However, there are many other steel components in a typical automobile which are designed to take care of people’s safety. These include seat tracks to keep passenger seats in place, steel buckles and seat-belt anchors, and steel door beams that help absorb the energy of a side-impact collision. Steel also brings road safety by providing road signs, traffic signals, street lights for night driving, and crash barriers.

Steel and communication

Almost every form of human communication uses steel in some way. Newspapers and books are printed in printing presses made of steel. Computers and pens contain steel and are produced using steel equipment. Postal systems around the world depend on steel sorting equipment and infrastructure to deliver the posts. Steel is there even when a telephone call is made, all along the line.

By taking a basic example of daily newspaper which connects people with the world, it can be shown how steel is used in countless ways in its production and delivery. From the facilities that produced the paper and ink, the trucks that transported it to the giant steel presses for printing, to the transportation network that delivers it to the newspaper reader, use of steel is visible.

Radio transmitters are the basis for many of the methods of communications. They are used in baby monitors, toys, mobile telephones, radar, and satellites. Radios also play an important role in communications between emergency services and have many applications in industry. All radios contain steel components to enable communication.

Steel is an integral part of many other communication devices. Ballpoint pens rely on a steel sphere less than 1 millimetre in diameter to dispense ink. Around 25 % of an average computer is made of steel. Direct to home service uses satellite dishes to provide a wide variety of television channels. The actuators in these dishes are made of high-tech steel. Steel is also used to protect communication cables that cross continents and even the ocean floor.

Steel and cultural entertainment

Steel plays a key role in the human cultures. It is part of the clothes and jewellery, the music, sports and entertainment. Steel inspires artistic sculpture and architectural grandeur, and provides safe and strong playgrounds for sportsmen. It enriches human lives in all respect.

All around the world, steel brings culture into the human lives. Impressive sculptures, delicate watches, museums and music all utilise different attributes of steel. Steel is also there in the buildings which are used to celebrate various cultural events and ceremonies. The roar of a crowd in a sport stadium cannot be heard without steel.

Music today is as diverse as today’s steel and its applications. The complexity of a grand piano’s steel strings, the lingering sound of a triangle and the beat of a steel drum all use steel to transport us away from the everyday.

Steel is also used to create culinary delights. From grill plates and country ovens to high-tech stainless steel kitchens and gadgets, steel helps us create the taste sensations that are part of human culture.

Steel is used in recreation, from the slide in the children’s playground to the roller-coaster in the amusement park. In everyone’s home the items of entertainment like televisions, music systems, transistors etc. need steel for their production. Movie theatres, libraries, sport stadiums or concert halls would not exist without steel active in the background.

Steel and future

Steel is everywhere in people’s lives for a reason. Steel is the great collaborator, working together with all other materials to advance growth and development. Steel is the foundation of the last 100 years of progress. Steel will be equally fundamental to meeting the challenges of the next 100 years.

Average world steel use per capita has steadily increased from 150 kg in 2001 to 217 kg in 2014, making the world more prosperous.  During 2014 around 1537 million tons of finished products were used around the world. The necessity and importance of steel for society is increasing with every passing day. Steel already has a large influence on the things used by the people. Steels help making of all things from needles to ships. Steel can be seen everywhere today. The development of stronger, more efficient and lighter steels for many applications, such as cars, wind turbines, residential housing or skyscrapers, is also contributing to substantial natural resources and energy savings.

The steel industry is the second biggest industry in the world after oil and gas with an estimated global turnover of 900 billion USD. Steel is used in every important industry namely energy, construction, automotive and transportation, infrastructure, packaging and machinery. It is also the main material used in delivering renewable energy such as thermal, solar and tidal power. The housing and construction sector is the largest consumer of steel today, using around 50 % of steel produced. By 2050, steel use is projected to increase to be 1.5 times higher than present levels in order to meet the needs of a growing population