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Early Stainless Steel Development:
The development of stainless steel occurred over about a 100 year time period, and was based on the accomplishments of numerous individuals. In 1821, Pierre Berthier, a FrenchMetallurgist, discovered that iron-chromium alloys were resistant to someacids. He had the foresight to suggest their use for cutlery, but the resultingsamples were too brittle to be of practical use. Berthier’s samples did notinclude the proper combination of carbon and chromium needed to create thefavorable properties of today’s stainless steel alloys. Then, in 1875, aFrenchman named Brustlein recognized the importance of very low carbon levels,but the expertise to achieve this chemical composition did not exist at thetime. This hurdle was overcome in the late 1890’s by German, Hans Goldschmidt,who developed a process for producing carbon-free chromium.
During the next two decades,multiple independent researchers furthered stainless steel development in laboratory settings. Frenchman Leon Guillet published early research onalloys with compositions that today would be known as 410, 420, 446 and 440 C.Also, he published a detailed study of the basic metallurgical structure for austenitic stainless steels. In England and France, Portevin published studies on analloy that today would be considered 430 stainless steel. Concurrently,in the United States, Christian Dantsizen and Frederick Becket also workedtowards developing ferritic stainless steels. In1911, Philip Monnartz from Germany, documented the relationship betweenchromium content and corrosion resistance. In addition, there were many othercontributors to the field that are not included here.
Invention of StainlessSteel:
While this extensivere search was leading towards the invention of stainless steel, the metallurgist that is generally given credit for the development discovered the alloy some what inadvertently. In 1912, while working for the Brown-Firth Laboratoriesin England, Harry Brearly experimented with steels containing chromium in anattempt to find a way to protect the internal diameter of rifle barrels fromeroding too quickly. During the course of his evaluation, he noticed that his samples were very resistant to corrosion when exposed to nitric acid. He then tested the samples with lemon juice, vinegars and other food acids and achievedthe similar results. He quickly recognized the commercial importance of there sulting material. By 1913, under his own initiative, he produced the first stainlesssteel knives at local cutlery, R.F. Mosley.This first stainless steel productwas not ideal. The stainless steel in Brearly’s knives was in the hardened andtempered condition. In 1914, workers at Krupp Iron Works in Germany discoveredthe benefits of adding nickel to stainless steel. This lead to a stainlesssteel that was more ductile, and more resistant to acid .
Stainless Steel inProduction:
Stainless steel quickly madeits way into countless applications and products across a multitude of industries.Between 1913 and 1920, stainless steel was first used in cutlery, scalpels, andthe engines of numerous aircraft models. By the 1920’s, stainless steel wasused in cars, chemical tanks, milk tankers, the Chrysler Building in New York,St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and more.
Most of the standard austenitic, martensitic and ferritic grades of stainlesssteel that are still in use today were introduced between 1913 and 1935. Afterthe Second World War, new grades with a better weight to strength ratio wereneeded, which led to the development of the precipitation hardening grades,such 17:4 PH. In the 1970’s, duplex stainless steel first came tomarket. Many duplex stainless steel grades have been invented over thepast three decades, and new ones continue to be introduced on a regular basis.
Stainless Steel Usage Today:
Today, there are over 150grades of stainless steel, fifteen of which are commonly used. In 2010,stainless steel worldwide crude production achieved a record high of 30.7million tons. Ferritic and austenitic stainless steels account for more than95% of this. Martensitic and precipitation hardening stainless steels accountfor about 4%. Duplex stainless steels currently account for less than 1%of stainless steel production, but they are expected to account forsignificant amounts of future growth. Over the past decade, duplex stainlesssteel production has increased by 100%.
Stainless steel has only been in existence for about 100 years, but thegrowth in stainless steel has been the highest of any material in the world.For the past three decades, stainless steel has averaged a 6% annual growthrate. Much of this growth can be attributed to the fact that stainless steelusage can be very cost effective. In 2001, the US Federal Highway Administrationreleased a study which estimates the total direct cost of corrosion in theUnited States at $276 billion per year. The potential to save significantamounts of money by utilizing stainless steel is enormous. This is especiallytrue today as new stainless steel grades are introduced that better targetspecific corrosion, and as our knowledge base continues to increase regardingchoosing the right stainless steel for an application.