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Home > MEPS Steel News - 28.06.2013


Events have been taking place in and around the city of Sheffield, in the UK, to commemorate the centenary of the “invention” of stainless steel, by Harry Brearley, in 1913. It should be acknowledged that the corrosion-resistant qualities of iron-chromium alloys had been known for some time and that a number of key advances in the development of such materials were made at around the same time as Brearley’s breakthrough. Pioneers in Sweden, France, Poland, Germany and the USA can make plausible claims to being the inventor of stainless steel.

Brearley was working at Brown Firth Laboratories in Sheffield, trying to develop an erosion-resistant steel for gun barrels. In August 1913 he created a steel with 12.8 percent chromium and 0.24 percent carbon and discovered, by chance, it is said, that it was resistant both to rusting and to attacks by chemicals such as acids. Brearley recognised these as being highly advantageous qualities in cutlery. He moved on to develop the production of knives in this new material with the local cutlery firm, R F Mosley. It was a colleague at Mosley’s, Ernest Stuart, who coined the name “stainless steel”.

A successor of Brearley’s at Brown Firth, Dr W H Hatfield, is credited with the development, in 1924, of steel containing 18 percent chromium and 8 percent nickel, now known as type 304, or 1.4301, the most widely used grade of stainless steel.

From its beginnings in cutlery, it is no surprise that stainless was developed for use in other blades, such as razors and surgical instruments. Its lack of reactivity and consequent hygienic qualities, made it ideal for use in the food and drink processing and transportation industries, as well as for domestic and commercial kitchen equipment.

The corrosion resistant virtues of grade 316 (1.4401) material make it ideal for many underwater applications, from swimming pool steps to deep-sea drilling platforms. The same steel is used in the cladding for some of the world’s most iconic architecture, such as the Chrysler Building in New York, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Stainless steel crops up throughout automobiles, in everything from decorative trims to catalytic converters. In the home, grade 430 (1.4016) stainless steel is the standard material used for washing machine drums.

There is still large-scale stainless steel melting in Sheffield, at Outokumpu’s SMACC plant. Various other steelmakers and foundries produce smaller quantities in the city. Of course, the manufacture of this versatile material has spread throughout the world and grown exponentially in volume. MEPS estimates that over 36 million tonnes will be produced worldwide this year, including over 17 million tonnes in China alone.

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