Metals rank highly among all construction materials that the human race has ever used, and many inventions are possible only through the use of steel, copper, aluminum, and others. In fact, a number of prehistoric eras were named after the most commonly used metals of the time, such as the Iron Age and the Copper Age. Meanwhile, the Industrial Revolution introduced steel mills to the world, and mass produced steel allowed for the creation of railroads, I-beams for skyscrapers, steam engines, and other advances. Now, in the 21st century, steel and aluminum are still quite useful, but they are also joined by alloys and combined metals such as copper and brass alloys, 6061 aluminum alloy, and AMS 5510, among others. When should stainless steel be used to make a product, and when is it time for 6061 aluminum or other alloys?
The American Metal Industry Today
A lot of steel and alloys are produced in the United States today, and the thin sheet metal sector is a robust one that is expected to see even more growth in the coming years. As of 2016, for example, around 138,900 sheet metal workers were employed across the nation, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics believes that from 2016 to 2026, this sector will see 9% growth and the addition of 12,000 jobs. As of now, sheet metal accounts for around $30 billion in U.S. revenue, if not more, and steel is also widely recycled. Each year in North America, 69% of all steel, or 80 million tons of it, is recycled, and worldwide, 40% of all steel production is done with recycled metals. This can help reduce waste and make the system more efficient, and old steel goods can easily be melted down for new uses, such as old shipping containers. Now, what can steel and aluminum be used for?
On Steel and Aluminum
While these two metals are not truly universal, they are quite useful all the same, and they can be found in all sorts of places. Steel, from the 1800s to now, is vital for making railroad tracks and I-beams, and it can also be used to make shipping containers for naval vessels to use. Steel can also be used for finer applications, such as stainless steel for making surgical equipment (think scalpels) and cutlery, such as forks and spoons. When steel sheets are made, the material goes through pressurized rollers at a high temperature, and this results in hot rolled steel. It doesn’t have precise dimensions, but it is useful for making I-beams and railroad tracks. And if hot rolled steel is passed through the rollers again at room temperature, the result is cold rolled steel, which has precise dimensions and a protective glossy coat. Such steel is great for making manufactured goods and parts.
Aluminum is even lighter than steel, and this soft metal is widely used in making electronic appliances and goods. It is also featuring more prominently in vehicles, since a vehicle made from this metal is light and therefore more fuel efficient. Aluminum is also used to make car rims.
6061 Aluminum and Other Alloys
Some jobs have extreme conditions that regular steel or aluminum cannot handle, and this is when metal alloys come in. An alloy is a combined metal made up of two or more ingredient metals in certain ratios, ranging from steel and aluminum to iron, nickel, copper, brass, titanium, and others. Alloys are designed with certain properties in mind, such as resistance to corrosive materials or tolerance for extreme heat or pressure. An example is 6061 aluminum, which contains magnesium and silicon and is widely used to build the wing and fuselage of aircraft. It’s also widely used to make food cans and scuba tanks, along with similar pressurized canisters. Meanwhile, copper alloys are vital for making pipes and tanks that can resist corrosion without leaking, such as undersea pipes that are constantly exposed to salt water both inside and outside. Copper alloys are also found in chemical plants, to make pipes, valves, pumps, and storage tanks. Some alloys are geared for extreme pressure or heat tolerance, such as those found in jet or train engines, or those used to make battleship hulls or missile casings for the military.
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