Metal ranks high among the construction materials that humanity uses, both today and in the past. In fact, a few prehistoric eras are named after the most commonly used metals of the time, such as the Bronze Age and the Iron age. The Greeks and Romans had names for certain metals, and those names inspired the atomic symbols of those metals on the modern periodic table. As of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, meanwhile, the production and use of steel and similar metals grew rapidly to fuel new products and industries such as railroads and skyscraper I-beams. And today, many different types of metal products, from thin metal strips of aluminum or steel to thin sheet metal, are in constant demand. Don’t forget alloys and combined metals, either, which have their own role to play. Stainless steel thin metal strips, brass and copper alloys, and more are vital to keep today’s manufacturing going strong.
Steel and Aluminum
When it comes to steel and aluminum, it might be faster to list the ways in which these metals are not used, since they are central to most produced goods today, especially for everyday consumer goods. Most often, it is factories and workshops that are ordering thin metal strips in wholesale amounts, to machine and refine those thin metal strips into components for products. Steel has been used since the Middle Ages, but starting in the 1800s, foundries and smelters started making it in much greater quantities, and such facilities can remove the impurities from iron to make steel, a lighter and stronger metal. Sheet metal, like steel and aluminum, is a massive industry in the United States today, and employed just under 139,000 Americans in 2016. Projections say that the steel and sheet metal industry will grow even more in the 2020s, and create thousands of new jobs. Steel is one of the most widely imported and exported materials of all, and the U.S. imports a lot of steel from China, Canada, and Germany in particular.
Steel is used to make I-beams and railroad tracks, not to mention components for cars and similar vehicles. Stainless steel in particular is used to make cutlery and surgical equipment, and such steel must and certainly can resist rusting and corrosion while in use. Steel, when it is produced, is made into sheets when passed through pressurized rollers at a high temperature, and the result is “hot rolled” steel. Its dimensions are imperfect, but that is perfectly acceptable for uses such as the production of I-beams and railroad tracks. Meanwhile, if that hot rolled steel is passed through those rollers again at room temperature, this results in “cold rolled” steel that has a protective glossy finish and precise dimensions. Cold rolled steel is ideal for producing components for cars and electronic devices, though it should be shipped carefully.
Meanwhile, aluminum is another commonly used metal, and in fact it is even lighter than steel is. Aluminum finds its way into many manufactured goods today, and it may also come in thin metal strips for wholesale buyers to purchase for their factories. And since aluminum is so light, it is becoming more and more popular for making vehicle bodies, since the vehicle will be more fuel efficient due to its reduced body weight. Aluminum is also a typical metal for making car rims and hubcaps.
Steel and aluminum are useful, to be sure, but they cannot truly do everything. Some types of work or settings are too extreme, so alloy are used instead. An alloy is a composite metal made up of two or more “ingredient” metals, such as steel or iron, nickel, aluminum, titanium, brass, copper, and more. The resulting alloy will have certain desired properties, such as corrosion resistance, extreme durability, or resistance to heat or cold. Some alloys are used widely by the military to make battleship hulls and engine parts, an even missile casings. Elsewhere, alloys are vital for making jet engine and train engine parts, enduring extremes of pressure and heat the entire time. In the oceans, corrosion-resistant copper alloys are used to make pipes, and the same is true of chemical plant valves, pipes, tanks, and pumps.