What Is Carbon Steel And How Is It Made?
One of the most popular materials for metal fabrication is carbon steel. But what is carbon steel, and what makes it such a reliable choice? Thanks to the extensive data available, it is easy to predict how it will behave under real-world conditions. It is this very reliability that is at the core of its versatility. By choosing an established composition, engineers are able to model the metal’s behavior through its expected lifecycle.
In order to make reasonable predictions, the process of manufacturing the metal must be consistent throughout the production process all the way through final fabrication. As one of the most used metals on the planet—in fact, carbon steel is largely responsible for the industrial revolution—the manufacturing process for carbon steel is well established and highly automated. That means good data, and as any engineer will tell you, good data in means good data out.
What Are The Characteristics Of Steel?
What is often misunderstood about carbon steel is that it is not a singular metal. The term carbon steel actually describes a range of steel with varying levels of carbon and other materials that provide the steel’s crystalline structure with certain properties. The most plentiful ingredient in any steel is Iron. Ratios of carbon, manganese, aluminum, and the like are added to give the steel the best characteristics and properties for its intended use. This range of metals is usually divided into three categories: low carbon steel, medium carbon steel, and high carbon steel.
Low – This steel is also often referred to as mild steel. Low carbon steel has 0.04 and 0.3 percent carbon and is extremely versatile. It’s easy to weld, cut, and shape, making it the perfect choice for tasks requiring strength and shaping. It has enough carbon to make it hard and durable, but not brittle.
Medium – Medium carbon steel has from 0.31 to 0.6 percent carbon. This yields a harder steel, more resistant to cutting and welding. This kind of steel is often formed and shaped before being heat treated, tempered, or cryogenically processed to further harden or refine the metal.
High – Aside from a carbon percentage that can run as high as 1.5 percent, the alloys added to this steel are usually meant to further increase the hardness. Steel of this quality is commonly called “tool steel” and is incredibly hard and brittle. Further heat treatment makes it more so, but the tools made from this metal are durable and unyielding.
Humans have been making steel for centuries. Before the industrial age, this was a time and labor intensive process with varied results. Rather than standard recipes, craftsmen of an area often learned their formulas and the process for making steel from a mentor or master crafter. The result was steel with inconstant qualities as you moved from region to region. The patenting of Henry Bessemer’s Bessemer Process in 1856 changed that.
The Bessemer process allowed steel to be mass produced for the first time. By introducing forced air into the molten metal to remove impurities, you could not only make better steel, you could produce it at a much faster rate with less manpower. This process underwent refinement and technological advancement over the years, eventually becoming the Basic Oxygen Steelmaking Process (BOS) that accounts for the majority of steel made to this day.
The BOS process begins with recycled or scrap steel in the BOS furnace. Molten iron is poured over the scrap. This becomes the melt. An oxygen lance is lowered to just over the surface of the liquid metal, and almost pure oxygen is blown through at twice the speed of sound while compounds such as flux and lime are added. This causes impurities in the melt to oxidize, forming a frothy slag on top of the liquid metal. This process will continue for about twenty minutes. While in the furnace, data allows small adjustments to the formula to be made based on temperature and the material’s behavior.
Once complete, the metal is sampled to ensure it meets the needed specifications before being poured into another vessel called a ladle. The ladle will hold the steel while it heats in the ladle furnace and alloys are added to create the final steel composition. Once finished, the metal is poured into various shaping apparatus to create the basic form–sheet, bar, or tube–that is needed. Through this process, the labor requirements have been reduced a thousandfold, which is what has helped make steel one of the most economical metals available.
What Is The Benefit Of Carbon Steel For My Business?
Carbon steel is strong, durable, and has a perfect composition for most jobs. Mild steel is easily worked into any imaginable shape or specification, while steel alloys that are higher in carbon give you the hardness needed for tougher tasks. If you need fabricated metal for your commercial, industrial, or residential project, carbon steel has a blend to suit your needs.
What Is The Best Steel Supply Business For Me?
When looking for a supplier, it’s important to choose a company who gets top-quality steel. Since consistency is key, you need a partner with a proven track record of reliable materials. The best supplier not only sells metal, but works with it also, ensuring not only that they order the best materials, but that they know the properties of them as well.
For 55 years, MSI, Inc., has been the quality source for steel in the greater Los Angeles area. Our metal fabrication professionals have helped define the city skyline, and they can bring that experience into your next project. Contact us today so we can help you find the perfect carbon steel for your needs.