How steel is used

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End-uses-of-steelThis page lists some of the many end uses of steel in transport, engineering, construction and the home.

Bridges

 

Suspension bridges are "hung" using steel ropes. These are very strong, thick ropes spun using hundreds or even thousands of steel wires. Often these wires are of different shaped cross-sections designed to fit together for optimum strength.

The decking (or "floor") of bridges are made either from steel plate, or from concrete reinforced with steel rods.

Steel beams, joists, columns or tubes (both round and rectangular) are used for a variety of purposes: for piers or for supports for example.

Steel piling may be used to support the bridge's foundations.

Safety barriers and handrails will probably also be made from a variety of different types of steel. Tubes can be welded together to form railings. Crash barriers are made from precisely-tensioned steel wire, or from steel sheet that has been profiled into a "corrugated" shape.

Lighting columns can be made from welded steel tubes. Even the road signs are made from steel sheet.

Engineering

 

Steel bars are often used for engineering purposes. They come in a huge range of different shapes, sizes and qualities designed to suit the end use.

Some steels have lead added to them, to make them easier to engineer, saving time and energy for the steel user.

These are known as free-cutting steels. You will find them in components under the bonnets of cars and in many household electrical or mechanical goods.

Other steels (known as tool steels) have a special alloy content that makes them ideal for manufacturing the tools used to machine free-cutting steels.

Gears, engines, electrical motors, hydraulic systems, power generation (nuclear, oil, gas, coal, wind and wave) are just a few of the many engineering applications for steel.

Construction

 

All modern buildings contain steel - even those that appear to be built from brick or concrete.

Many innovative designs exploit the versatility of steel frames, which are made either from steel 'H' and 'I' sections, or from tubular steel (which can be seen in the building below).

The strength of steel enables large areas to be spanned without the need for intrusive columns - ideal for modern theatres such as the one on the left.

The concrete used in concrete-framed buildings needs reinforcing with steel to give it the necessary strength. Even brick buildings use steel wire to "tie" the walls together.

But steel in the built environment has far more uses than just providing the structure.

  • Steel sheets - either pre-painted or stainless - can provide attractive and cost-effective wall claddings and roofs.

  • Steel sheets can also be used for the raised floors and false ceilings used in modern office buildings, and provide versatile partitioning systems.

And steel is not just found in large industrial, commercial and office buildings. Steel-framed housing has been developed as an environmentally-friendly alternative to timber.

Ships

 

The hulls of ships (such as tankers and ferries) are made from a special quality of steel plate. The structures of ships are also built from steel sections; while the decks, bulkheads and the walls of the ship's superstructure are also made of steel plate and sheet.

The ship's engine will of course have many steel components, as will the hydraulic and electrical systems.

Derricks and gantries will be fabricated from steel sections; while the ropes used could well be woven from steel wire.

Anchor chains are forged from steel bars.

Oil rigs are other steel-intensive structures. The rigs themselves are fabricated from steel plates, tubes and sections. The steels used have to be able to withstand the stresses and hostile conditions of the North Sea.

Accommodation modules are substantially of steel construction. The drilling rigs, and the tubes that encase the drills, and the pipes that bring the oil and gas to shore are all made from steel.

In the Home

 

Domestic appliances (known as "white goods") rely heavily on steel. The bodies are made from coated steel sheet. In other parts of the appliance where hygiene is important or where the operating environment is particularly harsh, such as washing machine drums or the interior of dishwashers, the sheet used is made from stainless steel.

The electrical motors present in all domestic appliances use a special type of steel formulated (sometimes by the addition of silicon) to give the required electrical properties.

But steel is not just used in kitchen appliances. Other "higher-tech" appliances, such as computers and video recorders, rely on the strength of steel sheet to provide their robust casings.

Stainless steel has long been used in the kitchen for its hygienic properties, easy cleaning and low cost. Nearly all cutlery and kitchen knives used today are made from stainless steel. Holloware (such as saucepans and kettles) are made from stainless steel sheet, as are many kitchen sinks.

Most food and drink cans are made from steel sheet, protected by a very thin coating of tin.

Baths are frequently made from ordinary carbon steel sheets, pressed into shape, as are central heating radiators.

Furniture may have tubular steel frames, while beds contain springs made from steel wire.

Cars

 

Cold reduced steel sheet is used to make the bodies of cars. These days, for applications that are prone to corrosion, zinc coated (galvanised) steel sheets are used - frequently with additional organic coatings (pre-painted).

Far thinner steel sheets are used today, that retain the strength inherent in steel but by weighing less result in fuel savings for the driver. The use of zinc and other coatings to prevent corrosion means that these steels last longer in use than the thicker steels used in earlier generations of cars.

Steel sections form the sub-frame and safety cage - where steel's strength comes into its element in providing protection.

Engineering steels are of course used in many of the engine and transmission components - as well as in the cooling, braking, air conditioning and heating etc. systems.

Electrical steels are present in the dozens of different motors used in the modern car.

Steel wire reinforces tyres to give them the strength needed for today's driving conditions and speeds.

The car is of course just one example. Steel plays a vital role in all transport systems and vehicles: trains and urban transit systems, and the tracks they run on; buses; bicycles; lorries; cranes and earth moving machinery; boats and aeroplanes. Steel helps the world keep moving.

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