Alloy Steel: What is it?

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Steel is primarily made of iron and small amounts of carbon, with additional elements added to create desired properties. Alloy steels are divided into high-alloy and low-alloy, with the former having more than 8% of other elements. Low-alloy steels are modified for greater hardness, durability, corrosion resistance, or toughness. Stainless steel is a well-known alloy steel with a minimum of 10% chromium, commonly used in various industries. Alloying elements tend to form carbides or compounds, improving the finished product’s hardness and stability.

Steel is a metal alloy consisting primarily of iron, plus small amounts of carbon, depending on the grade and quality of the steel. Alloy steel is any type of steel to which one or more elements other than carbon have been intentionally added to produce a desired physical property or characteristic. Common elements that are added to make alloy steel are molybdenum, manganese, nickel, silicon, boron, chromium and vanadium.

Alloy steels are often divided into two groups: high-alloy steels and low-alloy steels. The difference between the two is somewhat arbitrarily defined. However, most agree that any steel that is alloyed with more than eight percent of its weight being other elements than iron and carbon, is a high-alloy steel. Low alloy steels are slightly more common. The physical properties of these steels are modified by other elements, to give them greater hardness, durability, corrosion resistance or toughness than carbon steel. To obtain these properties, these alloys often require heat treatment.

If the carbon level in a low-alloy steel is between medium and high, it can be difficult to weld. If the carbon content is reduced to a range of 0.1% to 0.3% and some of the alloying elements are reduced, the steel can achieve greater weldability and formability while maintaining the strength that steel is known for. Such metals are classified as high strength and low alloy steels.

Perhaps the best known alloy steel is stainless steel. This is an alloy steel with a minimum 10% chromium content. Stainless steel is more resistant to stains, corrosion and rust than regular steel. It was discovered in 1913 by Harry Brearley of Sheffield, England, but the discovery was not announced to the world until 1915. Stainless steel is commonly used in tableware, jewellery, watch bands, surgical instruments and in the aircraft industry . Its familiar sheen has also been used for many famous architectural projects, such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, and the apex of the Chrysler Building in New York City.

In all types of alloy steel, the alloying elements tend to form carbides or compounds, rather than just being mixed evenly with the iron and carbon. Nickel, aluminum and silicon are examples of the elements that form compounds in steel. Tungsten and vanadium will form carbides, both of which increase the hardness and stability of the finished product.

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