About stainless steel
The Atomium (Brussels) - stainless steel type 316
In metallurgy stainless steel, also known as inox steel or inox from French "inoxydable", is defined as a steel alloy with a minimum of 10.5 or 11% chromium content by mass. Stainless steel does not stain, corrode, or rust as easily as ordinary steel, but it is not stain-proof. It is also called corrosion-resistant steel or CRES when the alloy type and grade are not detailed, particularly in the aviation industry. There are different grades and surface finishes of stainless steel to suit the environment to which the material will be subjected in its lifetime. Stainless steel is used where both the properties of steel and resistance to corrosion are required.
Stainless steel differs from carbon steel by the amount of chromium present. Carbon steel rusts when exposed to air and moisture. This iron oxide film (the rust) is active and accelerates corrosion by forming more iron oxide. Stainless steels contain sufficient chromium to form a passive film of chromium oxide, which prevents further surface corrosion and blocks corrosion from spreading into the metal's internal structure.
High oxidation-resistance in air at ambient temperature is normally achieved with additions of a minimum of 13% (by weight) chromium, and up to 26% is used for harsh environments. The chromium forms a passivation layer of chromium(III) oxide (Cr2O3) when exposed to oxygen. The layer is too thin to be visible, and the metal remains lustrous. The layer is impervious to water and air, protecting the metal beneath. Also, this layer quickly reforms when the surface is scratched. This phenomenon is called passivation and is seen in other metals, such as aluminium and titanium. Corrosion-resistance can be adversely affected if the component is used in a non-oxygenated environment, a typical example being underwater keel bolts buried in timber.
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri
Stainless steel’s resistance to corrosion and staining, low maintenance, relatively low cost, and familiar luster make it an ideal base material for a host of commercial applications. There are over 150 grades of stainless steel, of which fifteen are most commonly used. The alloy is milled into coils, sheets, plates, bars, wire, and tubing to be used in cookware, cutlery, hardware, surgical instruments, major appliances, industrial equipment e.g. in sugar refineries, and as an automotive and aerospace structural alloy and construction material in large buildings. Storage tanks and tankers used to transport orange juice and other food are often made of stainless steel, due to its corrosion resistance and antibacterial properties. This also influences its use in commercial kitchens and food processing plants, as it can be steam-cleaned, sterilized, and does not need painting or application of other surface finishes.
Stainless steel is used for jewellery and watches. 316L is the stainless steel commonly used for such purpose. It can be re-finished by any jeweller and will not oxidize or turn black. Some firearms incorporate stainless steel components as an alternative to blued or parkerized steel. Some handgun models, such as the Smith & Wesson Model 60 and the Colt M1911 pistol, can be made entirely from stainless steel. This gives a high-luster finish similar in appearance to nickel plating; but, unlike plating, the finish is not subject to flaking, peeling, wear-off due to rubbing (as when repeatedly removed from a holster over the course of time), or rust when scratched
Stainless steel is 100% recyclable. An average stainless steel object is composed of about 60% recycled material of which approximately 40% originates from end-of-life products and about 60% comes from manufacturing processes. In fact, there is a secondary market that basically recycles usable scrap for many stainless steel markets. The product is mostly coil, sheet and blanks. This material is purchased at a less-than-prime price and sold to commercial quality stampers and sheet metal houses. The material may have scratches, pits and dents but is made to the current specifications.
There are different types of stainless steels: when nickel is added, for instance, the austenite structure of iron is stabilized. This crystal structure makes such steels virtually non-magnetic and less brittle at low temperatures. For greater hardness and strength, more carbon is added. When subjected to adequate heat treatment, these steels are used as razor blades, cutlery, tools, etc. Significant quantities of manganese have been used in many stainless steel compositions. Manganese preserves an austenitic structure in the steel as does nickel, but at a lower cost.