Popular Metals for Welding

Welding is a complicated process, and there can be several pitfalls on the way to completing a successful weld. The choice of welding method, how carefully all materials are cleaned before proceeding, the experience of the welding operator: just a few of the many factors that can make or break a welding job. But one of the most important is your choice of metal. Working with metals that are more compatible to welding will make this process much easier to complete, and boost your chances of a good outcome.
During its exposure to the intense heat used during welding, metal begins to expand and soften. Welding involves connecting those softened edges together, with the use of a filler metal to create a join. Doing this quickly helps reduce the risk of the metal heating to the point of melting, which can thin the material and create a weaker join. So from the start, choosing a metal more compatible to welding helps reduce the risk of a bad weld.


The Four Most Popular Welding Metals
1. Low Carbon (Mild) Steel
Mild steel is one of the most weldable metals available, and this is due to the very quality featured in its name: its low percentage of carbon. In other circumstances, carbon is a great benefit when it comes to alloying steel; it reinforces the strength and hardness of the material, making it less ductile. However, that strength can become a downfall when it comes to welding. The higher the carbon content in the steel, the greater the risk that the heat of welding will create microstructures such as martensite within the material. These microstructures are more brittle than the surrounding metal crystal structures, and end up weakening the metal’s overall strength.
The more ductile a metal, the less likely it is to develop these microstructure flaws within the material. Mild steel is the most ductile of the steel family, so it takes easily to the welding process. Choosing low carbon steel means eliminating much of the risk of a disappointing weld before the process even starts.

2. Cast Iron
On the other side of the spectrum from mild steel, cast iron has an extremely high carbon content — about 2% of its overall formulation is carbon. Just as in steel, the high amount of carbon makes the metal quite strong but also very brittle. However, cast iron is still a good candidate for welding because of its relatively low melting point. This quality means a shorter period of sustained heat is used during welding, which prevents heat damage or burn-through.

3. Stainless Steel
Welding is already a complicated process, and the complex chemical composition of stainless steel can make it even more tricky. The chromium in stainless is what produces the metal’s distinctive shine and excellent corrosion resistance, but the same element can be a stumbling block during welding. The intense heat of welding leads to chromium bonding with the carbon in stainless steel, leading to warping and making it more vulnerable to rust.

It’s important to properly identify the grade of stainless before processing begins, because the formulation of stainless steel will help best determine what type of welding method should be used. Ferritic and austenitic stainless steels can be more easily welded. Martensitic stainless steel grades, which are primarily alloyed with chromium, are more prone to cracking. However, with careful attention paid throughout the process, especially with monitoring welding torch temperature, stainless steel can be welded successfully.

4. Aluminum
Aluminum welding is a balancing act, because the metal possesses qualities that are both beneficial and risky to welding. Its ductility makes it easy to weld, but its high degree of thermal conductivity is an obstacle. The heat during welding can easily spread throughout the metal, making it expand more significantly than heated steel. Then during its cooling period, the aluminum must be monitored to prevent the development of craters and cracking as it shrinks back to its original size.
Yet despite the difficulties, aluminum is one of the most popular welding metals. Its appealing properties such as corrosion resistance, durability, and relative low cost make it worthwhile to take the extra care during welding.

Ten Differences between Aluminum and Steel

At first glance, aluminum and stainless steel may appear similar: both a silvery gray, softly shiny, and used to make many of the same products. Many food service and kitchenware items, for instance, are made available from a manufacturer in both types of metals. What separates these two, other than price?

1. Thermal Conductivity
Aluminum is a metal with a high degree of thermal conductivity. What that means in real terms is that a water will boil more quickly in a stockpot than one made of stainless steel. However, aluminum also cools more quickly than stainless, so stainless will help keep a pot of soup warm longer.

2. Thermal Properties
Its lower degree of thermal conductivity means stainless steel is much more resilient to use in high temperatures. Aluminum will begin to soften around 400 degrees Fahrenheit; meanwhile, stainless steel can function well at temperatures up to 800 degrees. Some stainless steel grades can withstand temperatures nearly double that for short periods of work, up to 1500 degrees.

3. Strength
Both metals are quite strong and durable, but stainless steel more so than aluminum.

4. Strength to Weight Ratio
Stainless steel is very strong, but at the cost of a heavier weight. While aluminum is not as strong, manufacturing with this metal will result in an item nearly one third the weight of a steel part. This incredible strength to weight ratio makes aluminum very attractive to manufacturers, especially in the aerospace industry.

5. Welding
Most grades of stainless steel are relatively simple to weld, while aluminum’s high thermal conductivity makes it a more difficult task. However, both are among the most popular types of metals used in welding.

6. Electrical Conductivity
Aluminum has the distinct advantage over stainless steel here, with it being an excellent conductor of electricity. Stainless steel does not conduct electricity well in comparison to other metals.

7. Workability
Pure aluminum is a very soft and malleable metal, and even after alloying, it is easy to cut and form. Due to its strength and hardness, stainless steel takes effort to form into shape.

8. Corrosion Resistance
Both metals are known for excellent corrosion resistance. Chromium is one of the principal alloying agents in stainless steel, and boosts the corrosion resistance of the steel alloy. Aluminum is naturally resistant to corrosion on its own, although it is more vulnerable to damage from highly basic or acidic exposure.

9. Cost
In general, a part made of aluminum will be more affordable than the same item made of stainless steel.

10. Reaction to Foods
Consumers have the choice between aluminum and stainless steel cookware, and often make the decision to purchase aluminum based on price. However, aluminum is a more reactive compound than stainless steel. Acidic foods such as tomato sauces can leave aluminum damaged or with unsightly marks, while other foods like eggs can discolor if cooked or stored in aluminum. While both metals produce high-quality items, choosing stainless steel may be worth some additional money for non-reactive cookware.

What is Tool Steel?

As you might guess, tool steel earns its name by being primarily used for tools. If you then picture a steel screwdriver, pliers, or a wrench, you’d be right – but the items created of tool steel group consist of much more. Within the steel industry, tool steel also refers to machine tools, including those used to manufacture other metal products. To meet the standards of this demanding usage, tool steel is known for being extremely hard, resistant to abrasion and deformation, and its ability to hold a cutting edge. While the steel’s chemical composition is important, the method of production must be carefully controlled to achieve the proper qualities expected in tool steel.

Tool Steel Groups
Tool steel is classed into six groups, all made of carbon steel alloyed with one or more of these main elements: molybdenum, tungsten, chromium, and vanadium. Most tool steel originates from recycled steel scrap, but not all steel scrap is suitable for tool steel. Alloy scrap containing elements which resist oxidation (such as nickel, cobalt or copper) will impede the development of carbides in the metal’s structure, and carbides are crucial to creating tool steel. To ensure the metal will be an optimal mix, tool steel will typically consist of 75% mill scrap supplemented by purchased steel scrap.
The first step is primary melting, where the scrap is heated until molten. Most often this is done in an electric arc furnace (EAF) due to it being a lower-cost production method. However, it is key to avoid contamination during the melting process to create the highest-quality steel. While the EAF is widely used for tool steel, there is some risk of contamination from dust or traces of oxidation-resistant metals from previous batches. For top notch tool steel, an alternate method known as electroslag refining (ESR) is used to melt the steel. Instead of a furnace, ESR uses electric currents to superheat and slowly melt the metal. While a more expensive process, ESR will produce a more refined type of steel without apparent surface imperfections.
After melting and alloying, the steel is poured into ingot molds and then forged into the desired shapes. This is where the six groups of tool steel are determined by their processing:

• Water hardening: Also known as W-group tool steel, this group’s defining property is being water quenched. Quenching in water does risk warping or cracking steel with its rapid cooling, and results in a relatively brittle metal. For this reason, water-hardened tool steel is not considered appropriate for high-temperature industrial uses; once the temperature nears 300 degrees Fahrenheit, there is noticeable softening of the steel parts. Typical items made of W-group steel include scissors, smaller hand tools, and springs.

• Shock-resisting: S-group tool steel is notable for its toughness and ability to withstand repeated impact. This is achieved by using low carbon steel during its production, since higher carbon content results in a harder but more brittle product. Alloying with silicon, tungsten, and chromium gives additional wear resistance and tensile strength. It’s then quenched in oil, which allows for a gentler cooling than water and helps produce a metal with a high degree of durability. Items made of S-group tool steels include tableware dies, impact hammers for nails guns, and shear blades used in cutting heavy steel plate.

• High speed: This group is mainly used for cutting tools, which requires a very hard and abrasion-resistant type of steel. Tungsten, chromium, and vanadium allow HS steel to withstand very high temperatures, such as the heat friction created while cutting other metals. It also manages to hold a cutting edge with repeated use, allowing for higher speeds while cutting without having to pause to resharpen. HS steel can be found in various cutting tools such as drill bits, saw blades, and milling cutters.

• Hot work: Hot-working (H-group) steels are used to cut and shape materials at very high temperatures. To achieve a steel that can withstand prolonged exposure to intense heat, H-group steels are made of a low carbon steel with a higher percentage of alloying content. This produces a tool steel with a high amount of carbides, giving it good overall toughness and wear resistance. The most common use for hot work steel is to produce other metal items because it can withstand the heat needed to forge and cast other metals. It’s used in machinery such as pressure dies, extrusion, and forging equipment.

• Cold work: This tool steel type is narrowed down further into three groups known as the A series (air-hardened), O series (oil-hardened), and D series (high carbon/chromium). All three are intended to be used to cut or form materials at low temperatures.

1. A-series: As the name suggests, steel in this series is hardened via air. Because of the quenching method and its high chromium content, A-series cold work steel is known for low distortion during heat treatment. This makes it a good fit for machining purposes, and so can be found in dies, forming tools, and gauges.

2. O-series: Oil-quenching avoids the cracking and warping risks brought on by water-quenching, and is used for larger parts which require minimal distortion. It offers good wear resistance and toughness, lending itself to a wide range of applications as a general-use cold work steel. Typical uses of O-series tool steel include stamping dies, bushings (metal parts used to absorb vibration and friction), shear blades, and other cutting tools.

3. D-series: Made of a high-carbon steel with a high alloy percentage of chromium, this can also be categorized as a type of stainless steel. However, unlike typical stainless steel, its corrosion resistance is limited and thus is not used to make consumer products. Instead, D-series tool steel applications include cutters, dies, plastic injection molds, and machining rollers.

• Special purpose: this group includes tool steels with alloying elements such as nickel, which typically resist the formation of carbides. The extra time and effort needed to produce these tool steels makes them too expensive for general purposes, so they are manufactured for specific use. Special purpose tool steel can be found in plastic molding dies, zinc die casting, and drills.

Classes of Stainless Steel

When it comes to steel types, stainless is a broad category. Any ferrous alloy containing at least 10.5% chromium can call itself stainless steel. While additional alloying elements may be included, chromium is the significant ingredient in transforming a steel into “stainless”. Chromium boosts the corrosion resistance, durability, and strength of steel. It also results in a distinctive shine and boosts the metal’s stain-resistant properties – which is where we get its name.

So we see that all steels within the stainless family share one common alloy in chromium. What then separates them into classes are the other alloying elements, such as molybdenum or nickel. The different chemical compositions affect the steel’s crystal structure, which is how they are divided into 5 basic classes:

  • Austenitic stainless steel
  • Ferritic stainless steel
  • Martensitic stainless steel
  • Duplex (ferritic-austenitic) stainless steel
  • Precipitation-hardening (PH) stainless steel

 Austenitic stainless steel

The most popular grades of stainless steel come from this group, which are alloyed with high levels of chromium, molybdenum, and nickel. This gives the metal a superior degree of corrosion resistance and malleability, along with excellent weldability. While this class of stainless steels cannot be hardened through heat processing, and are prone to cracking under heat, they can be successfully hardened through cold working. Another asset is its strength against corrosive elements, which means austenitic steel is used in varied applications from marine and aerospace environments to chemical and food processing.

Ferritic stainless steel

These steels are best known for having low levels of carbon, making them a more iron-centric (ferritic) type of steel. It contains high levels of chromium and nickel, and like austenitic stainless, is strengthened through work hardening or cold working. It may not be as strong or hard as austenitic steel, but ferritic stainless is very resistant to stress-induced corrosion cracking. This makes it a popular choice for any components encountering corrosive substances or environments, such as industrial or automotive parts.

Martensitic stainless steel

Martensitic steels make up the hardest class of stainless steel, with a high level of carbon content alloyed mainly with chromium. However, that high degree of hardness also limits its use, since it can be brittle and less tough than the other classes of stainless steel. This means martensitic steel use is reserved for parts requiring great tensile strength and impact resistance, without being exposed to corrosive elements. Surgical instruments, valves, and pumps are often made of these steels.

Duplex (ferritic-austenitic) steel

Also known as ferritic-austenitic stainless steels, duplex is engineered to combine the best properties of both classes. They are alloyed with over 20% chromium and 5% nickel, boosting their yield strength and corrosion resistance. It also has approximately double the overall strength compared to ordinary austenitic stainless steel, while still being less expensive than austenitic due to the lower amount of nickel. With these qualities, duplex is heavily used in the oil industry, especially for underwater oil and chemical processing. It has the toughness to stand up to the corrosion caused by chloride and other elements.

PH (precipitation hardening) stainless steel

Steels in this class are notable for including aluminum, copper, and titanium among their alloying elements. When these steels are heat treated, the aluminum and other alloys form precipitates within the metal, reinforcing its crystal microstructure. This natural precipitation-hardening means that after its forging, it requires just a single low-temperature hardening to be ready for use. PH steel ranks highest in tensile strength among all stainless steel classes, which makes it well suited for the stresses of industrial use. Turbines, nuclear power plants, and aerospace components often make use of this class of steel.

Heat’s Effect on Metal Properties

Often when we speak of heat, it concerns scenarios we’d rather avoid: getting sweaty and sunburnt from the summer sun, overheating laptops or car engines, maybe singeing your hair after leaning too close to a candle. And rightly so! In all these cases heat can be damaging, whether to your possessions or your own self.

Yet despite some risks, heat is greatly beneficial. The sun’s beams feel warm and pleasant after a cold winter. The flames of a stove burner or grill cook your food. And when it comes to metal, heat is no different. Too much heat can damage metal to the point of weakening or destroying it. But heat is also a transformative force, from forging the metal to hardening it and modifying its mechanical properties.

There are four ways the application of heat affects metal:

  • Structural
  • Electrical Resistance
  • Magnetism
  • Thermal Expansion

Structural

Heat is a crucial part of the metal making process, with furnaces heated to such high temperatures that metal ore turns molten. However, it’s not always necessary to go to such extremes to affect the properties of the metal. Any time metal is heated, the atoms making up the metal or alloy begin to move. Given enough heat and then carefully cooled, the crystal structure of the metal can be reshaped into a lattice that is much stronger than prior to heat treatment. In the case of high carbon steels, heat application allows the iron to absorb additional carbon, which produces an exceptionally hard and strong steel.

Electrical Resistance

As metal is heated, the electrons within it will absorb energy and move faster. The faster the electrons move, the more likely they are to collide with the metal’s atoms and scatter them. Electrical resistance measures how strongly the metal works against this potential scattering as the temperature rises. That means the higher the electrical resistance of a metal, the lower its conductivity.

Magnetism

There are three elements with naturally magnetic properties, known as ferromagnetic metals: iron, cobalt, and nickel. But once heat is applied – and especially as the temperature goes up – the metal’s natural magnetism is reduced. If heated to a certain point known as the metal’s Curie temperature, its magnetic property will be reduced completely.

Thermal Expansion

As metal is heated, it begins to expand; its volume, length and overall surface area will grow as it continues to absorb more heat. This is due to the atoms making up the metal, which increase their movement as the temperature rises. This movement creates vibrations within the metal’s structure to the point that it swells, an occurrence which is known as thermal expansion. For safety reasons, any metal structure such as bridges or buildings must be designed to accommodate a certain degree of thermal expansion and contraction. Otherwise, you run the risk of damaging the metal as it warms and cools.

Quenching Explained

What is Quenching?

If you’ve watched medieval-themed movies and shows, this is a familiar scene: a blacksmith hammering away at an anvil, before plunging a sword into water amid huge clouds of steam. What you may not realize is that you’ve just witnessed quenching in action. While water might be the favored choice for its dramatic effects onscreen, professionals in metal working use a variety of methods ranging from air to oil to brine. But whatever the medium used, the basic concept is the same: forcing the rapid cooling of heat-treated metal.

Purpose of Quenching
During the heat treatment process, the metal is heated to a point above its recrystallization temperature but just below melting. It’s then left for a set period of time to allow the heat to completely permeate the metal. Once removed, it’s considered to be annealed metal if left to cool naturally at room temperature. However, this method can result in a drastically altered metal microstructure, which may not be the desired effect. With quenching, the rapid cooling effectively locks in the microstructure existing in the heated metal. What this means is that a harder, stronger metal is produced once it cools.

Quenching Media
The substance used in quenching is referred to as the medium, and the medium determines the quench’s severity. The more quickly you are able to draw heat out of the metal, the more severe the quench. However, faster isn’t always ¬-better. The rolling clouds of steam produced by plunging that red-hot sword into water? In reality, while water is a very effective medium for hardening metal, it can also be a risky one. If the metal is too hot and the water too cool, you may be left with cracked or distorted pieces.
The chemical composition of the metal, as well as the desired degree of hardness, also factors into the choice of quenching medium. Carbon steel and low-carbon steel alloys generally require a more severe quench in order to produce the right degree of hardness. In contrast, high-carbon steel alloys are already a harder type of metal. So lower-impact, less severe quenching media can be used to produce the hardened steel.

Here are the most commonly used types of quenching media, ranked from most to least severe:
Caustics: This involves some combination of water, salt, and caustic sodas to create a brine. However, heat dissipates so quickly in water that it can create an overload of tension between the metal’s surface and its core. When this occurs, the metal part may be left with damage such as warping. So special care is taken to properly balance the temperatures, while workers protect their eyes and skin against any exposure to the caustic solution.

Oil: The most popular medium of choice is oil, since it combines a relatively severe quenching with a lower risk of warps and cracks. It also provides more flexibility during the process, depending on the composition and temperature of the oil. If a higher degree of quenching severity is required, a “fast” oil is used – one formulated to cool the metal very quickly. Low-carbon steels do particularly well in fast oils, because it provides the rapid cooling needed to give the metal more hardness. Meanwhile, high-carbon steels and more intricately-designed metal parts benefit from a less drastic approach. An immersion in heated oil will cool the metal, but at a more controlled and gradual pace.
However, oil brings its own risks during the quenching process. Unlike water and other caustic solutions, oil is flammable. Workers must pay attention to each oil’s flashpoint to avoid any risk of fire during the process.

Salts: Also known as salt baths, this method provides a less severe quenching because the molten salt is hotter than heated oils. This level of heat allows for a slower and more uniform cooling, producing metal with fewer distortions and other defects. So when quenching precision-machined parts and tools, salt baths might be your best choice. The salt baths can also be a long-lasting and cost effective method, so long as they’re properly maintained. The removal of any remaining oxides or other contaminants from the salt bath after quenching will allow for its extended use.

Air/Gas: Air is another popular option for quenching, in large part due to its affordability. If the material is left to cool on its own down to room temperature, it is considered air-quenched (although this is generally done for annealing). For quenching purposes, forced air is used to speed the rate of cooling. However, while this is more efficient from still air, it does require an extended period of cooling – and more time ups the risk of allowing the metal’s microstructure to change. A quicker quenching can be done with gases such as nitrogen, although the trade-off is the increased cost in comparison to air.

MTR: Mill Test Reports

Each day, we take for granted that the metals we encounter and use in our ordinary lives are safe. The steel framing in apartments and high-rise buildings, the aluminum fuselage of a passenger plane, the metal making up our cars and appliances: very rarely do we question the composition of the metal itself. Our lives go smoothly because we can trust these metals are safe and sturdy. We’re able to make that assumption because of the quality controls practiced by the metal industry, and that quality assurance rests largely on the mill test report (MTR).
At every step of the manufacturing process, the metal is accompanied by its MTR. From the mill forging the material, to the service center performing heat processing and finishing, to the company purchasing the items, the MTR passes from hand to hand. But what exactly is included in a mill report that makes it so important?


Mill Test Report
¬As might be expected, most mills will have their own style and layout for an MTR. They may not even call it a Mill Test Report at all: MTR is industry jargon that can also refer to a Material Test Report, a Mill Certification, or Mill Inspection Certificate. But whatever the name, the information the MTR includes is standard across the industry. When reviewing the document, you can expect it to list the following:

• Production information: the metal’s country of origin, melt location, and manufacturer’s name

• Product description: the item’s alloy, temper, grade, finish, width, thickness, and weight

• Material heat number: also referred to as the heat lot, this is an identifying code that is stamped directly onto the metal itself. As each lot of metal is produced, it is assigned a unique code to identify it as part of that batch. This provides a high degree of traceability, no matter where the metal might end up or its purpose. If there is any type of recall or issue with the metal, this number allows it to be traced back to its origin.

• Mechanical and physical properties: this states the metal is compliant with the criteria set by an international standards organization, such as ASME or ANSI. It is especially important in the case of alloys, because it certifies the chemical makeup of the metal. This is where the “test” portion of the MTR applies. While the metal is molten, a sample is drawn from each batch for metallurgical chemical analysis. Once the item is forged, mechanical testing is then performed on the finished item. Putting items such as steel plate through hardness, tensile and impact tests establish that the material will perform to the necessary standards under specific conditions.

• Inspection: in addition to the mill’s test information, the metal requires certification from an independent inspector. This means the MTR typically includes two signatures verifying the material’s makeup: one from the mill itself while producing the metal, and a second from the inspection agency. This third party inspection provides additional authentication of the metal’s physical and mechanical properties, along with confirmation that the heat number matches the actual item. If all information is correct, the inspector signs off on the report as a final step.



Do I Need the MTR?
For companies involved in the industrial side of manufacturing, distribution, and use of metals, MTRs are a necessity. These standards ensure that the metals will be appropriate for their intended use, and able to measure up successfully to further processing such as welding with compatible metals. If the finished goods or structures later experience some type of metal failure, the information provided by the MTR enables every item can be traced back to its source.
However, MTRs aren’t a necessity for the average consumer. Buying from reputable mills and distributors means that they have done the groundwork for you by collecting the MTRs for their products. Companies are required to keep their MTR documentation for a minimum of three years. However, many companies keep their records for much longer, priding themselves on being able to trace back their materials whenever the occasion may arise.

Grade 304 vs 316

Grade 304 vs 316: The Differences between Stainless Steels

304 Stainless Steel versus 316 Stainless Steel: to the average layperson, these will appear to be very similar materials. They both fall into the 300 Series class, made up of austenitic chromium-nickel alloys. They’re the same grayish-silver color, with a bright and lustrous shine. Neither type can be hardened through heat treatments, but can be work-hardened.
But as those with more knowledge of these steels realize, it’s the small details between the two grades that make for crucial differences. Knowing more about these difference can provide consumers with better insight into the right type of steel for their use.

300 Series Steel
The steels within the austenitic class are generally alloyed with three main elements: chromium, nickel, and molybdenum. They’re known as low-carbon steels, with less than 0.8% carbon making up their chemical composition. Alloying with chromium increases the strength, hardness, and corrosion resistance of iron. Nickel also boosts the metal’s strength and hardness, while helping to prevent against loss of ductility and toughness.
However, it’s the addition of molybdenum that is one of the most significant differences between the 304 and 316 grades. Grade 304 stainless steel contains 18% nickel and 8% chromium, while 316 has 16% chromium, 10% nickel, and 2% molybdenum. Like the other alloying elements nickel and chromium, molybdenum is used to strengthen and toughen steel. But its biggest asset in 316 stainless steel is in the prevention against chloride corrosion.

Molybdenum: The Difference Maker
The boosted percentage of nickel, along with the inclusion of molybdenum, means that 316 has better chemical resistance when compared to 304 steel. The most significant corrosion protection it offers is against chlorides. In applications where the steel will be exposed to salts or seawater, 316 steel outperforms other Series 300 steels in resisting the development of pits and crevices. This is also why 316 is known as “marine grade” steel.
That’s not to say that Grade 304 isn’t strong and resistant to general corrosion on its own merits. In fact, its overall attributes and reliable performance is why 304 steel is the most widely used of all stainless steels. One other great advantage is its cost: by containing less nickel, along with no molybdenum, Grade 304 is a more affordable choice of material. So as long as the steel will be used with milder acids only, and have little to no contact to salt, it will save a bit of money to construct items out of 304. For applications that include exposure to chlorides and powerful corrosives, 316 with its added molybdenum would be the better choice.
When it comes to formability and welding, molybdenum comes into play again. Formability refers to a metal’s ability to be formed into a particular shape without incurring damage. While 316 is regularly used to form metal parts and structures, the hardness coming from molybdenum means forming requires more effort than compared to 304. The same goes for welding; both grades are commonly welded austenitic steels, but 304 is generally more easily weldable.

Advantages and Applications of Grade 304 Stainless Steel
With its good formability, resistance against heat and corrosion, and affordability, it’s understandable that 304 is the most popular of all stainless steels. It’s a reliable and versatile alloy, and readily welded by all common methods.

Some of the most common applications of Grade 304 steel include:
• Kitchen equipment and cookware

• Cutlery and flatware

• Appliances such as refrigerators and dishwashers

• Piping and fasteners

• Equipment used in dairy, brewing, and pharmaceutical production


Advantages and Applications of Grade 316 Stainless Steel
While it does come at a higher cost, when an application requires protection against severe corrosion, 316 will be the recommended choice. Its strength and durability are a necessity for usage in harsh environments, including underwater. In some cases, 316 may last many times longer than a part made of 304 – giving extended usage life to your parts and structures.

Some of the most common applications of Grade 316 include:
• Marine vessels and structures in marine environments

• Chemical processing and storage equipment

• Medical devices

• Textile, pulp, and paper manufacturing

• Jet engine parts


Annealing vs Tempering

Annealing and tempering are two of the most common heat treatment services used in metal production. But you may wonder: what is the purpose of heat treating in the first place? What differentiates these processes, and why choose one over the other?

Heat Treatment
When producing metal products, a beam or plate emerging from the casts aren’t necessarily considered to be finished. Through heat treatment, the physical and mechanical properties of the metal can be changed without affecting its shape. So the metal is heated short of the point where it would begin to melt or deform its shape, but high enough to modify its internal crystallization structure.
The goal is that after completing its heat treatment, the item will have been transformed to produce a more useful type of metal. With heat treatment, there will be improvements in the metal’s toughness, strength, and durability. But it can also boost assets in different areas: one process can produce a more ductile product, while another creates a tougher one. This is where the choice of heat treatment is key: once you identify what qualities are most important for the finished product, it will help determine which method is best to use.

Tempering
Tempering is usually performed on steel and other iron alloys, because those freshly-cast metals are extremely hard. This might sound like a nice benefit – but that high degree of hardness causes the steel to be brittle and susceptible to cracking. This means the untempered metals are considered unsuitable for most applications due to their structural vulnerability. But with tempering, some of this excess hardness is reduced. What remains afterwards is still a very hard metal, but enough internal stress has been alleviated to make it stronger overall.
When casting steel, once the metal has been formed into its desired shape, it’s immediately quenched to cool it as fast as possible. Think of it like immersing blanched vegetables in an ice bath: the goal is to lock in the iron’s structure at its peak. However as mentioned previously, while this quenched metal is incredibly hard, it is quite brittle. It is critical to follow the quenching process immediately with tempering, to help refine the steel before it can cool with existing flaws or weaknesses.
To begin tempering, the metal is placed in an oven. The oven’s heat is then carefully and gradually raised to avoid any metal cracking. Once it hits the desired temperature, the steel is held there for a length of time to allow the heat to permeate it completely. It is then removed and allowed to cool in open air.
When the tempering process is completed, it will have changed the metal’s ductility, strength, toughness, and hardness. What initially was an item too hard and brittle for use is now ready for sale or additional processing. The use of tempered steels include applications where toughness and strength are critical: construction, industrial machinery, and cutting implements.

Annealing
At first, annealing seems virtually the same as tempering: slowly heating metal to a specific temperature, and then letting it cool. But the big difference comes down to cooling. With tempering, the metal is removed from the oven and allowed to cool on its own to room temperature. Annealing, on the other hand, involves great effort to extend that cooling period as long as possible.
Why is this slow cooling significant? It’s because as the metal cools, its crystal structure continues to change with the temperature. Tempering is a simpler process because the main objective is to reduce brittleness. In annealing, the extended cooling allows for even more transformation and refinement of the metal’s structure. One method of cooling is simply turning down the oven until the temperature reaches zero, and letting the metal cool with its surroundings. Another approach is removing the metal from the oven and insulating it in a low-conductivity material such as sand or ashes. Either way, by the time it reaches room temperature, annealed metals will be a softer material compared to tempered ones.
This softness makes annealed metal well-suited for applications where it won’t experience major stresses, but ductility is important. You will find annealed copper in electrical wiring, annealed brass in pipes and fixtures, and annealed aluminum in a variety of sheet and shapes.

What is a Non-Ferrous Metal?

If you were asked the definition of a non-ferrous metal, the answer may seem obvious: it’s a metal which contains no iron. And while that’s true, it might surprise you that the answer is not entirely correct! Non-ferrous metal is a sprawling category, which covers iron-free metals such as aluminum or copper. But a metal is also defined as “non-ferrous” when its chemical composition does not include a significant amount of iron. This means even an alloy with trace amounts of iron can be correctly identified as being made of non-ferrous metal. A ferrous metal will have iron as the first or second most-abundant element in its makeup. But if iron is present in a non-ferrous metal, it will typically be less than 1% of the metal’s overall composition.

So because the non-ferrous category covers so many different varieties of metal, it can be very difficult to identify common properties shared by them all. Some non-ferrous metals are very soft and ductile, while others are hard and brittle. One non-ferrous metal may be durable enough to weather freezing temperatures, but another is well-suited to withstand extremely high heat. However, there is one common denominator to be found amongst non-ferrous metals: they don’t rust. Since they contain very minimal to no iron, there’s little opportunity for the development of a significant amount of iron oxide. And that means the metal doesn’t show signs of rust.

However, it doesn’t mean non-ferrous metals are corrosion-free. In fact, some non-ferrous metals such as zinc are highly corrosive – much more so than iron itself! But because the term ‘rust’ only applies to the formation of iron oxide, non-ferrous metals technically do corrode but they don’t rust.

Common Non-Ferrous Metals
Aluminum
One of the most widely used non-ferrous metals, aluminum in its pure form is soft and not particularly strong. Once alloyed, it gains strength and durability while remaining relatively lightweight. These assets, along with its machinability, makes it very popular in manufacturing. Common applications for aluminum range from aircraft fuselage and cars, to drink cans and kitchen utensils.

Copper
Like aluminum, unalloyed copper is softer and less strong in comparison to carbon steel. One of its most desirable qualities is its high thermal and electrical conductivity, which is why pure copper is commonly found in wiring and high-end cookware. When alloyed with zinc, it forms another non-ferrous metal, brass. Brass is stronger than copper, while retaining a high degree of malleability. This makes it popular for fittings and castings in a variety of shapes. Copper can also be alloyed with tin to create bronze – again creating a stronger and harder metal than the original copper, with better durability. Given the toughness of bronze parts, it’s a popular choice to manufacture bearings, electrical connectors, and springs.

Zinc
Zinc is a non-ferrous metal with a low melting point. As mentioned before, it is more likely to corrode than iron. However, the type of corrosion produced by zinc is beneficial: the zinc oxide which forms on the layer of the metal stops any further corrosion from reaching inside. For this reason, of the most common uses for zinc is in galvanizing other metals. The outer layer of zinc forms a protective coat on steel or iron to prevent rust.