What is Metal Aging?

Aging [verb]: the process of growing older. While that definition does apply, in the metals industry “aging” is specific jargon referring to treatments which speed up that process. But why would you choose to age your new metal products? It helps if you remember not to view aging as a negative. In fact, much like wine, the properties of a metal alloy often improve with age.

As metal ages, its base material physically transforms. The interaction of the metal’s atoms with the oxygen in its environment – whether surrounded by air or water – will begin change its surface texture and color. This starts with a basic oxide layer being formed. The oxide then becomes a hydroxide, and the hydroxide layer continues to interact with the atmosphere.

So why is this exposure to the elements considered a desirable result, unlike rust? That’s because iron oxide, or rust, is much more fragile and ultimately destructive when compared to a hydroxide. Exposed iron develops rust which flakes off and forms again, and will continue this cycle until it deteriorates the metal below. Meanwhile, a hydroxide layer actually creates a more stable surface composition. This hydroxide effectively creates an outer shell, which shields the metal below from any further interaction to its environment. The aging process of the metal comes to a near halt, with the hydroxide layer giving it both greater strength and longevity.

In general, there are two types of metal aging:

Natural aging: just as the name suggests, this is letting the metal age with time, in its natural environment. The strengthening benefits of aging will be more gradual but still effective.

Artificial aging: this refers to any method used to artificially accelerate the aging process. This is usually done through heat treatment of the metal alloys.

Both types do carry a risk of over-aging. This happens when the aging process pushes the metal past the point of strengthening into stressing and deteriorating it. As you might expect, this is more likely to occur with artificial aging: either because the metal has already undergone the aging process, or the heat applied is too intense or prolonged. However, when properly carried out, metal aging is a great benefit to the finished product.

Decoding Steel by its Numbers

Like any other field of expertise, the steel industry has its own jargon – one that may be confusing upon first encounter. Why are they assigned four-digit codes? What’s the difference between Alloy 4130 and 4140?

Steel is sorted into four main categories as set by the AISI (American Iron and Steel Institute):

  • Carbon steel
  • Alloy steel
  • Stainless steel
  • Tool steel

Being steel, these contain the same two basic elements of iron and carbon. Determining their category depends on the percentage of carbon and other alloys added to the iron, which changes the properties of the finished metal.

Within each category, steel can then be classified according to type. This usually includes several of the descriptive factors below:

  • Composition: the main categories of carbon, alloy, stainless, and tool steel.
  • Microstructure: these are the subcategories of composition. For instance, stainless steel can be classed as ferritic, austenitic, martensitic, and duplex steels.
  • Method of production: two methods account for almost all modern steel production, known as EAF (electric air furnace), and BOS (basic oxygen steelmaking).
  • Form/Shape: also known as primary forming, creating shapes such as plate or bars.
  • Method of finish: this is referred to as secondary forming, the techniques which give the final product its properties and finish. This can include processes such as hot and cold rolling, tempering, or galvanizing.
  • Physical strength: using ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards, the designation typically includes a letter prefix and assigned number.

There are two primary numbering systems used to classify metals, so steel descriptions typically will include both. Along with AISI, the numbering system set by SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) is most used in the metals industry. For the most part, SAE has adapted their system to align with the classifications set by AISI, so that specifications are standardized for steel.

So with this information, consumers have the ability to recognize the category and classification of a steel item. In the four digit code system, the first number will determine the type:

Starting with 1: Carbon steel

2: Nickel steel

3: Nickel-chromium steel

4: Molybdenum steel

5: Chromium steel

6: Chromium-vanadium steel

7: Tungsten-chromium steel

8: Nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel

9: Silicon-manganese steel and other SAE grades

The following numbers then give additional detail to the specific type of steel. In most cases, the second digit indicates the percentage of alloying element. The last two digits are the percentage of carbon concentration within the steel.

So using the example of 4130 vs 4140 steel: both start with a 4, so they are molybdenum steels – with the concentration of molybdenum being 1%. The difference between the two is that 4130 has a carbon percentage of roughly 0.30%, while 4140 contains 0.40 percent carbon. Because of its lower carbon percentage, 4130 would be more easily machined and weldable than 4140. However, the higher degree of carbon in 4140 alloy gives it greater hardness and strength than 4130. Armed with this knowledge, this may better help you choose the right type of steel for your needs.

Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co. Launches FastMetals E-Commerce Platform

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 19, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co. (NYSE: RS) today announced the launch of its new e-commerce business, FastMetals, Inc. (www.fastmetals.com), which offers a catalogue pricing model for a diverse selection of metal products including carbon, stainless, aluminum and specialty alloy steels. Located in Massillon, Ohio, FastMetals ships nationwide and has direct access to Reliance’s vast network of metals service center locations which carry over 100,000 products.

“FastMetals was created in response to the growing demand for digital purchasing solutions from metalworkers of all backgrounds,” commented Jim Hoffman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Reliance. “Consistent with Reliance’s core business strategy, FastMetals specializes in small orders with quick-turn around and best-in-class customer service. We are excited to launch this new, innovative venture that differs from our traditional sales model as simply another option for customers to purchase metal from us. Many of our existing service centers presently offer online capabilities and continue to receive inquiries via phone, email or other means based on the individual customer’s preference. FastMetals is yet another channel to experience Reliance’s unique, customer-focused service.”

FastMetals’ model is tailored to smaller, specialized end-users including artists, fabricators, machine shops, hobbyists, and do-it-yourself practitioners. Customers can choose from standard shapes and sizes or select specific dimensions to satisfy unique project requirements. FastMetals provides instant pricing, same-day shipping, no minimum order quantity and direct fulfillment to the individual customer.

About Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co.
Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co. (NYSE:RS), headquartered in Los Angeles, California, is the largest metals service center company in North America. Through a network of more than 300 locations in 40 states and thirteen countries outside of the United States, Reliance provides value-added metals processing services and distributes a full line of over 100,000 metal products to more than 125,000 customers in a broad range of industries. Reliance focuses on small orders with quick turnaround and increasing levels of value-added processing. In 2018, Reliance’s average order size was $2,130, approximately 49% of orders included value-added processing and approximately 40% of orders were delivered within 24 hours. Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co.’s press releases and additional information are available on the Company’s website at www.rsac.com.


Brenda Miyamoto
Investor Relations
(213) 576-2428
investor@rsac.com

or Addo Investor Relations
(310) 829-5400