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.

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.

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.

The Stages of Metal Fatigue

It’s well known that the long term consequences of living under chronic stress are harsh, taking a toll on our health ­­and overall well-being. When it comes to the harmful effects of stress, metal is no different: too much repeated wear and tension will lead to fatigue, and eventually to a breaking point. And much like our bodies, a metal’s breakdown won’t necessarily occur from one major incident. Often the cracking and weakening that leads to metal fatigue will be gradual, going unnoticed until it’s too late.­­

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In the development of metal fatigue, there are three stages:

Stage 1: Crack Initiation

Fatigue cracks will almost always begin around a stress riser point, an area of the metal where the stress becomes concentrated. The stress riser’s susceptibility to cracking may stem from irregularities in the material itself, flaws in the metal part’s construction, or from vulnerabilities caused by damage such as scuffs and scratches. But whatever the reason for a stress riser, its weakness means that micro-cracks in the metal are likely to begin there. The edges of a metal part can be stress risers, since they’re most likely to be receive the brunt of an impact and be damaged. Weld joints are often the culprit as well, since the join of the weld may be weaker than the surrounding material.

Stage 2: Crack Propagation

Repeated stresses will cause micro-cracks, and if they continue, those faults within the metal will begin to grow. Typically crack propagation will be the longest-running stage of metal fatigue, worsening slowly over time with steady repetition. However, it can be accelerated by other factors. Increased moisture collecting on the surface from weather, vibration from moving parts, and greater stress placed on the metal will all increase the likelihood of crack growth. The danger is that these accelerants are obvious pitfalls leading to metal failure, but metal fatigue is often much more subtle and easy to miss. Because of this, a lack of maintenance which allows the unchecked growth of micro-cracks can lead to a sudden and unpredictable failure.

Stage 3: Final Catastrophic Failure

If metal fatigue is allowed to progress to this stage, it will result in a final failure event: the metal will fracture. Depending on the material’s thickness, metal composition, and applied stress, the fracture will be either ductile or brittle. In a ductile fracture, the metal is deformed by being bent out of shape. The edges of the fracture may crumple and bend, but not necessarily break all the way through. When it comes to a brittle fracture, it’s exactly as it sounds: the metal shatters or snaps. In a typical case of brittle fracture metal fatigue, the pieces will snap completely apart. There will be little to no plastic deformation (a change in shape) in the metal as compared to a ductile fracture. Instead, you’ll see smooth snapped edges where the break occurs. In either case, the final stage of metal fatigue is often sudden and without obvious warning signs.

Common Metals That Don’t Rust

When it comes to protecting and maintaining metal, the most constant battle encountered will be against rust. Rust compromises a metal’s chemical characteristics, eventually leading to its disintegration. And even if it doesn’t progress to a destructive point, it’s just not very appealing on an aesthetic level. The distinctive orange-brown of rust forming on metal can make it look old and shabby long before its time. So one of the best solutions to this problem is to eliminate it from the start: choosing a metal that won’t rust.

Common rust-free metals include:

  • Aluminum
  • Stainless steel
  • Red metals (copper, brass, and bronze)
  • Galvanized steel

Aluminum

Aluminum and aluminum alloys cannot rust because they contain no to very little iron, and ‘true’ rust is made up of iron oxide. That doesn’t make aluminum indestructible, since it can still oxidize when exposed to water. But unlike iron oxide which will wear away at the underlying metal, the forming of aluminum oxide actually becomes a protective barrier. Once it develops on the aluminum’s surface, the oxide layer will be quite resistant to any additional corrosion.

Stainless steel

Most grades of stainless steel include at least some amount of iron, the element which leads to rust. However, the other alloying elements – particularly chromium – lends it protection to the material. Chromium tends to oxidize very quickly and like aluminum, the resulting oxide then forms a barrier against rust. With this chromium oxide layer in place, oxygen is no longer able to reach and react to the metal underneath. Other alloying elements in stainless steel such as nickel and molybdenum provide resistant to rust development.

Copper, brass, and bronze

Collectively known to as “red metals”, these metals can oxidize without rusting since they contain virtually no iron. Copper is very slow to react to oxygen and other environmental factors, but once corrosion does occur it will gradually turn the bright reddish metal to a verdigris green patina. Brass and bronze are copper alloys, with the dual benefits of copper’s own corrosion resistance and the rust-free properties of alloying elements. Both brass and bronze are even more resistant to corrosion than pure copper.

Galvanized steel

Unlike the other three types mentioned, galvanized steel relies upon the application of a physical barrier to prevent rust. Carbon steel is galvanized after being coated with a thin layer of zinc. After bonding with the surface, any oxidation which does occur becomes zinc oxide. A zinc layer exposed to water will become zinc carbonate, which is water-insoluble and puts a stop to any further chemical reactions. More importantly, whatever oxidation that takes place will affect the wear of the zinc before reaching the steel underneath.

How to Prevent Rust

We’ve all seen rust, whether it’s the dirty-orange flaking off a fence or swing set and marking up your children’s clothes, to the brownish water flowing in houses with old plumbing. But rust isn’t just an annoyance with its unsightly appearance and tendency to stain. For iron equipment and structures, rust can become a real danger when allowed to progress unchecked. In cases such as the Genoa bridge collapse in August 2018, a lack of maintenance to prevent rust and corrosion can lead to deadly consequences.

When it comes to iron corrosion, the equation is simple: oxygen from air or water + iron = rust. The longer iron is left exposed to oxygen, the more quickly and completely it will rust. So when it comes to rust prevention, the best solution is to somehow attempt to keep these elements apart. These methods include:

Materials

A common choice is to attempt to avoid the issue from the start by using steel alloys, weathering steels, or other alloys which contain virtually no iron. These materials are either naturally resistant to rust, or manufactured to be as rust-free as possible. Stainless steel contains at least 11% chromium, which forms a protective film of chromium oxide preventing any further corrosion. Weathering steels may include up to 21% alloying elements like chromium, phosphorus, nickel and copper. In comparison to stainless, weathering steel will form a patina and begin to look to look orange and rusty. However, appearances can be deceiving: unlike the damaging rust formed on iron structures, the rust formed on weathering steel is actually beneficial. The alloying elements stop any internal corrosion with the rust as an outer layer.

Organic coatings

A simple and cost-effective method of preventing rust is paint. Covering a metal item in an overall coat of paint creates a physical barrier between the metal and oxygen. Oil-based paints are usually the preferred option since they contain no water. It’s also appealing because the oil paint adheres better, is durable, and will dry to a more even finish.

Powder coatings

Like paint, a powder coating creates a protective layer to prevent rust. Powders are commonly applied to the steel by using a compressed air sprayer. Once the powder particles are clinging to the object’s surface in an even layer, it’s ready to be heat-cured. This involved placing the object in a hot oven, which will melt and fuse the powder particles into a continuous coat. So while this method involves more time and expense than painting, the biggest advantage of powder coating is its durability. Not only is it rust-resistant, it’s more resistant to chipping, scratching and other wear due to the thermal bonding of the curing process.

Galvanization

Steel is galvanized by applying a layer of zinc, which provides two benefits: it forms a strong physical barrier, and if corrosion does occur, it will affect the outer zinc rather the metal underneath. For items such as car exteriors that will later be painted, electroplating galvanization is used to bond the zinc to the steel. The process will leave the metal with a soft, even shine. For hot-dipping galvanization, the steel is immersed in a bath of molten zinc and dries to a flat finish. Hot-dipped galvanized steel is often preferred for construction projects because the resulting zinc layer may be up to 5 to 10 times thicker with this process. With each layer of zinc comes more protection against rust.

Maintenance

No matter what material is chosen or coating applied, the best protection against rust will always involve continued routine maintenance. Any deposits and dirt on the metal should be cleaned on a regular basis. If any rust does form on the surface, it should be removed it as quickly as possible, with a protective coating applied or re-applied to the item. Neglect means even a structure as strong as a bridge can be destroyed from the corrosive effects of air, water and salt rusting the steel.