If a product is not made of steel, the chances are that it will be made from a machine made of steel. Steel is all around us; your car, your phone, your fridge – even the plastic and glass bottles you have inside your fridge – they are all made either of steel, or manufactured using steel tools. Plastic car parts, glasses and computer chassis are all manufactured in moulds made of steel. Steel is essential in our modern world.
Tools and machinery cover a wide range of equipment from small workshop tools to large factory-based robotic machinery and rolling mills. In 2017, tools and machinery represented approximately 15 % of global steel use.
In construction, steel provides equipment such as cranes, drills, bulldozers, scaffolding and reusable and portable shelters used on construction sites.
In agriculture, from basic hoes, shovels and forks, to modern ploughs, irrigation systems and grain storage silos, steel is there every step of the way, making agriculture easier and more efficient. Agriculture without steel is unimaginable. From tilling the land and planting seeds to watering, harvesting, storing and transporting crops, steel is vital. Steel also facilitates the feeding, shelter and transportation of livestock. The machines and equipment that process what we eat and drink are also made with steel.
Almost every form of human communication uses steel in some way. Newspapers and books could not be created without steel presses. Computers and pens contain steel and are produced using steel equipment. Postal systems around the world depend on steel sorting equipment and infrastructure to deliver our letters and packages. Steel is there even when we make a telephone call, all along the line. Radio transmitters are the basis of many of our methods of communication; they are used in baby monitors, toys, mobile telephones, radar, and satellites. Car and truck production make extensive make use of steel-made robots.
Steels used for manufacturing of parts are commonly called “tool steels”.1 They differ from other steels by their special performance, which is achieved through applying specific alloy contents and microstructures. This gives them unique properties such as high hardness and resistance to heat, wear and corrosion. This is necessary in order to shape and form often millions of parts for the end products each with the same quality and tolerance. One example is a press for a car body part. The tool steel used to shape the car part must be harder than the steel it shapes and it must last a long time without breaking or wearing down.
Tool steels are used for different manufacturing applications. They include cold work steel, hot work steel and plastics moulding steel:
- Cold work tooling is the forming and creation of products made of cold materials. Punching, drawing, forming, pressing and extrusion are just some of the applications used. The door of your car is likely made by a press using a cold work steel and so is the stainless steel in your kitchen white goods.
- Hot work tooling: these steels must be heat resistant and must not melt or be deformed by the extreme heat. Typical applications are die casting, forging, extrusion and hot stamping.
- Plastic moulding shapes plastic parts for every-day products such as bottles, casings for TVs, telephones and, well, nearly every plastic object in your surroundings. These steels are responsible for the look and feel of the parts. The surface of the tool has to be “defect free”, which requires special processes in the melt shop. Without plastic extrusion, blow moulding and injection moulding, our homes would look quite different.
Steel is 100% recyclable. This means that when you scrap your car, its steel may very well be recycled not just into your new car, but may also be found in the robots used to manufacture the car itself. Recycling saves both natural resources and energy and the more steel is recycled the more the environment is preserved.
Source: Böhler Uddeholm