Stainless steel is one of the most widely used metals for construction materials. Due to its strength, versatility, and recyclability, stainless steel is the go-to metal choice for a variety of projects including architecture, landscaping, interior construction, and engineering.
In this article, we’ll discuss what stainless steel is used for, what it’s made of, types of stainless steel (focusing on the 300 and 400-grade series), and the many cost benefits when choosing your construction materials.
WHAT IS STAINLESS STEEL USED FOR?
Stainless steel is used in hundreds of industries including domestic, architectural, transport, medical, food and drink, and pharmaceutical. Its durability and strength make it ideal for everything from surgical instruments to industrial piping.
There are few industries where you won’t find stainless steel, and it is by far the most popular non-magnetic material option in commercial construction.
WHAT IS STAINLESS STEEL MADE OF?
Stainless steel is a low-carbon steel alloy containing an average of 18% chromium along with varying amounts of silicon and manganese. Chromium gives the steel its durability by hardening and increasing its corrosion resistance in high-heat or oxygenated environments. In some grades, nickel and molybdenum are also present to further increase corrosion resistance.
what ARE THE TYPES OF STAINLESS STEEL?
Stainless steel is divided into five primary categories — all of which come in a variety of grades. The most popular are the 300 and 400 series. The five basic types of stainless steel are:
- Ferritic: Chromium-based with less than 0.10% carbon. Limited in use.
- Austenitic: The most common type of stainless steel with the addition of nickel, manganese, and nitrogen to increase weldability and formability.
- Martensitic: Similar to ferritic, but with a higher carbon concentration. It has high strength but lacks the corrosion resistance of austenitic steel.
- Duplex: Approximately 50% ferritic and 50% austenitic. It's known for its high strength and resistance but is fragile during welding.
- Precipitation Hardening (PH): Comparable to austenitic steels given extremely high strength, with the additions of copper, niobium, and aluminum over an ‘aging’ heat treatment.
The 300 series
The 300 series is made of austenitic steel and offers versatility, corrosion resistance, strength, and extreme temperature resistance.
The most popular grade of the 300 series is Grade 304. Grade 304 is also known as 18/8 due to its composition of 18% chromium and 8% nickel. In addition to the standard benefits of austenitic steel, Grade 304 also showcases recyclability, long life, aesthetic appeal, substantial hygiene, and low maintenance. It also has a low-carbon version known as 304L.
Common uses of Grade 304 include refrigerators, dishwashers, and food processing equipment. It’s also found in chemical containers, heat transfer plates, and construction tools.
The 400 series
The 400 series is made of ferritic and martensitic stainless steel, with the additions of carbon, chromium, and manganese. It also boasts high strength and wear resistance.
The most popular grade of the 400 series is Grade 410. Grade 410 contains 11.5% chromium which makes it extremely strong following heat treatment. This grade is also magnetic when hardened, making it suitable for certain jobs the 300 series cannot do. Grade 410 also tends to be cheaper than Grade 304 due to its low alloy content.
Grade 410 is primarily used in the automobile industry and in part making for refineries and gas and steam components.
What are the cost benefits of stainless steel?
Stainless steel will have a larger initial cost than lesser quality material. However, it’s been shown to have a lower cost over time than other materials due to its superior durability, corrosion resistance, heat resistance, tensile strength, and hygienic benefits.
When chromium is added to stainless steel during the manufacturing process, it combines with oxygen in the air to create a thin protective film over the metal. This film can repair itself if damaged and allows stainless steel to resist corrosion, rust, water stains, and general wear. Any item you construct with stainless steel will have a longer shelf life than items made with inferior, corroding material.
Depending on the grade, certain types of stainless steel can resist scaling and maintain strength at extremely high temperatures. Other varieties of stainless steel are designed to survive long-term cryogenic temperatures.
While not all grades show the same temperature resistance, there is stainless steel to meet the needs of nearly any environment.
All grades of stainless steel have extreme tensile strength. Both cold-hardened and heat-treated stainless are relatively lightweight despite their strength and durability. All grades have high shock resistance and can endure heavy loads.
Thanks to its chemical makeup, stainless steel naturally rejects the growth of bacteria and other pathogens. It’s also extremely easy to clean with a basic wipe down and an all-purpose cleaner. If you’re looking to go the extra mile, you can follow it up with an optional polish too. All the methods above make stainless steel a long-term and low-maintenance solution for hospital-grade tools, cutlery, pharmaceuticals, and other sanitary purposes.
mead metals has the stainless steel you need
With over 200 years of combined experience in the metal industry, Mead Metals is here to help you find the best steel at the best price, no matter how large or small your project.
Whether you are new to stainless steel or an experienced professional, our experts are more than happy to walk you through your options to help you find the perfect grade and series for your purposes.