How Stainless Steel Is Made

From automotive engines and bicycles to hammers, screwdrivers and industrial machines, countless products are made of stainless steel. Over the past century, stainless steel has become increasingly common. You can now find it nearly everywhere you look. Even with its unparalleled level of popularity, though, many people don’t know how it’s made. If you’re wondering how stainless steel is made, keep reading to learn more about this common and popular steel alloy, including its method of production.

What Is Stainless Steel?

Also known as inox steel or simply “inox,” stainless steel is an alloy consisting primarily of iron, chromium and carbon. Steel isn’t technically a metal. Rather, it’s an alloy of iron. Stainless steel is comprised mostly of iron, though it also contains chromium as well as carbon. While the exact ratio of these compounds can vary, it’s not uncommon for steel to contain 11% chromium and 1.2% carbon, with the remainder consisting of iron.

A defining characteristic of stainless steel is the presence of chromium. Chromium, even when used in small amounts, offers protection against rust and corrosion. When applied over the surface of stainless steel, chromium prolongs its life by protecting against rust and corrosion. Without chromium, oxygen and moisture will trigger oxidation with the iron within stainless steel, resulting in the metal’s gradual degradation.

The Steps to Making Stainless Steel

So, how is stainless steel made exactly? While different companies use different methods to produce stainless steel, most use a similar process that involves smelting the materials in a large furnace and then forming the molten materials into stainless steel.

To make stainless steel, a company will first place iron, chromium and carbon in a large furnace where they are heated. The molten materials are then cast into bars, billets or blocks. Next, they are further processed, typically by hot rolling, where the materials are manipulated into the desired shape and size.

After being processed, the stainless steel is descaled. Descaling is necessary because, during the previous steps, scale forms on the metal. Descaling is a process that lives up to its namesake by removing scale.

This is just a basic overview of the steel-making process. Steel can be made in countless other ways, some of which are faster, whereas others are longer and more tedious. Regardless, though, all stainless steel is made by smelting a combination of iron, carbon and chromium, the latter of which is responsible for protecting against rust and corrosion. Without chromium, it wouldn’t be stainless steel. Rather, it would be traditional steel.

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