How Modern Steel is Made

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How Modern Steel is Made

At Wasatch Steel, we’re proud of our creative processes for steel, one of the most widely used metals in the modern world. When you buy steel from us, you know you’re getting a product that took minimal energy to produce, took low emissions to create and is viable for an enormous variety of projects and uses.

How is steel made? Some of the answer here requires us to go back in history and learn about its formation. Let’s take a look.

Iron History and Steel Composition

Iron is the fourth-most abundant element on earth, making up more than 5 percent of the earth’s crust. Humans started producing iron in around 2000 BC in Asia, marking the beginning of the iron age that saw iron replace bronze for tools and weapons.

In the Middle Ages, a new type of iron using higher temperatures was developed – this was called cast iron. Iron formed the material basis for the human civilization for thousands of years.

Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon, one that can also contain small quantities of other elements. Carbon content in steel ranges between 0.08 percent and 1.5 percent. Steel is harder than wrought iron, but not as brittle as cast iron. It has a unique balance of hardness, flexibility, and tensile strength.

Modern Steel Creation

Today, steel is made by heating iron ore and melting it in furnaces, where impurities are removed and carbon is added. There are two primary processes for this:

Blast Furnaces

The blast furnace was invented in the 1850s, and the modern version of it feeds iron ore, coke, and limestone from the top. These sink down toward the bottom, getting hotter as they descend. Gas from burning coke releases oxygen from the iron ore. Limestone reacts with impurities in the ore and coke, forming a slag. Molten slag floats on top of molten steel, allowing it to be drained via a notch in the furnace.

Electric Air Furnaces

Electric air furnaces, or EAFs, are mainly used to create special quality steels meant to alloy with other metals. They do not use hot metal, instead of scrapping steel from recycled products. A range of special steels can be produced this way, with the most widely-used being stainless steel.

For more on how steel is made, or to learn about any of our steel services, speak to the pros at Wasatch Steel today.