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In 1913, when steel researchers were experimenting with different types and qualities of alloys, Harry Brearley, in Sheffield, England, discovered stainless steel. While experimenting with increasing levels of chromium, he found out that at over 12 percent chromium, the steel gained an exceptional resistance to acid corrosion. It was his work that found the foundation for the development of a range of steel grades particularly resistant to corrosion.
By the late 1920’s, two types of stainless steel had been found to be most versatile and useful; martensitic stainless steel (chromium content of 13-18 percent) and austenitic stainless steel (18 percent chromium and 8 percent nickel). Today, stainless steel is a generic term given for a group of corrosion resistant steels containing a minimum of 10.5 percent of chromium, which creates a passive, self renewing film of chromium oxide around the steel at the atomic level, thereby impeding the iron from rusting.
Technical development over the decades has followed two paths: the incremental improvement of the standard grades invented in the 1920s as well as the development of entirely new grades. However, the core attributes of stainless steel i.e. strength, heat and corrosion resistance, strength; formability, aesthetic appearance and low maintenance have not changed with technical developments. Stainless steel producers still continue to do research into chemical composition, innovations in stainless steel making technologies, new rolling technologies, quality control and lower costs.
All stainless steels have a high resistance to corrosion. Low alloyed grades resist corrosion in atmospheric conditions; highly alloyed grades can resist corrosion in most acids, alkaline solutions, and chloride bearing environments, even at elevated temperatures and pressures
Some grades will resist scaling and maintain high strength at very high temperatures, while others show exceptional toughness at cryogenic temperatures.
The cold work hardening properties of many stainless steels can be used in design to reduce material thickness and reduce weight and costs. Other stainless steels may be heat treated to make very high strength components.
Stainless steel is available in many surface finishes. It is easily and simply maintained resulting in a high quality, pleasing appearance. With the help of electro chemical process it can be produced in a number of colours including gold, bronze, green, blue and black.
The cleanability of stainless steel makes it the first choice in hospitals, kitchens, food and pharmaceutical processing facilities
Stainless steel is a low maintenance material and is often the least expensive choice in a life cycle cost comparison.