When it comes time to pick a material for your product or manufacturing process, characteristics such as weight, strength, corrosion resistance, and cost are usually top of mind. That is what has made stainless steel such an important metal for the past one hundred years. With so many alloys to choose from, there most likely is a stainless steel that is perfect for your application at a cost that makes sense. And one of the top options you will want to consider is alloy 304.
SAE 304 stainless steel was first developed in 1924 by Firth Brown Steels. It is the most widely used austenite steel available today. It is also known as A2 stainless steel or 18/8 stainless steel, because the main alloying agents are chromium (at around 18%) and nickel (around 8%). Its creator was Dr. W. H. Hatfield, who during the pre-war period was responsible for a number of advancements in steel alloys, including 18/8 with titanium added, which we today call alloy 321. But no work of his left more of a legacy than the development of SAE 304.
What are the Properties of 304 Stainless Steel?
The most important characteristic of 304 stainless steel is that its what is known as an austenitic material, which means it is a metallic, non-magnetic iron allotrope with an alloying element. It has a eutectoid point that occurs at 727°C (1,341°F). The austenite allotrope exists at room temperature in stainless steel and was named for Sir William Chandler Roberts-Austen.
The variety of 304 sheet that Clinton Aluminum has in stock is known as 304L #4 finish stainless steel sheet. Because of its low carbon content, it is generally safe for use in most welding operations common in construction and other industries, as the formation of carbide precipitation that occurs during welding is minimized. 304 also shows excellent rust resistance and low intergranular corrosion. Unless your particular application is going to require stress relief, 304 does not need annealing after the welding has been performed.
304L #4 is also known for its superior machinability and formability. This allows 304 steel to be stamped and deep drawn for a variety of applications, including sinks, saucepans, and other hollowware. Furthermore, its low yield strength and high elongation allow 304 to form all manner of complex shapes. It hardens rapidly, so after shaping it only requires air cooling, an important factor in its affordability and efficiency. If necessary, after spinning or forming it is possible to perform stress relief annealing or full annealing to your specifications.
304 stainless steel is non-magnetic and it offers low electrical and thermal conductivity. It does have a higher corrosion resistance than many other stainless steel alloys. Additionally, its weldability, as mentioned above, lends it to a number of commercial welding methods, including fusion and resistance welding. When forming 304 stainless steel, uniform temperatures are required, between 2300°F and 1700°F. Clinton aluminum offers 304 in thicknesses between 0.0178 and 0.1874 and widths from 48 to 60 inches, all the way up to 144 inches in length.
Another leading feature of 304 alloy is its versatility. It is suitable for a wide range of manufacturing applications, the reason why it is so popular across so many industries. Its resistance to intergranular corrosion, which is normally a byproduct of stress relieving or welding, makes it suitable for products that would otherwise not be able to use stainless steel. Although it can’t be used with heat treatment, the metal can be made both harder and stronger via a cold working process. 304L #4 is one of your best options if faced with a corrosive environment or heat-affected zone.
What are Some Common Applications for 304 Stainless Steel?
Because of its popularity, it’s harder to find an industry or sector that doesn’t employ 304 stainless steel sheets. To qualify as sheet, it must be less than a quarter of an inch thick throughout the entire width. The stainless steel is passed through rollers until it reaches the desired dimensions and thickness. Some of the most common applications for stainless steel sheet include household items and fixtures. In particular, its high corrosion resistance makes it a leading choice for industries such as textiles, chemical, food, transportation, and aerospace.
You will find this alloy in sinks, the common coils in vaporizers, screws, automobiles, water filtration devices, machinery parts, food processing equipment, airplanes, rockets, construction, dyeing equipment, chemical containers, and heat exchangers. It is also likely that 304 will be found being used for nuts, bolts, screws, and other types of fasteners in marine applications.
Of course, corrosion resistance is not only a consideration for heavy industry. Food is also a common source of corrosion due to the high acid content in items such as fruit and meat. For this reason, stainless steel is a first choice for items including sinks, tabletops, coffee pots, stoves, refrigerators, and liquid dispensers. One of the most common uses of 304 stainless steel has traditionally been for kitchen utensils, including pots, pans, and flatware.
A Trusted Technical Partner
Clinton Aluminum is more than just a supplier of stainless steel sheet. We pride ourselves on working with our clients to help them select just the right material and will even consult with you on process, sharing our knowledge of industry best practices. The members of our sales team and our warehouse managers have an average of nearly 13 years working for Clinton. This means that they understand the industry and their experience is a huge benefit to our customers.
Clinton Aluminum is recognized as the Midwest’s leading supplier of aluminum and stainless steel products. We want to work with our customers as a partner rather than just sell you a product. We can even save you time and money by shipping materials that are as close to the desired size as possible. This is thanks to our diverse array of processing equipment that we keep on site.
Please contact a member of our knowledgeable and friendly staff today to learn more about how Clinton Aluminum can help!