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Stainless Steel Uses in Energy and Heavy Industries


While we are all extremely familiar with many of the everyday applications of stainless steel, such as cutlery and kitchen appliances, not everyone is aware that stainless steel alloys are in fact a common fixture in nearly every industry. Because of the unique properties of certain types of steel, which is made up of carbon-reinforced iron, it is especially useful in heavy industries, such as the energy industry.

Famed for its corrosion resistance, stainless steel offers much more than just a single benefit. Its advantages include a high strength-to-weight ratio, excellent formability, and low maintenance requirements. The metal is also highly recyclable, and is very efficient to work with, cutting down on material costs and the total amount of labor involved.

What are the different kinds of stainless steel?

Did you know there are over 150 different grades of stainless steel? That means that no matter what your application, there’s likely to be an alloy that’s just what you are looking for. Of course, the majority of industrial uses only rely on the 15 most common grades, but even so, the tremendous specialization that can be found in stainless steel allows manufacturers a great deal of flexibility.

The large number of alloys can make it difficult to distinguish between them all. Adding to the complexity, there are actually a number of different categorization systems in use. The most common system for us in the United States is known as the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) steel grades system. It dates back to the 1930’s.

For example, the most common stainless steel alloy is referred to as SAE 304, or simply 304. But under the other grade standards, it is known as 1.4301 (this is its EN-standard number), X5CrNi18-10 (this is its EN-standard name), and S30400 (its name under the Unified Numbering System). All of this competing nomenclature can be downright confusing at times, so be sure to ask for clarification.

Another way of categorizing stainless steel is according to what family it belongs to. There are five different families of stainless steel, which cover its major properties. The largest family is austenitic, meaning steel that has a face-centered cubic crystal structure and accounts for more than 70% of stainless steel production. The other families are ferritic, martensitic, duplex steel, and precipitation hardening steel.

What makes Stainless Steel well suited for heavy industries?

While stainless steel’s use in every day applications such as cutlery, medical devices, and automobiles has been well documented, heavy industry is also an area that has been transformed by the proliferation of this revolutionary metal. When we’re talking about heavy industry, we’re referring to any sector that relies on large equipment, facilities, and complexes. Traditionally, this has included large-scale construction, steelmaking, mining, shipbuilding, and aircraft manufacturing. It also involves energy production and refining, as with oil and gas, hydroelectric, and nuclear power, along with long distance energy transmission.

When it comes to applications in the energy industry, one of the primary concerns is corrosion resistance. This is because materials are frequently (and sometimes constantly) exposed to high temperatures, harsh environments, and radiation. Oxidation resistance becomes a critical concern, as the lifetime for energy generation facilities, which represent huge investments for the owners, are expected to exceed fifty or more years in many cases.

Different grades and alloys offer varying levels of resistance to corrosion, so understanding the full range of requirements is important before selecting a specific material. For instance, grade 304 offers a high level of all around corrosion resistance, one of the reasons it is the most popular stainless steel alloy available on the market. However, when it comes to marine environments, 304 is particularly vulnerable to the corrosive effects of saltwater. If this is a consideration, such as in the shipbuilding industry, then you would probably choose stainless steel 316 as an alternative.

What are some stainless steel applications in the energy and heavy industries?

One of the aspects of stainless steel that makes it most appealing is its extreme formability. Because it has a high strength-to-weight ratio, stainless steel can be used to make extremely strong and stable structures that are the requirements of the large facilities found in heavy industries. Whether you are building wind towers, oil refineries, or nuclear reactors, stainless steel is indispensible because it won’t corrode at high temperatures and is extremely durable.

Another area of the energy industry that relies on stainless steel is resource extraction, for example with offshore platforms. These large structures must be strong enough to endure high winds, strong waves, and constant tidal motion, while also being able to withstand the highly corrosive seawater. Stainless steel is also commonly employed in pipelines that transport oil and natural gas over long distances.

When it comes to construction, stainless steel is again essential to today’s industry. Not only is it a material used frequently in the buildings themselves, but the heavy equipment and machinery used to transfer materials and put together the buildings also rely on stainless steel. Steel structures, because of the material’s versatility, can be built quickly, even when unique shapes and designs are required. It is also an easily recyclable material, which is an added benefit in construction that can help reduce costs significantly.

Other examples of energy applications that rely on stainless steel include power turbines, pylons, wind turbines, transmission towers, electromagnets, transformers, and electromagnetic shields.


Clinton Aluminum and Stainless Steel does more than just supply raw materials. We take pride in our ability to act as partners, working with our clients to select just the right material for every job. Our experienced team will consult with you during every step of the process to ensure that the finished product is to your specifications. By sharing our knowledge of industry best practices, we help our customers save both time and money.

As the Midwest’s leading supplier of aluminum and stainless steel products, Clinton’s success rests on our commitment to working closely with our customers. Please contact a member of our knowledgeable and friendly staff today to learn more about what Clinton Aluminum and Stainless Steel has to offer.

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