Mankind has long been the dominating species on this planet. While not as strong, durable, or quick as other animals, homo sapiens have depended on their ability to utilize tools to make life better. The fabrication and use of steel, for example, has given humans the edge for the thousands of years. As a collective of top-notch structural steel fabricators in Michigan, Sanilac Steel is all about this versatile metal. Our trained experts are here to help your project stay on time and under budget. Since 1967, we’ve provided structural steel design, fabrication, and installation across the state and beyond. You could say steel runs in our blood. Today, we’ll look back through the basics of iron and steel throughout history and the impact that it holds on today’s quality products. By focusing on our customers’ unique needs and providing the steel and services needed, Sanilac Steel is able to provide the most for each client!
Humans have been using steel since roughly 3200 BC, starting with the implementation of tools and weapons after using meteoric iron, or the iron and nickel that comprises a number of meteors in our solar system. Between 600 and 1200 BC, humans developed a system that removed impurities and allowed smelting, unofficially kicking off the Iron Age. Until this point, humans relied on bronze as the metal of choice for many items. What followed this rise was thousands of years of use that depended entirely on the quality of iron ore being mined and the methods being used for extraction and smelting. Until the 1600s, iron was used primarily for hand tools and weapons, the latter of which was becoming increasingly phased out by gunpowder.
As urban populations began to boom in the 1700s, so did the need for safety innovations. Fire, in particular, was a major fear that caused numerous deaths throughout the era. Architects began seeking out better methods of fireproofing structures, which further increased the demand for metalwork. Structural integrity was also focused on thanks to the rigidity and durability of iron over other options of the day. The first I-beam, for example, was introduced in Paris in the mid-1800s and made entirely of wrought iron. The 1800s also saw widespread implementations of railroad tracks that were composed of iron. As architects and engineers pushed to further the effectiveness of structural metal, they began to run into several limitations. Iron was sturdy, yet it proved too weak and soft in the grand scheme for large projects and heavy weight loads. It was also created with a wasteful production process. Innovators were now on the search for a solution to iron’s brittleness.
An English innovator and entrepreneur named Sir Henry Bessemer took out a patent on his steel-making process in 1856. His Bessemer converter introduced oxidation to the molten iron ore to raise its temperature and remove impurities such as carbon and silicon. While Bessemer’s design was not ground-breaking in the industry, it did pave the way for creating a more consistent, speedy process. One issue, though, was that this design was too efficient in removing too much carbon and leaving too much oxygen. Bessemer needed a system that would leave enough carbon in the metal while controlling the level of oxygen left behind. The reason for this comes from an atomic level: Pure iron is made of identical atoms that can slip and move over each other, creating a softer product. Introducing atoms such as carbon (at the right levels) helped to stop the slip, keeping iron atoms more in place and creating a harder metal.
Metallurgy in Action
As Bessemer struggled to find an answer, a British metallurgist named Robert Mushet was working on a third material to help in the process. Manganese was a chemical element that was being tested to more consistently remove carbon and oxygen in order to create a stronger metal. Known as spiegeleisen, the combination of iron, carbon, and manganese set the tone for how steel was to advance. Once this was shared with Bessemer, the building blocks for modern structural steel fabrication were in place.
Modern steel structure design and fabrication has come a long way from the iron products of ancient times. History has illustrated man’s tenacity to create a new advancement in society and continually work to improve. Modern structural steel provides more strength, consistency, and recyclability than ever before. While we are excited to create the best product in the industry, we know that a lot more work was needed between 1856 and today. Next time, we’ll look at the open hearth process and the true value that steel had in our country’s construction. If you are in need of structural steel fabricators for your Michigan project, Sanilac Steel can help! Our top-notch technicians employ the best techniques and skills in the field, from our mobile welding service to installations and more. Contact us today to see what our steel company can do for you!