Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon and other elements. Because of its high tensile strength and low cost, it is a major component used in buildings, infrastructure, tools, ships, automobiles, machines, appliances, and weapons.
Iron is the base metal of steel. Iron is able to take on two crystalline forms (allotropic forms), body centered cubic (BCC) and face centered cubic (FCC), depending on its temperature. In the body-centred cubic arrangement, there is an iron atom in the centre of each cube, and in the face-centred cubic, there is one at the center of each of the six faces of the cube. It is the interaction of the allotropes of iron with the alloying elements, primarily carbon, that gives steel and cast iron their range of unique properties.
While the early ages used stone, bronze, and iron, it was steel that fired the industrial revolution. As per archaeological excavations, earliest known production of steel dates back to 4,000 years. The invention of Bessemer Process (a technique for creating steel using molten pig iron) paved the way for the mass production of steel, making it one of the biggest industries on the planet. Now steel is used in the creation of everything from bridges to skyscrapers.
When iron is smelted from its ore, it contains more carbon than is desirable. To become steel, it must be reprocessed to reduce the carbon to the correct amount, at which point other elements can be added. In the past, steel facilities would cast the raw steel product into ingots which would be stored until use in further refinement processes that resulted in the finished product. In modern facilities, the initial product is close to the final composition and is continuously cast into long slabs, cut and shaped into bars and extrusions and heat treated to produce a final product. Today only a small fraction is cast into ingots. Approximately 96% of steel is continuously cast, while only 4% is produced as ingots.
The ingots are then heated in a soaking pit and hot rolled into slabs, billets, or blooms. Slabs are hot or cold rolled into sheet metal or plates. Billets are hot or cold rolled into bars, rods, and wire. Blooms are hot or cold rolled into structural steel, such as I-beams and rails. In modern steel mills these processes often occur in one assembly line, with ore coming in and finished steel products coming out. Sometimes after a steel’s final rolling it is heat treated for strength, however this is relatively rare.