In modern times
However, the large-scale production of steel as we know it today began during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century as a fundamental material in the development of the global industry and economy. Thanks to its strength, steel was employed in the construction of machinery and industrial equipment, such as locomotives, railway cars, ships, and bridges, enabling the construction of large buildings and structures like skyscrapers and suspension bridges, which were previously unimaginable with traditional materials like wood and stone. This allowed for increased urbanization and the expansion of cities.
The use of steel also improved production efficiency, as steel machinery could work faster and more reliably than wooden or iron counterparts. This massive process made the material more affordable and accessible, opening new opportunities for industry and the global economy. One of the early steel production processes was the “Bessemer process,” invented by British scientist Henry Bessemer in 1856. The process revolutionized steel production, making it more cost-effective and efficient. The technique involved injecting compressed air through molten iron, thus removing carbon impurities and creating high-carbon steel.
The adoption of the Bessemer process allowed for large-scale production of low-cost steel, paving the way for increased production of steel equipment, machinery, and tools. This had a significant impact on the industry and the global economy, contributing to the growth of the industrial era and the expansion of infrastructure worldwide. Despite its advantages, the Bessemer process had some limitations: the method was not suitable for the production of specialty steels or specific steel alloys, as it removed all alloying elements present in the molten iron. However, through combination with other technologies and ongoing innovation, the process was perfected, allowing for specialized production of high-performance steels.
Subsequently, other methods for steel production were developed, such as the Thomas-Gilchrist and Siemens-Martin processes. The Thomas-Gilchrist process, developed in 1877 by Robert Forester Mushet, Sidney Gilchrist Thomas, and Percy Carlyle Gilchrist, involved the removal of phosphorus from molten iron through the addition of lime and foaming agents that reacted with phosphorus to form slag, which was then removed. The Siemens-Martin process, developed by Carl Wilhelm Siemens and Pierre-Émile Martin in the late 19th century, involved melting iron together with cast iron and foaming agents in an open-hearth furnace to remove impurities. Subsequently, the material was transferred to a Siemens-Martin furnace where it was refined through the addition of oxygen. Both processes played a crucial role in steel production in the 19th and 20th centuries, making it more efficient, cost-effective, and specialized.
As industrial evolution and production increased, it became increasingly necessary to develop different alloys to meet specific needs. Various types of steel emerged through a refining process. Carbon steel is the most common type and is primarily composed of iron and carbon. It is used in many industrial applications, such as building construction, bridges, ships, and machinery. Stainless steel, on the other hand, contains a significant amount of chromium, which provides corrosion resistance. This type of steel is used in applications where corrosion resistance is critical, such as the chemical industry and the production of medical equipment. Alloy steel is composed of iron and other elements, such as nickel, chromium, manganese, and molybdenum, to enhance mechanical properties like strength, hardness, and toughness. This type of steel is used in high-strength applications such as the production of aerospace engine parts and defense structures. Finally, tool steel consists of high-quality alloys that improve wear resistance and toughness, making it suitable for the production of tools such as drill bits, saw blades, and metalworking molds.
In conclusion, steel has been and continues to be a fundamental element of our modern society. Its versatility, strength, and durability make it one of the most important materials used in many industrial and domestic applications. Its production and development have represented a true technological revolution that has allowed the construction of magnificent structures such as skyscrapers, bridges, and ships, as well as everyday objects like cutlery, tools, and automobiles. The continuous research and development of new alloys and steel production methods have consistently increased its properties and adapted it to the ever-growing specific needs of various applications. Without steel, many of the achievements of our modernity would not have been possible, and it will continue to be an indispensable element in building our future.