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The Steel Series: Steel 101

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

Steel can be considered as the backbone of our modern civilization. From its uses in buildings, infrastructure, automobile to machines, there is hardly a field where steel does not contribute. In this series, we will explore steel and what makes it such a vital alloy.

What is Steel?

What we call steel is simply an alloy of iron with a percentage of carbon. An alloy is the combination of any two or more metals with other elements in order to change in the properties of the existing metal. In the case of steel, the addition of carbon will change the hardness, quenching behavior, tensile strength among other properties of the iron. This change can vary by the percentage of carbon added which can range between 0.002% to 2% by weight. In addition to carbon, other elements can be added such as manganese, nickel, tungsten, and titanium to improve the qualities of the steel. This versatility in properties coupled with the abundance of its raw materials and low cost of extracting, processing, and manufacturing is what makes steel integral in all aspects of our modern life. The following chart shows the usage of still in the different sectors

(Courtesy of World Steel)

Codes and Standards of Steel

Due to the wide range of possibilities when alloying steel, the following are some of the bodies that provide codes and standards on the composition, application, and specification of any steel:

· American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)

· American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)

· Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)

· American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI)

We will explore each of them in a future article.

Steel Globally

Crude steel production grew from around 180 million tons in the 1950s to up to 1.8 billion tons in 2019 worldwide. To put this number in perspective, production of aluminum, which is the second most important industrial metal, was around 63 million tons. The following map illustrates the crude steel production in August 2020, where the bubble size corresponds to the production amount.

(Courtesy of World Steel)

The top 5 producers are China, India, Japan, United States and Russia. China’s production dwarfs the rest of the world production by making more than 50% of global production. As for Turkey, its steel production has been around 33 million tons annually, which puts at as the 8th largest producer. On the other hand, the top global importers are United States, Germany, Italy, Thailand, and South Korea. The following chart shows the monthly production of the top 5 countries over the period from January 2019-August 2020.

(Courtesy of World Steel)

When looking deeper at exported steel products in 2019, more than half are made of hot-rolled sheets and coils (18%), Ingots and semi-finished material (14%), galvanized sheets (10%), and steel tubes and fittings (9%).

Steel and Sustainability

Steel is one of the most environmentally friendly materials due to its high recyclability, with the added benefit of not losing any of its qualities or performance after recycling, which means it can almost be used forever. The recyclable steel is called scrap steel and it can easily be recovered using magnetic separation, which is simply utilize magnets to separate the materials. The main sources of scrap steel are pre-consumer and post-consumer scrap.

In order to make the most out of steel, international bodies such as International Code Council (ICC) with their International Green Construction Code (IgCC) and USGBS LEED provide guidelines and certifications for green buildings and projects.

The infograhpic by BuildSteel sums up why steel is such a sustainable material.


In our first installment of the series, we got an overview of what makes steel, a quick look at some of the industries codes and standards, how much steel is produced globally and lastly the sustainability aspect of using steel. In our next part, we will cover the types and grades of steel, so stay tuned. You can check the rest of our posts here.

CERM-EX is Turkey’s market-leading structural steel company, the home of world-class engineering and design excellence. Please feel free to check Our Services or Contact Us.


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