The Surprising Story of Steel

Here at GWR Engineering, we’ve dedicated ourselves to working with one of the most remarkable materials on Earth: steel. We use steel to produce high-quality pressings, skips and waste management solutions. We’re equipped to manufacture products for many sectors, including construction, prefabricated buildings and enclosures, steel tanks, trailers, automotive, and more. But steel’s story goes far beyond its immense strength and versatility. It’s a material steeped in history, innovation, and a surprising number of fascinating facts. In this blog, we’ll explore steel’s ancient origins, surprising uses, and the cutting-edge advancements that continue to shape our world.

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Stacked sheets of corrugated steel in a warehouse

Steel’s Ancient Origins:

While modern steel production is a marvel of industrial engineering, the history of steel goes surprisingly far back. Evidence suggests rudimentary forms of steel were produced as early as 3000 BC in Mesopotamia! By the time of the Tang dynasty – in the 7th-10th centuries AD – steel agricultural tools were already widespread.

Not All Steel is Created Equal:

Steel isn’t just one type of metal. By varying the carbon content and adding different alloying elements, manufacturers can create hundreds of steel grades, each with unique properties tailored for specific applications. The World Steel Association estimates that there are now more than 3,500 steel grades. Remarkably, three-quarters of them were developed in the 21st century.

Worker welding in an industrial steel fabrication shop

The Recycling Champion:

Steel is one of the most recycled materials on Earth. It can be recycled and reused an infinite number of times with almost no loss in volume or deterioration of its physical properties. Over 63% of steel scrap is recycled annually, making it a sustainable and eco-friendly material choice. This recycling process also uses significantly less energy compared to virgin steel production. The World Steel Association reports that this helps to reduce annual global CO2 emissions by almost 1 billion tonnes. This is a considerable volume, comparable to the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the EU’s entire transport system.

Interior of a steel manufacturing warehouse with stacks of metal and a forklift

Lighter and Stronger:

Modern steel production techniques allow manufacturers to create high-strength, lightweight steel. This has revolutionised industries like automotive and aerospace, where lighter vehicles translate to better fuel efficiency and performance.

Since 2000, global steel production has expanded by 1 billion tonnes. China is the largest steel producer at 996.3 million tonnes, and India is in second place at 111.2 million tonnes. To put things in perspective, it’s estimated that 548 Eiffel Towers could be built with one day’s worth of current steel production. Furthermore, the global steel industry currently employs 6 million people, and each steel industry job creates more than eight jobs in related industries.

Welder working inside a large steel container in a factory

Steel Under the Sea:

While you might not expect it, specially formulated steel plays a vital role in undersea exploration and construction. Corrosion-resistant steel allows us to build submarines, oil rigs, and other structures that can withstand the immense pressures and harsh environment of the deep ocean. Submarines require a special type of steel called high-nickel steel. This steel has a much higher nickel content than regular steel to maintain its strength and ductility at the crushing depths submarines encounter.

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