In many contexts the word steel has become synonymous with strength and durability, qualities illustrated by its use in such arduous industries as automotive, aerospace, construction, electronics and even shipbuilding. While it seems clear from these many uses, many are unaware of the incredible diversity of the material. Rather than one specific iron alloy, the steel family includes hundreds of permutations of the element, each precision designed for optimal performance in variable conditions. On top of this, finishing treatments and processing are commonly used to bolster the capabilities and capacities of steel products such as steel plates, strip and tubing. As much as 30% of all industrial steel products and 45% of specialty steel undergo some type of pre-processing before moving into full scale production. Most of this work is performed by the highly skilled professionals of steel service centers across the nation.
In 1966, James Brown began a ballad with the assertion that ‘this is a man’s world.’ The song goes on telling that men built the cars, trains and other essential elements of modern infrastructure. While this was true at the beginning of the industrial revolution in the late 18th Century, by Brown’s time women played an important role in the industrial workforce. Though much later than the initial movement, the women’s industrial revolution came about at the beginning of WWII. Up until this point the positions suited to the fragile female form were domestic or clerical. With men leaving for war, however, this changed drastically as is demonstrated by one of the most iconic figures of the time: Rosie the Riveter. Depicted as a strong, but womanly sheet metal worker this figure inspired many women of the time to fill industrial vacancies and help to build countless planes, bombshells and other metal components needed in the war effort. Despite demands that they return to domestic roles at the end of the war, the presence of women in the industrial sector has risen steadily ever since. While men may still make up a larger percentage of the workforce in the field of sheet metal fabrication, an increasing number of modern women follow in the footprints of Rosie.
This morning, much like any other morning, the first thing I did was look at my clock, groan and push the snooze button. After the second alarm I got up, put on my glasses and took a look out the window to try and guess at the weather for the day. After getting myself around, I had a glass of water, took one final look in the mirror and headed out to my car. The windshield needed washing, but soon enough I was arriving at my desk here at IQS and looking at my computer screen wondering what to write about this morning. While I realize that my weekday routine may be of little to no interest to most, what I hope to point out is that already this morning I’ve used or encountered glass seven times, eight if you count the glass door I used to enter the building. While environmental concerns often point out the pervasiveness of plastics, glass is one of the most commonly encountered and still overlooked materials. While this, like my routine may seem an insignificant fact, the glass cutting industry is crucial not only to our daily lives, but to our daily safety as well.
Having graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology, I have grown accustomed to the fact that some of the things that I find most fascinating in this world may be a little bland to those around me. Conversations about ancient plant residue, migration theory, bones and ritual oddly enough do not always seem to pan out unless speaking with a professor or classmate. One area of cultural study that reaches beyond this limited group, however, is ceramic manufacturing. Museums around the world cater to public interest showcasing beautiful pots and figurines made of this inorganic, non-metal mineral compound which was first used as long ago as 24,000 BC. Though vast and impressive, our fascination with the material is not limited to its elegant history. The present and prospective future of ceramics introduces as much if not more intrigue than it’s well documented past.
Wire forms are pretty useful. They include every product made from wire, which are thin, long, usually round pieces of metal that are bent and formed into an impressive variety of products-anything from fishing equipment to a microscopic spring to the dish rack by your kitchen sink. While they aren’t exactly renowned for being air or water tight, wire products are lightweight, have excellent air flow, greatly improve accessibility and are inexpensive and easy to fabricate. Humans have been making wire products for hundreds of years, first for jewelry parts, then for products like wire racks, cages, baskets and fencing. Today, wire is fabricated into bulk spools and then shaped and formed by many different processes and machinery. Wire products are usually made in high volumes by automated, CNC operated machines that can produce mass quantities of the same item with an astonishing rate of efficiency.
As you’ve probably noticed, environmental regulations in this country have been getting tighter. Due to a high degree of waste and pollution in the manufacturing process, the green movement is affecting us first and foremost. Within the past decade, the dangers of global warming and greenhouse gas emissions have transformed from hear-say to a huge, pressing problem that is impossible to ignore. The changes and restrictions in recent years and those that are soon to come will change every US industry, whether they like it or not. Regardless of the high cost and struggles it is likely to cause, green manufacturing is no longer just an option. The manufacturing sector wastes energy, pollutes our air and water, and generates mass quantities of solid, liquid and gaseous waste.
Today, most high school curricula focus on the math, reading, history, science and writing skills of every student. Just a few generations ago, this was not the case. Sure several of the students still retained this focus, but nearly half, particularly the female half, learned more ‘practical’ skills such as cooking, sewing and home decoration. Though many schools still offer such courses, to both male and female students, they have largely been dropped from the core curriculum. While equality is most definitely progress, one thing that has not progressed is the sewing skills of much of the next generation of young people. The amount of sewing done in the home or by the local seamstress or tailor has declined along with the roster for home economics and etiquette courses. Virtually every store bought textile, from tote bags to skirts to tablecloths, is produced not by the grandmother hidden in the back room, but by sewing contractors.
For the past year, my younger brother has been backpacking around New Zealand, sleeping in a tent, working on farms and climbing mountains. From the pictures I’ve seen, it’s been an amazing adventure in one of the most naturally beautiful places on Earth. The older sister in me, though, is always a little bit worried. I imagine him scaling the sides of steep rock formations or climbing his way to the top of Mount Cook, and I realize how much more of a thrill seeker he is than me. While I would prefer he take up a more relaxing outdoor sport like fishing, the fact that he’s well equipped for belaying allows my mind to rest easy. Instead of relying on a good grip and foot holding, most rock climbers these days use an effective system consisting of a harness, pulley and belay loop, which are all attached to a sturdy climbing rope. Belaying ensures the climbers won’t fall very far in case they slip off a rock.
High atop the astounding obelisk of the Washington Monument rests a pyramid made of precious materials. Glistening in the early morning sunrise of Washington D.C., this capstone serves as a powerful reminder of the nation’s forefathers and the achievements made by all fellow countrymen. With such an important role in our iconography, one might expect this pyramid to be constructed of extremely valuable materials, and it is or rather, it was. The capstone is made of pure aluminum. While nowadays the word might be more closely associated with kitchen products than prized possessions, it was once as precious as silver. Just as the height of the Washington Monument itself has since been surpassed, however, the price of aluminum likewise waned. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, aluminum remains one of the most versatile and integral metals in modern industry.
Today, as we all well know, judging from the steep spike in green attire and beer buzzes, is St. Patrick’s day. March 17th has been celebrated since the 1600s, at first a strict Catholic holiday honoring Saint Patrick himself. Originally, St. Patrick’s was a day of no drinking-all the bars and pubs in Ireland were closed. Since then, things certainly have changed. In fact, some bars open around the time I get up for work to service the most dedicated of St. Patty’s celebrators. Ireland is well known for its beer and the people who love to drink it. Celebrating their culture must include a tall mug of traditional Irish beer-a stout or porter. These dark, smooth and coffee-like beers have been brewed in Ireland for hundreds of years. In that time, brewing hasn’t changed much. Mostly, the same equipment is used for malting, milling, mashing, fermenting and filtering ingredients that, through these processes, become beer.
Look at the two images below. How do you think those round metal disks are transformed into that perfect, beautiful trophy? Maybe some form of molding or welding, definitely with the use of heat. If that’s your guess…you’re wrong! It’s formed by metal spinning, a process that doesn’t use heat at all and looks just like forming pottery on a wheel, only with metal. It was once considered a true art form that took skill, practice and talent. It might surprise you, but metal spinning has been around since the ancient Egyptians, to form objects like bells, bowls, light fixtures and event trash can lids. Hockey fans should appreciate this process, since the Stanley Cup itself was originally a large goblet made by metal spinning.
Some of the most precious and valuable elements on Earth are buried deep beneath the surface, just waiting to be found. While diamonds, gold and silver are the first that come to mind, lesser known, exotic elements like neodymium, a rare earth magnet, may be the most invaluable of all. It isn’t shiny or beautiful, but this silvery-grey magnet is expensive and highly sought after. Miners crawl deep into open pit mines, thousands of feet below the surface and appear with truckloads of the unimpressive looking chunks of metal. The raw element is shipped in large steel barrels to a manufacturing facility, where it is finely ground into powder and pressed into high temperature molds. Neodymium exhibits some extraordinary and unusual properties. When compounded with iron and boron, this magnet creates a magnetic field up to 25 times more powerful than those made from standard ferrites. It has exceptional resistance to demagnetization, and very small volumes provide the best performance of any magnet out there.
With the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics well underway, newsrooms around the globe follow a rising medals count. The elite athletes participating in the games and their eager nations watching from afar hope for the fulfillment of the ultimate Olympic dream, standing atop the podium as a gold, silver or bronze medal is draped around their neck. For many of the more than 5,500 Olympians representing more than 80 nations, receiving a medal will remain a dream, an ambition for future feats of athleticism perhaps. For a select 615 individuals, however, that dream will become a realization. 615 is the exact number of medallions created at The Royal Canadian Mint for the XXI Olympic Winter Games. Each of these was produced through unique metal stamping processes creating one of a kind medals for each athlete’s one of a kind moment.
Almost all the metals we use today-silver, aluminum, brass, even steel-are alloys, a homogenous mix of a metal and one or more other substances that enhances or changes its properties. In fact, very few metals are actually put to use in their pure form. From ancient times till now, humans have been experimenting and engineering alloys so they exhibit certain properties for thousands of years. There are literally an infinite number of combinations, all resulting in very different structural properties. In a way, metals and elements team up, work together and pool their strengths to make different metallic substances. Alloys may be a homogenous solid solution, a heterogeneous mix of tiny crystals or a true chemical compound.
Wire mesh is a pretty useful household material-not only does it help wash foods and drain pasta, it keeps pesky bugs out while allowing a cool summer breeze in. It functions decoratively inside cabinets and protects furniture and people from flying embers in a fireplace. It’s found in all sorts of filtration systems, vents, sifters and screens to keep the air/water flowing and the dust and particles trapped. For a moment, think about a world without any wire mesh. Bugs flying freely indoors and dirt in our water, life would be a lot filthier and less sanitary. Wire mesh is essentially composed of a series of thin, perpendicular wires that are woven or welded together. These two manufacturing processes determine the strength, complexity, and different applications in which wire mesh is used.
Many of the strongest metal products available today like knives, swords, train parts, die casting molds and musical instruments are made of extremely resistant, durable and tough materials. Although metals like steel and iron are the best metals for the job, sometimes they need a little help to obtain the desired hardness and strength properties for the tough jobs that the automotive, weapons, transportation and military industries have in mind. In order to make these metals even stronger than they already are, the products and parts are altered physically, mechanically and even chemically to obtain certain properties.
When asked about the mineral graphite, one image likely comes to mind: a pencil. This soft, dark grey, greasy material, also called black lead and plumbago, has been used to jot down notes and draw pictures for hundreds of years. Its name is even derived from the Latin term for ‘to draw/write.’ Graphite is only found in a handful of places around the world, including Africa, the British Isles and a couple of U.S. states-including my home state of Michigan. There are 3 main types of natural graphite that are all found in different types of ore deposit. Crystalline graphite is flat with hexagonal edges, amorphous graphite is very thin and flakey, and lump graphite is found in veins of fractures underground. The first pencil was composed of sticks of graphite tied together with string. As you can imagine, this early writing utensil wasn’t exactly user friendly, but it could easily be erased with rubber. It wasn’t until much later that the modern pencil-the wooden kind with a pink eraser top that we use today-became popular.
Believe it or not, the manufacturing process that creates plastic products like plugs, handles and caps is one of the oldest known human professions. The ancient art of candle making, which dates back as early as 3,000 BC, used the process of dip coating to make candles out of beeswax and animal fat. Since then, it surprisingly hasn’t changed much. Plastic wasn’t widely used until the 20th century, but soon after it started replacing materials like glass and ivory, manufacturers experimented with melting down thermoplastics like Plastisol. They found that by applying the candle dip coating method to modern day products, melted plastic resins provide a strong, resistant and protective coating that is used in dozens of industries.
Aren’t we all familiar with that achy pain after getting home from work some days? We feel it in our necks, backs, the soles of our feet or various joints. Whether in an office, commercial, or industrial environment, repetitive motion all day in a standing or sitting position has the tendency to do that. This is why ergonomics is so important in the workplace, and why OSHA has a four-pronged comprehensive approach to ergonomics. Since, in the broadest terms, workstations are used in office, IT, home, school, and manufacturing settings, OSHA has specific workstation guidelines, such as ones for computer workstations.
In the most general terms, the function of any kind of seal is to block the passage of liquids or gases. Rubber seals can be either static or dynamic. A static seal does not move and simply contains pressure or maintains a vacuum. The purpose of dynamic seals, however, is to reciprocate a give-and-take with mechanical motion, like for pistons and cylinders or rotating shafts. Mechanical seals are essential components of hydraulic and pneumatic systems, in which constantly moving mechanisms can be under extreme stress. Along with preventing leakage and protecting against contaminants, the mechanical seal helps maintain pressure levels in high temperature, pressure and speed applications.