The funny thing about industrial materials is that they can be utilized in ways the average consumer would never think possible. Thankfully, it is not average consumers but innovative industrial minds that are constantly stretching the boundaries of applications for various products, creating new forms for materials that will benefit new markets. Not only does this mean more jobs and financial security for certain material industries, such as powdered metal, but it also means that technological advancements are never neglected but always being pursued. This developmental phenomenon can sometimes take shape in extremely unexpected business arenas. For example, aluminum powder parts, which are an innovation in and of themselves, are being utilized within the cosmetic industry as well as the manufacturing of metal parts for automotives, electronics and medical instruments, among other products.
We measure the significance of moments in history based on their placement relative to technological advancements. In other words, moments in history draw their significance from their proximity to other significant events and advancements. Our method of periodizing ancient history, for example, confines entire epochs based on the development and use of technologies. Some of the most important examples are these: Copper Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age. The Iron Age was so named for several reasons. First, and perhaps most importantly, historians needed a name for the time that came after what they call the Bronze Age. The fact that civilizations began developing methods of mining, refining and alloying iron around this time is, by itself, not a meaningful development. But its implications for agriculture, warfare and other activities of society were sweeping, so the name has stuck. What will they call our time 3000 years from now? The powder metal parts age?
Roll forming is an industrial process that can seem a little cartoony. If you were to look at a long roll forming production line, what you’d see before you might seem like an overly-elaborate, Wiley Coyote sort of contraption. Since I learned what roll forming is, I’ve found myself thinking about it now and then and wondering if there isn’t a better way to accomplish what happens during the roll forming process. That’s not to say that I don’t think it’s amazing and fascinating to learn about. I think it’s probably the most logical, intuitive response to the challenge of forming long metal channels into usable products. But maybe it’s the seeming complicatedness of it that gives me pause.
You may be asking yourself what metal fabrication has to do with the movies. The answer is, quite a bit. Metal fabrication is simply defined as any metalworking process in which metals are cut, bent, stamped, sawed or subjected to any other mechanical shaping or forming process. These processes are involved in making the metal parts that are eventually used to build trains, skyscrapers and even dinnerware. Because metal fabrications form the backbone of our modern reality, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about them in the context of our favorite unreality: the movies. Through the exploration of three films, Titanic, Flashdance and Iron Man, metal fabrication may come to life in unexpected ways. Beginning with a major historical mistake, moving into our culture’s relatively current impression of metal fabrication and wrapping it up in the future of metal forming possibilities, you will find that metal fabrication is a fascinating industry.
Nickel is no ytterbium. It has neither the nebulosity of meitnerium nor the mystery of ununhexium. Even other comparatively boring elements like titanium are more exciting than nickel. While titanium can be found grazing the cheeks of famous athletes in razor blade commercials, nickel coins can be found clanking around in dryers all over America along with some desiccated lint and maybe a few bobby pins. The staggeringly uninteresting aluminum is also more captivating than nickel. For example, in the 19th century, at the height of Napoleon III’s reign, aluminum cutlery was rumored to have been given to the emperor’s most honored dinner guests because of its perceived rarity, while the riff-raff vassalry had to get by with gold utensils. Historically, nickel, like a chump, was more often used by accident than intentionally because it was frequently confused with silver, or it was included in alloys of other, more exciting metals by mistake. Nickel? Nickel who?
In anthropological studies of culture and civilization, one of the key elements is to gain an understanding of how a society develops over time. One way to do this is to examine of the evolution of material use and commodification. Through centuries and even millennia, one material in particular has demonstrated extreme utility within several societies and as such has become a vital tool for the study of those societies and civilization as a whole. Whether in the form of purposeful piping or astounding artwork, copper and its alloys have inundated the cultural realm. From antiquity to modern day manufacturing this renowned material finds use in not only the obscure and elite, but the everyday as well. While the impact of copper on daily life is often overlooked, the importance of copper to cultural studies and cultural continuity is paramount.
Named after the mythological giants, the Titans, titanium was discovered in the late 1500s. Unlike Tungsten’s superior strength and high density, making it the metal of choice for many tough applications from drill bits and cutting tools to impenetrable tank armor, titanium combines great strength but at low density, making it as strong as steel but half the weight per volume, plus it is ductile, corrosion resistant and heat resistant. The military, automotive, jewelry and aerospace industries, among others, buy titanium products. Titanium tubing, pipes, wire, bars, plate, foil, rods and sheet are either distributed, used as parts, or further processed. Let’s see how this important metal was first utilized.
The year 1783 marked the birth of the strongest pure metal with the highest melting point: Tungsten. The makings of this metal lay in the layers of the earth as ore ready to be mined and extracted. In 1781, German pharmacist Carl Wilhelm Scheele was working with tungstenite ore (now called scheelite), specifically calcium tungstate mineral, and with his mortar and pestle extracted a new acid, tungstic acid (a fine yellow powder). He suggested that by reducing it a new metal could be obtained. Two years later, Spaniard brothers Jose and Fausto Elhuyar found an identical acid in wolframite and were able to take Scheele’s vision and isolate the tungsten metal by reduction of the tungsten powder. Wolframite, an iron manganese tungstate mineral, was examined by Woulfe in 1779, marking the earliest documented time that someone thought that the new tungsten element might exist. Thus, an alternative name for tungsten is wolfram.
The Tour de France came to an end last week with Alberto Contador of Spain winning the 2,263 mile bicycling race for the second year in a row. In the second stage of the race, however, there was an incident that could have prevented him from even finishing. Contador, Lance Armstrong and many other riders experienced a massive crash when they encountered a road made slippery by rain and an oil spill. Most cyclists continued on after sustaining minor bruises and abrasions. Their bikes remained relatively undamaged because the material of the frame and wheels had undergone an aluminum anodizing process. This technique is used with both professional and hobby bicycles to harden the surface of the aluminum and thicken the layer of naturally occurring oxide, resulting in a tough, durable and corrosion-resistance finish.
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.
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.
Architects and building contractors are often faced with many challenging decisions when choosing the right materials for a job. Different types of metals, materials and fabrication methods affect the performance of a structure or facility hugely, and structural sheet metal is no exception. While perforated metals and expanded metals are similar and have some overlapping applications, engineers understand that their capabilities are very different. Not only are perforated and expanded metals separated by their application industries, but by their fabrication methods and cost as well. Perforated metal seems to be the industry standard for architectural applications such as building facades, fences and partitions. Because perforated metals are punched and cut, dies can be designed to cut patterned shapes into sheet metal for a variety of purposes, both decorative and functional. The shape of metal perforations can determine a material’s usefulness for blocking microwaves, sound waves or light; perforated metals are used in all these industries. Next time you warm up some leftovers, take a look at your microwave door. See that filter in the glass? That’s a piece of perforated metal blocking microwaves from coming through the door.
The many unique values provided by stainless steel make it a powerful candidate in materials selection. Engineers, specifiers and designers often underestimate or overlook these values because of what is viewed as the higher initial ost of stainless steel. However, over the total life of a project, stainless is often the best value option. Stainless steel is essentially a low carbon steel which contains chromium at 10% or more by weight. It is the addition of chromium that gives the steel its unique stainless, corrosion resisting properties. The chromium content of the steel allows the formation of a tough, adherent, invisible, corrosion-resisting chromium oxide film on the steel surface. If damaged mechanically or chemically, this film is self-healing, rovided that oxygen, even in very small amounts, is present. The corrosion resistance and other useful properties of the steel are enhanced by increased chromium content and the addition of other elements such as molybdenum, nickel and nitrogen.
It’s not by magic that forging has survived and thrived as technology has advanced. The heart of forging has not changed since its origin in ancient Egypt. From the pre-industrial age on into today’s sophisticated forging facilities, the essence of forging remains the same: how it affects the structure of metals. The results are unequaled in any other form of metalworking. Discussing the different types of forging can get very complicated. Putting it more simply: heating the metal until it’s malleable breaks down the originally coarse grain structure, and then ‘kneading’ it between dies elongates the grains and they recrystallize in a new finer granular structure…