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Ralph Bartos

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Machine and Plant Construction

New steels for machine and plant construction

New types of steel are opening up greater opportunities in machine and plant construction – for economical light construction concepts, for increasingly efficient designs, for ever-better processing properties, and for operation under extreme conditions.

Steel has been the most important basis for technical and commercial advances for over 3,000 years. Without steel many of the huge advances in development (such as steam engines, the railway, power engineering, the car, the synthesis of ammonia, gas turbines, gas liquefaction plants, power stations, or magnetic levitation trains) would never have led to the industrial achievements that we now take for granted. And, despite its great age, steel is not a thing of the past. Constant further development has led to a large number of steel types that are continuously being adapted to rising demands in a wide variety of fields of application. This development can also be of benefit to other materials that are now competing with steel. The economical production and processing of plastics, concrete, aluminium and ceramics would be impossible without steel. Steel’s range of properties combined with the numerous product and delivery variants available (such as sheets, pipes, profiles, castings and forgings, rods, wires or cables) make steel indispensable in almost all areas of technology. Steel is the dominant material in many end-products. Machine and plant construction offer convincing examples here. And, in almost every end-product, steel is the constituent that must provide a particularly high performance.

Squaring the circle with steel

Steel is used where excellent performance is necessary.

Steel can be used in such a variety of ways because its physical and chemical properties can be changed as required within wide limits. Whereby it is also possible to achieve conflicting properties in a single type of steel. A thin sheet must be capable of very good forming for the production of deep-drawn parts for car chassis and household appliances. Springs and shock absorbers, on the other hand, must be capable of withstanding high impact stresses applied millions of times without losing their original forms. Steels for steel construction and for making containers must be particularly suitable for welding, while a high level of wear resistance is demanded of excavator buckets and crushers. Resistance to hydrogen at higher temperatures is an essential requirement for the high-pressure reactors of the fertiliser and petrochemical industries. High sterility and hygiene demands in medical technology and the food industry, as well as for many packagings, can be met using products made of stainless steels or tinplate. Steels that produce short, brittle shavings are required for automated machining work – and this demand is met by free-cutting steels with enhanced levels of sulphur. As a result of increased performance, the further development of steels also permits a reduction in the quantities required for the particular application – and thus leads to conservation of resources. High-strength fine-grained structural steels that are suitable for welding enable, for example, the creation of highly stress-resistant constructions for meeting maximum safety demands with lower material and processing costs.

Less is more

Steels are becoming ever-stronger and thus allow the creation of ever-thinner structures. This saves resources, requires less energy and reduces CO2 emissions. Improvements in design and production technology increase the performance, efficiency and functionality of steel. One example regarding crane construction:

While in 1975 a truck crane with a load-bearing capacity of 140 tonnes and largely made of general structural steels still weighed 95 tonnes, a modern telescopic mobile crane with a load-bearing capacity of 160 tonnes and constructed using high-strength fine-grained structural steel has an operating weight of just 60 tonnes. Demands for greater strength with a high suitability for cold forming as well as surface coating (by means of galvanisation or plastic coatings) to protect against corrosion have led, for example, to high-strength and ultra-high-strength steels.

Some like it hot(ter)

Improved heat resistance is generally the most important development task for steels used in energy plant engineering. Increased heat resistance permits the higher operating temperatures that lead to improved process efficiency, resulting in energy savings and improved plant cost-effectiveness.

Steel flies

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Steel is used in a variety of ways in aircraft construction.

Aircraft constructors can now take advantage of engines that permit very high take-off weights. Take-off weights of over 40 tonnes are currently the technical norm for modern commercial and transport planes. A ‘jumbo’ can even manage 400 tonnes, and the new Airbus A380 up to 560 tonnes. With these weights, aircraft landing gear is subjected to maximum stresses during movements on the ground and particular during touchdown on the runway. Landing gear produced using special quenched and tempered steels with strengths of about 2,000 N/mm² are fully consistent with the aircraft industry’s traditional demand for light construction methods and weight savings. The space required by the landing gear is of decisive importance because it is retracted into the fuselage during the flight. Only ultra-high-strength steels permit a sufficiently slender landing gear design. Space travel also relies on steel. The European ARIANE 5 launch vehicle uses two solid-fuel boosters – with housings made of highly heat-resistant steel – to provide the necessary thrust on take-off.