Working with Ernest Stuart, a cutlery manager at Messrs. R E Moseley at Sheffield (UK), Harry Brearley, then working for Firth Brown Research Labs, produced a knife in 1913, which, in Ernest Stuart's words, 'stains less'. Thus began the hundred year journey of the production of stainless steel, an alloy whose production reached over 24 million metric tons in 2011.
Stainless steel has come a long way over these 100 years, from being used only in cutlery to being an essential tool for many applications from chemical processing to architecture. Thus, starting from simple steels containing 11% chromium, the alloys available have expanded to include ferritic, martensitic, austenitic and duplex grades with diverse compositions. In addition to resisting corrosion the alloys find applications which make use of their magnetic properties, low temperature toughness and retention of strength at temperature.
At TWI many of the alloys have featured in and continue to be part of, TWI's R&D programmes. Our corrosion laboratories commemorate Trevor Gooch, who made a major contribution to the understanding of the weldability and performance of these alloys. Projects include the study of process applications, such as friction stir welding, and failure mechanisms, such as hydrogen embrittlement. The illustration is a grain map of hydrogen cracking in superduplex stainless steel, obtained by the electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) technique.
In the words of the famous architect, William Van Alen, designer of the Chrysler Building in New York, on the 'truly remarkable' material which 'has a mirror-like reflective value':
"In my opinion 18-8 has a wonderful future, for it is probably the most permanent material known. Atmospheric conditions seem to have no deteriorating effect on it, and I believe that in the not very distant future our steel structures will be covered on the exterior with this material in order to obtain a thoroughly weather and water-proof structure which will require a minimum of upkeep externally. The air-tightness of the walls will save on the amount of heat required for heating."
Looks like William Van Alen was right!