Common Metals in the Construction Industry

What is metal?

It’s an element that forms cations and has metallic bonds. Metals are generally ductile, lustrous, malleable, and suitable for electricity.

Despite the uncertainty of Brexit, there is positive growth in the U.K. construction industry with the most significant increased expected to be in public housing. The construction industry in the U.K., just like in other parts of the world, such as the U.S., is an industry that relies heavily on metals.

In the U.K. construction industry, certain metals must be counted on for a variety of functions and are used over other substances due to their durability, resistance to weather, and strength. Some of the most common metals in the construction industry are aluminium, stainless steel, copper, brass, and mild steel. What are these metals, and how are they used explicitly in the U.K. construction industry?

What is Aluminium?

Aluminium is a silver metal that was introduced in 1824 by a Danish chemist and physicist and was considered a precious metal when it was first introduced. What is a precious metal? It’s a rare metal that is high in value and found in pure form. Examples of precious metals are gold and platinum. Aluminium was not used on an industrial scale until fifty years later and is no longer considered a precious metal.

It got its name from aluminium sulphates, and it’s an element existing in the boron group on the periodic table of elements. Its symbol is A.I., and the atomic number is 13. Aluminium is a member of the alloy steel family. Alloy steel is made by combining carbon steel with other elements, such as aluminium, copper, nickel, silicon, etc. Today, aluminium is one of the primary engineering materials used. It is not only durable, but it’s also functional and lightweight.

Aluminium is widely found on Earth, making up approximately eight per cent of the core mass of the Earth. However, it isn’t found in nature in pure form due to it being highly reactive. The substance, which resists corrosion, is located in over 270 minerals, and it is useful as an additive in chemical mixtures. It can quickly form alloys with zinc, copper, magnesium, and more.

Aluminium is found in a lot of different things that are made. It can be found in houses, mobile phones, computers, construction materials, refrigerators, stoves, in vehicles such as trains, planes and automobiles, and more. In construction, aluminium is commonly used in doors, wires, window frames, street lights, roof covers, HVAC systems, bridges, stadiums, outdoor signage, and more. One factor about aluminium that is important for the environment is that the substance is 100 per cent recyclable.

What is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel, invented by Harry Brearley in 1913, is a member of the alloy steel family and began to be produced in large quantities in the 19th century. It is, therefore, a generic name for the variety of substances it contains.

Stainless steel is primarily made of carbon and iron, and it generally contains 10 to 30 per cent chromium. As with aluminium, stainless steel is resistant to corrosion. It is also resistant to heat. For example, stainless steel pots and pans are used by many households for cooking both on burners and inside ovens.

Various elements may be added to stainless steel. These include nickel, titanium, aluminium, copper, sulphur, and more. These are typically added to increase the corrosion resistance of stainless steel, to improve the oxidation resistance, and more. Stainless steel is generally melted in furnaces and then refined in steelmaking vessels.

Once stainless steel is produced, there are various styles such as austenitic, ferritic, martensitic, and more. Austenitic steel, for example, is the most widely used grade of stainless steel. It contains high levels of nickel and chromium with low levels of carbon.

Stainless steel has many advantages, including being recyclable, easy to clean and maintain, strong, durable, long-lasting, and more. Stainless steel can be found in tableware, cutlery, cookware, garden equipment, furniture. In construction, stainless steel can be found in escalators, buildings, drainage components, bridge deck plates, stadiums, security fencing, etc.

What is Copper?

Copper, first used by the Mesopotamians, is red and is one of our oldest metals. In fact, it dates back as far as 5100 B.C. Back in time, humans learned how to use copper and how to smelt it by 4500 B.C. Copper was then turned into an alloy by adding tin to the metal, creating bronze contributing to the Bronze Age where bronze weapons and tools were used in history.

Today, copper is the third-most consumed metal in the world. Iron and aluminium are consumed more. Most of copper goes to electronics, telecommunication cables and electrical wires. In construction, copper is often used for tubing, cladding, electrical writing, oil and gas lines, roofing, pipe construction, and more.

As with gold, copper is the only metal whose natural colour is not silver or grey. Most copper is found in volcanic rocks with the rest found in sedimentary rocks. The reason why copper is used in things like wiring and electronics so much is that it conducts electricity and heat thoroughly.

Unlike some other metals, such as stainless steel, copper turns green due to an oxidation reaction. This occurs when it is exposed to air or water. The iconic Statue of Liberty, for example, found on in the United States on Liberty Island in New York Harbor in New York,is copper plated. But due to years of oxidation over time, the statue is green today rather than red.

What is Brass?

Brass is another member of the alloy steel family. It is primarily a combination of copper and zinc, and it has been in existence for centuries. For example, references to brass can be seen in The King James Bible.

Brass is gold in appearance, but it can also be seen in other colours, such as silvery-white. If there is a high percentage of copper in the substance, it will appear more gold in colour. If there is a higher percentage of zinc in the content, it will look more silver in colour. Brass is highly malleable than either zinc or bronze. Sometimes brass contains a small amount of lead.

As with a substance such as stainless steel, brass resists corrosion. Although brass and bronze look similar, they are not. Bronze, which is not as bright as brass, is older than brass. Brass dates back to approximately 500 B.C.

Brass is considered an attractive alloy that is often used in decoration. For example, brass doorknobs are considered quite beautiful. It can also be seen in things like locks, gears, bearings, and more. Brass can be seen in musical instruments, as well, such as trumpets, trombones and tubas. In construction, we see brass in radiators, architectural trim, piping and tubing, screws, etc.

What is Mild Steel?

Mild steel is a term used for general steel. Specifically, it is a carbon steel that consists of a low amount of carbon. Therefore, another name for mild steel is “low carbon steel.” The amount of carbon found in mild steel is different from other carbon steel that typically has a content of 0.30% to 2.0%. In mild steel, it has approximately 0.05% to 0.25% steel.

Unlike aluminium, stainless steel, and brass, mild steel is not an alloy steel. An alloy steel contains big amounts of other elements. Mild steel contains amounts of chromium, molybdenum, iron, and other elements, but not in large amounts.

Because mild steel has less carbon, it’s more machinable, weldable and ductile than other steels. However, it is not as strong as high carbon and alloy steels, and it is magnetic. If mild steel is not coated correctly, it is subject to oxidation, otherwise known as rust. However, like stainless steel, it’s more affordable than other steels.

Mild steel can be seen in various uses such as in decorations, automobiles and furniture. In construction, you can find mild steel used in signs, building structures, wires, fencing and nails.

As explained, common metals in the construction industry are widely used because they are durable, resistance to weather, and sturdy. They also provide a clean look and a beauty that is set apart from other construction materials. There are a wide variety of metals used in construction, but aluminium, stainless steel, copper, brass, and mild steel are some of the most common.

Of the metals discussed in this article, buildings are rarely constructed without the use of aluminium. Architects and designers find aluminium to be one of of their most favourite metals. Stainless steel is the most recycled metal on Earth and those involved in construction like it, especially for its low price. Copper, one of the oldest metals, is extremely versatile and a favourite for engineering materials. It’s durable, corrosion resistance, and is suitable for a wide range of projects. Brass is not only a useful metal used for construction, but it is known for its attractive gold appearance. Finally, mild steel is one of the more affordable metals that has lots of uses in construction.