Metals are categorized in many ways, many of which are meant to determine the applications they are most suited for. Among these is by their iron content. Metals that contain iron are classified as ferrous metals, while those that don’t contain iron are classified as non-ferrous. Why is it important to categorize metals this way?
Iron was discovered in 3000 B.C. but it’s only around 1200 B.C. when it became widely used for various applications. It is also during this period when combining iron with other metals became more commonplace. This gave birth to ferrous metals. Non-ferrous metals were discovered much earlier, around 5000 B.C., and it was their discovery that marked the end of the Stone Age.
Roughly 90 percent of all metals produced by foundry around the world are ferrous, and it’s not hard to understand why. Ferrous metals, such as all kinds of steel, are used in the construction of buildings, roads, bridges, and dams among many others. Non-ferrous metals, on the other hand, are often produced and utilized for smaller scale applications, such as the manufacture of electronics and communication devices.
Some of the most popular types of ferrous metals are steel, cast iron, and wrought iron. Steel, which originally consists of iron and a trace amount of carbon, can be combined with other metals, such as chromium, to improve its properties. Oppositely, the best examples of non-ferrous metals are copper, brass, and bronze.
Properties and Applications
Steel is produced by combining iron and carbon. The role of carbon in the mix is to enhance the sturdiness of iron. This doesn’t necessarily gives steel better resistance to corrosion. Its iron content still makes it fully capable of forming rust when exposed to oxygen. To solve this issue, non-ferrous metals are sometimes alloyed with steel. Chromium, for instance, when added to steel, produces stainless steel. Despite the addition of a non-ferrous metal, steel remains tough and hard due to the presence of carbon and the natural properties of iron.
The only drawback of carbonating steel or having too much iron is that the resulting metal becomes less malleable and ductile, two special properties that are very unique to non-ferrous metals. Copper, brass, bronze, and even silver and gold are very easy to form into sheet or wire without breaking. And since they don’t contain iron, they don’t rust when exposed to moisture. Non-ferrous metals are also non-magnetic unlike ferrous metals.
With these differences in properties, you can easily tell why ferrous metals are the most ideal materials for construction, while non-ferrous metals work better when used for making pipes, tubes, electronic components, cutlery, and the like. Although non-ferrous metals can be made tougher and harder like steel, they still wouldn’t be an ideal alternative to the latter because they are low-abundant metals. It would cost tremendous amounts of money to produce enough non-ferrous metals for massive projects like a skyscraper or a long bridge.
When you’re looking for metal supplies to use in your project, it’s essential to determine whether they are ferrous or non-ferrous first. This way you will know if they possess the properties you need to make the project work. If you need round or square metal tubing that doesn’t corrode, then you should look for non-ferrous metals. Suppliers that specialize in copper, brass, and bronze products, such as Rotax Metals, will be able to help you.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FERROUS AND NON-FERROUS METALS, generalkinematics.com
Iron: historical information, webelements.com