Metals are important to our world, and you can find them everywhere. Metals are used in the manufacture of small items we use every day, such as smartphones, jewelry and coins, to gigantic buildings, bridges and aircraft. You could say that metals are the foundation of modern society.
When using metallurgy to manufacture jewelry, it is an art as well as a science. The metalsmith must have an understanding of how metals behave when heated, cooled and shaped in order to create the desired piece of jewelry.
But, before they can be turned into useful products, metals have to undergo several processes. First, they have to be extracted from ores, purified from compounds and any recycled materials, and then converted into useful forms. This process is called metallurgy.
What is metallurgy?
Metallurgy is an applied science that deals with how metals and alloys can be economically converted from their ores into useful forms, such as steel, for practical use or commercial purposes (i.e., manufactured goods and consumer products). Some simply define metallurgy as the science and technology of metals and alloys.
The process commonly applies to the following metals:
- Iron ore: hematite, magnetite, titanomagnetite and other complex iron ores
- Base metals: copper, lead, nickel, zinc, and other sulfide and oxide base metals
- Gold and other precious metals: alluvial, ore-based and sulfide-based gold
- Uranium and rare earth metals: uranium and niobium
- Industrial minerals: tin, graphite, tungsten and zirconium
The Metallurgy Process
In general, metallurgy consists of three steps:
1. Mineral processing: Mining the ore,
2. Chemical extraction (extractive metallurgy): Separation and concentration of the metal or the metal-containing compound, and
3. Refining (physical metallurgy): Reduction of the ore to metal; the end result is the production of goods and services
Let’s take a closer look at some of the industries where metallurgy is used.
Modern farmers have a lot to thank the metal manufacturing industry, which produces agricultural tools and equipment that make farming very efficient, including:
- Feeding pails, milk machines, fencing and other equipment used to manage livestock
- Watering systems, drains, forklifts and other equipment used for the farm’s general operations
- Tractors, hay balers, cotton pickers and other equipment used to harvest crops
- Barns, silos and other storage facilities
Farmers need equipment that is tough and resilient from the harsh elements of the great outdoors. Hot-dip galvanized steel can last for decades, thanks to its corrosion protection, and stainless steel’s shiny finish is easy to clean.
Electrical and electronic engineering
Wires, power lines, integrated circuits and printed circuit boards use metals such as copper, aluminum, gold and tin.
Mobile phones, in particular, use the following metals:
- Copper is used for wires as it is a very efficient conductor of heat and electricity.
- Lithium is used to make a smartphone’s battery.
- Tungsten is used as a weight in a smartphone’s vibrator.
TVs, refrigerators, iron and computers all use metals for wires and other electronic parts.
Planes are used to transport people and cargo, so they must be strong and durable. To make sure that aircraft is reliable, manufacturers use the following metals:
- Stainless steel is often used for actuators, engine components and landing gear parts because it can withstand high temperatures. Plus, it’s also corrosion resistant.
- Aluminum is used to build aircraft because it is both lightweight and durable. It is also resistant to corrosion.
- Titanium is used for the plane’s body, landing gear, springs, engine parts, fastening elements and fuselage components. Titanium is a strong metal that’s both heat and corrosion resistant.
- Tungsten alloys are used to minimize vibrations and for balance. The result is a safer and more pleasant flight.
Constructing homes and buildings require metals, such as steel and aluminum. Metals are used for structures, reinforcements, roofing, window frames, and plumbing and heating, among others.
They say a versatile kitchen has metal kitchen utensils because, with the exception of copper and lead, they’re safe to use and easier to clean. Stainless steel is the most popular metal in the kitchen, but other kitchenware may be made from aluminum and iron. Pots and pans, cutlery, spoons and forks, tongs, whisks, sheet pans, and many more are usually made of metal.
Gold, silver, and platinum have withstood the test of time and continue to be valued and used in jewelry.
Car manufacturers take into consideration a wide range of features when designing a model and selecting the materials to manufacture it. They typically look at a material’s economic effectiveness, safety, lightweight, life cycle and recyclability – all of which can be found in metals.
- Steel is strong, easy to work with and inexpensive. Automakers generally use steel in the vehicle’s chassis, roof, wheels, engine, exhaust and brakes.
- Aluminum is lighter and stronger than steel, but it’s also more expensive and harder to work with. So, it’s most often found in expensive models, such as Jaguars and Audis.
- Titanium is hard to manufacture and is therefore used sparingly in high-end car models, such as Porsche, usually in exhaust systems.
In the United States, coins are made from various metals, including copper, nickel and zinc. Pennies are made from copper-plated zinc. The silver-colored quarter, nickel and dime coins are made from a combination of copper and nickel. The U.S. Mint decides which metals to use in our coins based on metal prices and if they can last long term, i.e., they are resistant to corrosion and wear.
Where is Metallurgy Used?
Metals are crucial in a wide array of industries. They are used in the manufacture of smartphones, jewelry, coins, cookware, cutlery, home lighting, firearms and musical instruments. They are also important in machines and tools, buildings, bridges and railways, modern aircraft, vehicles, such as cars, ships and trains.
Possible Future Uses of Metallurgy
As you can see, metallurgy is used in various industries today and will likely continue to be useful in the future too. Despite the move toward more environmentally friendly materials and practices, experts think that future innovation will still be reliant on metals and other common materials we use today.
For instance, with more electric cars running on the roads, a big focus area of metallurgy could be on electric car batteries. Others are also thinking about how metals can influence scientists’ work on nanotechnology.