What Are Metals and Their Uses?—Things You Need to Know before You Buy Materials for Your Projects

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if we didn’t discover metals? Well, for starters, it would be a dark and bleak place because there would be no power plants to supply electricity to cities and communities. There would be no buildings taller than a few stories or with intricate architecture, and if there are, even low-magnitude earthquakes could easily demolish them. Transportation would be lengthy and arduous because no mechanical vehicles, particularly planes and ships, would be present. In short, we would all be stuck in the Stone Age and The Flintstones would be our favorite TV show or perhaps not because television wouldn’t be invented, too.

metals on train station and railway

The discovery of metals indeed revolutionized many things, particularly science and technology, benefitting the world’s industries and continuing to create new ones. Despite our total reliance on this extremely valuable material, only few of us have sufficient knowledge of it. It helps to know a thing or two about metals, especially if your work or business involves their use. Here are some information about metals that you may find useful in the future.

 

Classifications and Uses of Metals

There are 118 elements in the Periodic Table and 91 of them are metals. Not all of these metals, however, have practical uses. In fact, only a handful are a staple for major industrial applications. This is due to the vast differences in their properties. To identify the metals that have many useful properties, experts classified them into six different groups.

  • Precious.

    These are rare metals with higher economic value than other metals. Most common examples are gold, silver and platinum. Most of them are directly mined while a small portion are produced as a by-product from mining other metals. Precious metals are commonly used for making jewelry and electronic components. They are also sometimes used for making catalytic converters in vehicles.

  • Base.

    Having lower value than precious metals, base metals are among the most common and easiest to mine metals. They represent the basic building materials for most of the structures and everyday objects we use today. Examples of base metals are copper, lead and zinc. Some of them, particularly copper, are usually traded on world markets.

  • Ferrous.

    These are metals that contain iron. Steel is the most common example, because its base material is iron. Other metals, such as chromium and cobalt, are usually added to steel to improve its properties, which is why they are also often classified as ferrous even though they do not have iron in their molecular structure. The most distinctive characteristic of ferrous metals is their susceptibility to rusting, which occurs when molecules of iron combine with oxygen atoms, resulting in the formation of iron oxide.

  • Non-Ferrous.

    Apparently, these metals are the exact opposite of ferrous metals. They don’t contain iron, which makes them invulnerable to rusting. It’s this property that makes them useful for applications that involve constant exposure to moisture or any rust-causing substances. They are even mixed with ferrous metals to improve the latter’s corrosion resistance. Best examples are aluminum, copper, nickel, tin, and zinc.

  • Rare Earth.

    Often misconstrued as uncommon because of the word “rare”, they are actually just as common as most other metals. What makes them “rare”, though, is the fact that they are very hard to extract. This is most likely the reason why even though they possess valuable properties, they are only used in small volumes. You can find rare earth metals in some devices used for manufacturing ceramics and lasers and in petroleum refineries.

  • Alloys.

    These are metals that are made of two or more metallic elements. Combining metals to form new materials with better chemical and mechanical properties has been practiced for millennia. Most metals used for today’s industrial applications are alloys. Materials made of pure elements are extremely rare.

Commonly Used Metals and Their Properties

Some metals have more uses than others and that’s mainly because they possess more useful properties. When we say properties, we refer to the qualities of the metals that allow them to react to physical and chemical changes in their environment. Before we identify the different types of metals and their uses, let’s have a quick look at the basic properties of metals.

  • Conductivity.

    Most metals are capable of conducting electricity, although some are more conductive than others. The most electrically conductive metal is silver, followed by copper. Silver, however, is not the primary choice for electricity conduction applications due to its low heat capacity. It burns easily and therefore not safe for conveying high-voltage electricity. Copper, which has a higher heat capacity, is the preferred material for this application.

  • Ductility and Malleability.

    Metals are known for their ability to be hammered or rolled into thin sheets or be drawn into very small wires without breaking. Unlike other materials that would easily break when bent, most metals can withstand bending pressure.

  • Strength.

    Metals are undoubtedly strong. In fact, when someone is looking for a strong material, metals such as steel and titanium alloy always come to mind first. Specifically, they have an amazing tensile strength or tolerance against pulling force. This is why they are often used as reinforcement for beams and girders in buildings.

  • Density.

    Most of the general properties of metals are a result of their unique density, and this can be clearly seen in their molecular structure. Compared to other materials, the atoms of metals are closely packed and easily roll against each other without separating. That’s also the reason why metals are ductile and malleable.

The usefulness of a metal or a metal alloy depends on the types and levels of property it possesses. Those metals whose properties are essential to an extensive variety of practical applications are usually the most extensively utilized. Here are the most widely used metals, their special characteristics, and their applications.

  • Conductivity.

    Most metals are capable of conducting electricity, although some are more conductive than others. The most electrically conductive metal is silver, followed by copper. Silver, however, is not the primary choice for electricity conduction applications due to its low heat capacity. It burns easily and therefore not safe for conveying high-voltage electricity. Copper, which has a higher heat capacity, is the preferred material for this application.

  • Aluminum.

    Most metals are capable of conducting electricity, although some are more conductive than others. The most electrically conductive metal is silver, followed by copper. Silver, however, is not the primary choice for electricity conduction applications due to its low heat capacity. It burns easily and therefore not safe for conveying high-voltage electricity. Copper, which has a higher heat capacity, is the preferred material for this application.

  • Ductility and Malleability.

    The most common metal in the Earth’s crust and the third most abundant element, aluminum has a vast range of applications from transportation and construction to packaging and equipment manufacturing. It’s well-known for being electrically conductive and recyclable.

  • Iron.

    It’s the fourth most common element in the Earth’s crust. It is used mainly in the creation of steel for construction. Other types of iron-containing steel are used for many industrial applications.

  • Copper.

    One of the first metals discovered, copper is perhaps the most flexible of all metals. It is highly conductive, corrosion-resistant, malleable, and workable. It can also be conveniently alloyed to a variety of metals, such as zinc and tin.

  • Brass.

    An alloy of copper and zinc, brass offers a stronger and more durable version of copper. It is used for making different kinds of musical instruments, construction and architectural materials, and decorations.

  • Bronze.

    Another alloy of copper, bronze’s other main content is tin. This metal has been around for ages and was once the most popular of all the metals, so much so that an entire era was named after it.

Having an idea what metal you will be using for your project will help increase your chance of success, simply because you know what properties you can utilize and how to make the most of them. To learn more about your choices, seek advice from one of the leading copper, bronze, and brass suppliers in New York such as Rotax Metals. They are also the best place to look for the metal supplies you need because they have their own foundry and they have been in the business for almost a century.

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