A journey into ancient history will tell you that the world’s first ‘pure steel’ came from India. As early as 400 BC, Indians learned how to fuse iron with a high amount of carbon to produce the first true steel. They did this by sealing iron and charcoal into clay crucibles, and roasting these at extremely high temperatures in furnaces. When they broke open the cooled crucibles, pure steel ingots were inside, with even amounts of carbon throughout the steel. The steel was extremely tough, shatter-resistant and could be honed to the sharpest edge.
It soon became the rage all around the world. Rostam, the hero of Shahnama carried the best weapon – a sword made of Indian steel. Alexander carried back around 2.7 tons of steel made in India and in Spain, ironsmiths used ‘Ferricum Indicum’ to hammer Indian steel into swords for the imperial Roman army. No doubt, those who had steel owned a most powerful tool that would change the history of the world.
Over time, the process of manufacturing steel and using it to shape the landscape and the economy spread around the world and got further refined. Japan, Germany, UK, America, Middle Eastern countries and China became masters at steel production. In 1912, a British metallurgist found that steel with a layer of chromium was particularly resistant to acid and weathering. He called it “rustless steel”. His friend marketed it under the name Stainless Steel.
Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon containing less than 2% carbon and 1% manganese and small amounts of silicon, phosphorus, sulphur and oxygen.There are more than 3,500 different grades of steel with many different physical, chemical, and environmental properties.
Volumes in terms of steel manufacturing grew over the years, as steel was used for making weapons and building bridges; to build ships, submarine parts, locomotives, automobiles, machinery, household articles, surgical tools, precision engineering equipment and skyscrapers.
China, Japan, India, USA and Russia are today the top steel-producing nations of the world. The construction industry is the largest consumer of steel, accounting for approximately 50% of total world steel consumption. The transport sector which includes manufacturing of cars, trucks, aviation, shipbuilding, and rail is the second largest consumer and the machinery industry and metal products industry each consume around 14% of the world’s steel.
In 2020, the world crude steel production amounted to over 1.86 billion metric tons. According to Statistica, a business data platform, the demand for crude steel worldwide is forecasted to rise by around 70 million metric tons in 2021. A permanent material which can be recycled over and over again without losing any of its properties, steel is integral to every industry in the world. According to a world steel.org study, the steel industry employs more than 6 million people and that for every 2 jobs in the steel sector, 13 more jobs are supported throughout its supply chain, in total around 40 million jobs globally.
Surprisingly, for such a large and critical industry, the world over, steel manufacturing mostly happens in small rolling mills.