Stainless steel is a metal for “nation building”; government needs vision document for stainless steel growth


Stainless steel is increasingly used in all industries. For example, it is already asserting itself in the architecture, building and construction activities, also known as the ABC sector. Similarly, 13% of total steel production is used in automotive, railways and transportation.

By Aruna Sharma

Environmentally friendly, reusable, corrosion resistant, aesthetically pleasing and fire resistant, stainless steel is the ideal metal for many industries.

The stainless steel sector fits perfectly into the definition of a sustainable material because it focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

The concept of sustainability is based on three main pillars – economic, environmental and social – also known informally as profits, planets and people. Since stainless steel is corrosion resistant, has a very low carbon footprint of just 0.12% per ton, can be recycled over and over again and is low maintenance , it is clearly the metal of the future.

It can withstand calamities and natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes much better than most building and construction materials, and is therefore more environmentally friendly than many other metals. Additionally, being aesthetically appealing and fire and impact resistant, stainless steel products are both beautiful and durable.

Finally, for users of stainless steel for construction and other activities, it is profitable from a life cycle point of view, that is to say the return on investment during its entire useful life. Additionally, stainless steel has a high resale value and offers higher yields than other materials.

Considering all these advantages, stainless steel is increasingly used in all industries. For example, it is already asserting itself in the architecture, building and construction activities, also known as the ABC sector. Today, 12% of all stainless steel production is used in the construction of buildings, railings, gates and decorative applications. It is now increasingly used in toilet construction and in various machinery.

Stainless steel is also a good candidate for structural applications. For example, the construction works of India’s first all-steel railway bridge at Bhayandar Railway Station in Mumbai by Western Railways are nearing completion. The new railway pedestrian bridge will allow a smooth and spacious movement of passengers. Again, the miracle metal is now increasingly used in tunnel construction and will only gain momentum when the hundred state-of-the-art smart cities are running at full capacity.

Similarly, 13% of total steel production is used in automotive, railways and transport (ART). The miracle metal is increasingly used in the manufacture of cars and railway carriages. Today, high-speed trains in the United States are made of stainless steel, as are Volvo buses in Sweden. Even fuel tanks are increasingly made of stainless steel because they don’t leak or absorb fumes.

The real competition to stainless steel in the ART sector comes mainly from the aluminum sector. However, the versatility of stainless steel is globally validated by the fact that over the past 35 years, the growth of stainless steel has exceeded the growth of aluminum and carbon steel by 36% and 100% respectively.

In mobility solutions, stainless steel has inherent advantages over aluminium, as the former can withstand temperatures in excess of 900 degrees centigrade, making it an excellent lightweight and fire resistant material. Thus, it is much better than aluminum, which begins to degrade after 100 degrees centigrade.

Today, car manufacturers have to build light vehicles. Combining exceptional weldability and strength, stainless steel allows designers to manufacture parts that are as light as their “light metal” counterparts like aluminum, but at a much lower cost. Other advantages include the greater impact resistance of stainless steel compared to aluminum structures.

Additionally, even the density advantage of aluminum is offset by the greater strength of stainless steel. Thus, stainless steel can steal the limelight from other competing materials in the manufacture of light vehicles, as repairing, welding and servicing aluminum coaches in India requires a level of skill that is currently not available in the country.

Nearly 30% of stainless steel is used in capital goods and processing industries such as dairy and food processing, distillery and pharmaceutical machinery and 44% in durable goods and household utensils and 1% in others. It has already become the metal of choice for all kinds of utensils for its durability and for other durable consumer goods like sinks. Stainless steel used for the utensil industry is mainly produced by the MSME sector and is under threat due to imports from China.

The use of stainless steel overhead water tanks and free standing machines is also gaining ground and in the near future water vending machines and plumbing will also use stainless steel as a construction material as it reduces water leaks. The Delhi Jal Board loses 48% of its water due to leaking pipes. The main source of child deaths in India is attributed to unsafe drinking water. Therefore, stainless steel can become a viable solution and sustainable alternative, due to its hygienic and non-corrosive properties. So, from water treatment plants to supply pipes to storage tanks, alternative metals such as stainless steel can play a pivotal role in the entire water supply process. In Tokyo and Seoul, when water pipes were replaced with stainless steel pipes, water loss in the city was reduced from more than 15% to 2%.

In some application segments, the intensity of stainless steel is less and the cost of stainless steel as a percentage of the total product/project cost is negligible. In such cases, the price increase or decrease is temporarily absorbed by the product. (e.g. automotive, railways, process industry, etc.). In other segments, the price change is passed on.

In fact, the governments of the UK, India, Germany and Canada have announced a commitment to buy low-carbon steel under the Deep Industrial Decarbonization Initiative. (IDDI), at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in November 2021, which could help the cause. of stainless steel.

However, to increase the reach and use of stainless steel in the country, the government and the private sector must come together and work in partnership to increase its use to help its cause. For example, the government needs to focus on skills development (there is a severe shortage of qualified personnel), develop new products, build ecosystems and also needs to raise awareness of the metal through social media and the like.

In considering the criticality of stainless steel for sustainable solutions and “nation building”, it is highly recommended to have a separate and focused vision document for the growth of stainless steel.

(Aruna Sharma is a former Secretary, Ministry of Steel and Information Technology, Government of India. The opinions expressed are those of the author.)

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