This year in April, it is exactly one hundred years since stainless steel was manufactured for the first time at Sandvik. After the first melting in April 1921, Sandvik started regular tube production, followed by wire and strip. The volumes were low in the beginning but subsequently increased steadily.
Stainless steel was a good complement to Sandvik's product line at the time. The steel laboratory was enlarged to prepare for the new steel grades together with other production investments. A period of expansion and investments followed.
- The steel mill's cold-rolling operations were completely rebuilt, inside and out, in the peak year of 1930.
- New, stronger and faster-rolling mills with ball bearings greatly improved efficiency.
- The heating department was electrified.
- Seamless tubes, the other important product area, were given a modern and bigger facility.
- The hot-rolling mill was also rebuilt.
The breakthrough of stainless steel
Even a sintering plant and new electrical arc furnaces were set up. This became the breakthrough of stainless steel.
At this point, in the early 1930s, Sandvik had 30 different grades of stainless steel in production. In 1932, for 60,000 dollars, Sandvik acquired an exclusive Nordic license from an American company that was to be of great significance for the direction the company would take. The license had to do with the cold rolling of steel tubes using the pilgering method. This process, further developed by Sandvik's metallurgists, made it possible to reduce both the outer diameter and the thickness of the tube material in a single rolling operation. This meant a significant rationalization because a single operation could replace several cold drawings in the earlier method, and the resulting quality was even better.
What does this mean for us today?
"Even though we have modernized the equipment from those days, and added processes like continuous casting and extrusion, some of the fundamental processes like pilgering, ingot rolling and forging are the same. This was the birth of Sandvik Materials Technology as we know it today", says Tom Eriksson, VP & Head of Strategic Research.
Today, we have some 900 different active stainless steel recipes in our library
"Today, we have some 900 different active stainless steel recipes in our library, although many of them are varieties with minor differences, and not all are melted on a regular basis. In a normal year, we produce roughly 200 different alloys in our melt shop", says Tom.
SMT is today most famous for our advanced duplex stainless steels, i.e., a steel with a combined ferritic-austenitic structure, which performs well in any application where chlorides are present. These are typically alloyed in a way that makes them quite difficult to produce and heat-treat. This is where SMT truly excels and is a world-leading producer. Since SMT introduced the first duplex grade 3RE60 in the 1960s a lot of efforts have been put into developing our duplex product portfolio, and we are still doing research on how to modify and optimize our duplex grades.
If you are interested, you can read more about duplex stainless steel in this article by Mark Newman: