In Focus

Metals and Stainless Steel

Works Give Insight on Material History and Use

When was zirconium discovered?

When was brass first used?

What is Hadfield steel?

The answers to these questions and others can be found in the Dictionary of Metals. From A286 to zone melting, the recently published dictionary includes thousands of definitions and descriptions of metals, their alloys, the scientists who discovered and developed them, and more.

The entries begin with A286, a superalloy of iron, nickel and chromium with molybdenum and titanium that has good strength and oxidation resistance. The A286 entry also includes its Unified Numbering System identification, UNS S66286, and the ASTM standard specification that describes it — A453/A453M, Specification for High-Temperature Bolting, with Expansion Coefficients Comparable to Austenitic Stainless Steels.

Ending the dictionary’s alphabet is the entry on zone melting, which includes an explanation of how this highly localized melting technique usually affects a metal rod and occurs by induction heating of a small volume of an otherwise solid metal piece.

The Dictionary of Metals, published by ASM International in December 2012, is available for purchase on the ASTM website.

The dictionary was edited by Harold M. Cobb, a retired ASTM International staff manager and a current ASTM member. Cobb has decades of related experience and research to his credit and compiles innumerable definitions and word origins related to metals in this new book. Cobb says, “I’ve been interested in language and etymology my whole life.” He adds that he noted a lack of such a volume in the United States and felt this work would fill that space.

In addition to technical definitions, the dictionary includes related information, additional resources and technical notes, often with references, for the various alloy groups. The reference concludes with several appendixes:

  • Metals history timeline, starting from 6000 B.C., the Chalcolithic Period, when copper came into common use, to 2009, when the first free-cutting steel with vanadium was added to a list of free-cutting carbon steels;
  • Bibliography, which lists the sources for the definitions and other consulted references; and
  • Properties and conversion tables of the elements, physical properties, density, thermal expansion and conductivity, electrical conductivity and resistivity; temperature conversions and more.

Cobb also wrote The History of Stainless Steel, which was published by ASM International in 2010 (also available for purchase on the ASTM website) and translated and published in China last year. As Cobb notes in his preface to that volume, “It [stainless steel] is all around us, and readers will be surprised to learn some of the stories of this remarkable material that one prominent metallurgist called ‘the miracle metal.’”

Cobb covers his subject in depth: 16 chapters, a timeline for stainless steel with 460 notable milestones, a bibliography and an extensive index.

As noted in the introduction, seven men in four countries inadvertently discovered alloys we now call stainless steel. From early discoveries to the modern Unified Numbering System, which Cobb helped develop, the author traces notable figures in the field as well as the events that produced today’s familiar material.

Along the way, Cobb tells the story of the New York City landmark skyscraper, the Chrysler building, with its Art Deco stainless steel clad dome, and of motorcars and train cars. It’s an interesting and illustrated look at what metallurgist Carl Zapffe called “the crowning achievement of metallurgy.”

This article appears in the issue of Standardization News.