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Ferrous vs Non-Ferrous Metals: What’s the Difference?

If you remember your high school chemistry class, you may recall that the symbol for iron on the periodic table is Fe. This is an abbreviation of the Latin word for iron, Ferrum, and the word from which we ultimately get the term “ferrous.” When comparing ferrous and non-ferrous metals, the key difference is that ferrous metals mainly contain iron. As a precision metal fabricator, EVS manufactures products using both ferrous and non-ferrous metals, in particular, stainless steel and aluminum.

 

Ferrous vs Non-Ferrous Metals: A Brief History

The use of non-ferrous metals has a much longer recorded history than ferrous metals. Take copper, for example, which has been used since the dawn of civilization. Its widespread use began around 3500 B.C. and lasted between 500-800 years, depending on the geographic location, and was known as the Chalcolithic (from the Greek word for copper) period. The Copper Age was what marked the end of the Stone Age, and served as the buffer between the longer and much more commonly written about Bronze Age (an alloy of copper and tin), which began around 3000 B.C, ending in 1200 B.C., with the advent of the Iron Age.

 

Types and Characteristics of Ferrous Metals

There are a number of different types of ferrous metals, including wrought iron, carbon steel (also sometimes referred to as “structural steel”), cast iron, alloy steel and stainless steel. Ferrous metals are popular for their incredible strength and durability, which makes them excellent for applications like skyscrapers, cars, railroad tracks and shipping containers. Ferrous metals are generally, but not always, magnetic.

The drawback of most ferrous metals is that they are generally not appropriate for wet or very humid conditions, as they are vulnerable to rust and corrosion. There are two excellent exceptions to this, however. Wrought iron is so pure that it is able to resist rust without the addition of extra elements, while the use of chromium in stainless steel — one of the most common metals from which EVS fabricates — makes it extremely rust resistant as well.

 

Types and Characteristics of Non-Ferrous Metals

As the name states, non-ferrous metals do not contain iron (Ferrum), and are generally more corrosion resistant than ferrous metals. They are also non-magnetic. Examples of common non-ferrous metals include lead, brass, copper, zinc, tin, gold, silver and aluminum/aluminum alloys.

Non-ferrous metals tend to be softer and this characteristic makes them easier to mold, bend and cut. While they can still rust or corrode, it’s much less common and the process takes longer with these types of metals. They are excellent for outdoor use, such as outdoor traffic signs, and roof gutters, and for applications where the look of the finished product is especially important, i.e. fine jewelry or for musical instruments.

 

So which type of metal is better?

Ferrous metals and non-ferrous metals are both extremely important for metal fabricators. Their use depends not just on supply and overall availability, but the intended use of the end product being fabricated. Although ferrous metals, like stainless steel, tend to be less expensive than non-ferrous metals, there are often times when the additional cost of a non-ferrous metal, like aluminum, is more than justified for certain projects, especially when corrosion-resistance is a top priority. The verdict? Both ferrous and non-ferrous metals have their place in metal fabrication.

 


EVS Metal is an American precision metal fabricator headquartered in Riverdale, NJ. We utilize the latest technology to cut, bend, weld and finish stand-alone items as well as parts for integration or assembly into more complex products. Our four ISO 9001:2015-certified locations comprise over 250,000 square feet of vertically-integrated manufacturing space and feature the most modern equipment available, from welding robots and laser cutting solutions to automated powder coating lines. We serve a diverse customer base across North America, providing a range of services from ITAR-compliant, quick-turn prototypes to high-volume production runs. Request a personalized metal fabrication quote online, or call (973) 839-4432 to speak with a specialist today.

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