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Things to Consider When Choosing a Stainless Steel Grade


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Known for its decorative appeal and enhanced corrosion resistance, stainless steel alloys are among the most popular metals in the world. Delivering unprecedented results for a nearly limitless number of domestic and commercial applications throughout the world, stainless steel alloys provide beneficial qualities that cannot be matched by any other metal.

With so many different stainless steel alloys to choose from, finding the best option for your specific requirements can feel daunting. Luckily, with a little research and a basic understanding of your project’s needs, the right stainless steel alloy is never far from reach. Whether you are pondering the most common stainless steel grades of 304, 314, 316, or perhaps another alloy, there are several considerations that should be met before making a final decision.

Types of Stainless Steel

Before making a decision on the stainless steel grade that is right for your project, there are several considerations that must be met. The following is a list of some of the more common stainless steel alloys that are used throughout the world:
  • Austenitic – These make up 70% of total worldwide stainless steel production.
    • 200 series
    • 303
    • 304 & 304L
    • 316
    • 316L
  • Ferritic – Highly corrosion resistant, but less durable than austenitic stainless steel grades.
    • 409
    • 416
    • 430
    • 439
  • Martensitic – Extremely strong and tough.
    • 410
    • 440C
  • Precipitation-Hardening Martensitic – Extreme corrosion resistance.
    • 17-4
    • 15-5
  • Duplex – Mixed microstructure of oustenite and ferrite.
    • 2205
    • 2207

How to Choose the Right Stainless Steel Grade?

With so many different grades of stainless steel to choose from it can be difficult to know which is best for your unique specifications. However, by understanding the properties and characteristics of some of the more common stainless steel alloys, the decision may be easier than you think. Some of the considerations that should be taken into account when choosing your stainless steel grade include:

Corrosion Resistance

It is commonly understood that Stainless steel is well regarded for its corrosion resistant properties. However, not all stainless steel alloys maintain the same levels of corrosion resistance. Austenitic stainless steel, such as 316 offers the highest level due to the presence of chromium alloys. Less expensive options that still provide good corrosion resistance are martensitic and ferritic stainless steel grades.

Heat treatment will also affect the way in which certain stainless steels respond. If your project requires both heat treatment and enhanced corrosion resistance, martensitic alloys may be the best choice. Since they don’t harden, austenitic and ferritic steels do not provide the best options for heat treatment.

The 300 series has superior corrosion resistance and is easy to fabricate. Used predominantly in the automotive, aerospace and construction industries.

Operating Environment

Whether it’s temperature, low pH, stressors, or crevice corrosion, the operating environment of the stainless steel will affect its overall performance. The best all-around performing stainless steel alloys are 304 and 316. They provide the best strength, toughness, and corrosion-resistance across a broad temperature range. Type 316 has molybdenum which resists chloride ions associated with marine and chemical applications. 

Strength & Ductility

Stainless steel alloys that contain chromium and nickel provide increased strength and ductility qualities. Coupled with enhanced corrosion resistance characteristics, stainless steel grades such as 420 are hardened and stress relieved, providing nearly triple the tensile strength of 304. Stainless steel grades that have a high tensile strength tend to be a better fit for heavy-duty applications that involve heavy loads.

Process Temperatures

One of the easiest ways to locate a stainless steel alloy is by looking at its maximum use temperature or melting point. If a certain stainless steel grade does not maintain the melting point that your specifications require, then it can be easily eliminated from the potential candidate pool. Since heat-intensive processes are more likely to push the limits of a stainless steel alloy’s temperature tolerance, it is important to understand each alloy’s heat treatment or temperature-based sterilization process.

Weldability & Formability

A stainless steel alloy’s weldability and formability are also extremely important aspects that must be considered before making a final decision on the material you need. Lower-end stainless steel grades tend to crack or corrode when welded. Austenitic alloys provide the best weldability. Alloy 304L offers lower carbon and 347 stainless steel provides a niobium stabilizer that prevents cracking and corrosion. Stainless grades 430 and 439 also provide good weldability, while martensitic alloys should be avoided if welding is necessary.

Applications that require good formability need an austenitic grade of stainless-steel such as 304, or ferritic grade like 430. Martensitic grades, like 410, should not be considered since they’re brittle and weak.

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What Stainless Steel Alloy is Right for Your Project?

With so many available options, the stainless steel alloy that is best for your project will depend on multiple factors. Understanding your project’s specifications and requirements will automatically eliminate the stainless steel grades that do not meet those standards. From there, it is ultimately about preference and the types of features that are of greatest interest to you. Do research on some of the more popular stainless steel grades, and experiment until you find the one that provides the benefits you need.

Providing Premium Stainless Steel Alloys Throughout Southern CA, Arizona & Northern Mexico

Industrial Metal Supply is the Southlands largest supplier of all types of stainless steel grades, metal, and metalworking accessories, including rust prevention products. Get in touch with our sales team for world class metals products and services today.

To read more about stainless steel, check out our stainless steel blog topics.
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