Speaking of Precision Blog

Speaking of Precision

Speaking of Precision is a knowledge preservation and thought leadership blog covering the precision machining industry, its materials and services. With over 36 years of hands on experience in steelmaking, manufacturing, quality, and management, Miles Free (Milo) Director of Industry Research and Technology at PMPA helps answer "How?" "With what?" and occasionally "Really?"

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Steel, Master of Them All

Posted November 15, 2011 8:35 AM by Milo
Pathfinder Tags: innovation materials Metals steel

Copper for the craftsman, cunning at his trade,

"Good!" said the Baron, sitting in his hall,

"But Iron- Cold Iron - is Master of them all."

-Rudyard Kipling

Full poem here

In 1910 when Rudyard Kipling wrote this verse, the USA produced about 24 million tons of steel. That amounted to roughly 482 pounds for each of the 92.2 million americans counted in the census that year.

In 2010, the US produced 88.5 million tons- down 13% from 2008 and down 18% from 2006 and 2007. That 88.5 million tons- amounted to about 575 pounds for each of the 308 million Americans alive that year.

That's an increase of about 20% per person over a period of a hundred years?

Only 20%?

What amazes me is that all of our devices using steel have diminished the mass of the steel needed to do the same job.

This 1910 Case tractor probably weighed in around 3000 pounds and delivered no more than 20 horsepower.

This 2010 production single cylinder Kohler (iron cylinder) engine equipped Cub Cadet also rated at 20 horsepower:

Steel truly is the master- in this case the master of doing more with less.

Buckminster Fuller describes this decreasing of mass but increasing of capability as "ephemeralization."

Its something my kids have seen growing up as they observed our communications technology:

Cell phone today:

Steel may be the Master of Them All, but it is Engineers, and Machinists and other manufacturing craftsmen who are the real masters - we make the stuff that makes our modern world- Modern.

Case tractor photocredit: Thanks Big Red!

Cub Cadet photocredit:

Motorola Brick

Apple iphone 4s

Editor's Note: CR4 would like to thank Milo for sharing this blog entry, which originally appeared here.

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#1

Re: Steel, Master of Them All

11/15/2011 11:25 PM

Yes. It happened. By gradual better understanding in the first place. The materials science made tremendous strides in a century. As the result, the materials improved accordingly. As an additional result, simulation and emulation is advanced recently, where the skilled can predict failure modes fast. And design around it, saving mass all the time. Overdefined, finite elements design and analysis was simply not available in classical mechanical times.

There is plenty to do still. Recently I saw a program showing lessons learned from mexican and iapanese building codes vs. earthquakes. Essential, but still basic stuff for the building trade. The question was still the elastic yield, welding this or that way, or connecting plates, bolted. I thought, we were past that phase since the 1930s. Obviously, I was mistaken.

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#2

Re: Steel, Master of Them All

11/16/2011 2:28 PM

But, how much steel did the US import in 1910, and how much today? What is the total amount of steel used per US citizen today vs. 1910? I suspect that the answer may differ significantly. The true figures might be further distorted because we bring in a lot of steel items as finished goods, too: cars, for example. And cars represent items which have increased in mass since then, rather than decreased. Even with lightweighting the panels, eliminating frames, using aluminum for engine blocks and heads, transmission cases, etc., the all-up weight has increased, in general.

Oh - and I'd love to see a tug-of-war between the steam tractor and a modern lawn tractor or garden tractor of the same nominal HP! I certainly know where I would place my large bet!

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: Steel, Master of Them All

11/16/2011 5:30 PM

I think it is patently unfair to compaire classical understanding to a modern one. In materials, in structures, in anything.

At the same time, I am regularly humbled by the deep understanding our predecessors achieved without modern help.

Be aware.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

The measure of import is a factor, granted. It is NOT a factor in understanding.

Economics? Yeah, right!

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#4
In reply to #2

Re: Steel, Master of Them All

11/16/2011 5:31 PM

On the heaviest? If not you are on. Name your wager.

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#5
In reply to #4

Re: Steel, Master of Them All

11/16/2011 7:44 PM

Dang - you figured it out! Yes, I intended to bet on the heavier unit, the one which coincidentally has all those spikes or flanges on the wheels to improve traction in dirt. But suppose that you could harness, say, five of those modern ones together against one of the old-school beasts; I'm thinking that we'd still have a rout. How many garden tractors would it take, typically, to beat a steam tractor, or a Rumely Oil-Pull, or similar beast?

Aside: for some reason, no one ever seems to be willing to take the bets that I freely offer! Or only if they can take the side I wanted . . . Maybe they know that I don't actually gamble for money?

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