The word ‘steel’ brings to mind words like strength. Stability. Solidness. For civil engineers, steel gives form to our creations whether they are buildings, bridges, dams and other structures. Sometimes steel creates a facade of beauty and strength while other times steel is embedded deep within, providing the inner framework that gives our creations purpose and function. But steel does not exist naturally. It must be made. Steel, an alloy consisting mainly of iron and carbon, requires intense heat, energy and raw materials to create a substance that we rely on with confidence every day. On their own, the elements of steel are brittle and susceptible to change from simple external forces. Combined together, the materials are stronger.
People in India are credited with being the first to use high carbon steel regularly, starting around 300 B.C. Using a wind furnace, fueled by the monsoonal winds common to the area, men forged high carbon steel that could keep a sharp edge. Over the centuries, the production methods improved and the practice of making steel spread throughout Asia, Europe and Africa. Modern steel making emerged in the 19th century with the introduction of Henry Bessemer’s process in 1858 that created large quantities inexpensively. Modifications to the Bessemer process quickly improved steel making so that by 1900 individuals such as Andrew Carnegie began mass producing steel in ways that revolutionized our world. With the readily abundant steel society built railroads, power plants, powerlines, skyscrapers, subways, bridges, reinforced concrete, ocean freighters, cranes, bulldozers, tractors and thousands of other items we use regularly. Steel has made our society stronger.
At our December general member meeting we will hear about how steel will provide the strength for our airport expansion. Used within the concrete or as beams for supports of structures and as aesthetic components of the project, steel is an integral part of the expansion. Once a year, every December, we have a joint meeting with members of the Structural Engineers Association of San Diego. They will join us at our meeting this month to share in this interesting and informative topic. Together, as engineers, we are stronger.
Another annual event allows engineering colleges to compete in a variety of contests, one of which is a steel bridge competition, where a team of students erect a bridge within minutes, a bridge they have spent several months designing, fabricating and testing. At our December meeting, we will meet the steel bridge teams from both UCSD and SDSU. The teams will assemble their structures used in last year’s challenge. We will have the opportunity to talk with them, and find out how we can help contribute to their success in this year’s competition. We will see how the students collaborate, support each other, and function as a team to win. Together, with our participation, the students are stronger.
Finally, during December we all find ourselves affected by the events of the season. Each one of us finds different ways to support each other, to find strength in life’s challenges, and to savor the moments that bring us comfort and peace. Despite our differences, when we join together we complement each other, forging a solid bond, much like when the elements of steel combine to form a better result. Whatever your beliefs, I hope you have a safe, healthy, and happy holiday season! Together we make the world stronger.
The following references were used for this article:
A Brief History of Iron and Steel Production, Professor Joseph S. Spoerl, Saint Anselm College (http://www.anselm.edu/homepage/dbanach/h-carnegie-steel.htm)
History of Steel Making (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steel)
Steel History for Kids (http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/science/steel.htm)