Article Revised August 23rd, 2022
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 contain iron. As a precision metal fabricator, EVS manufactures products using both ferrous and non-ferrous metals like 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, known as the Chalcolithic (from the Greek word for copper) period. The Copper Age 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 and ended 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, such as 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, making 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 and musical instruments.
So which type of metal is better, ferrous or non-ferrous?
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. Although ferrous metals like stainless steel tend to be less expensive than non-ferrous metals, the additional cost of a non-ferrous metal like aluminum is often more than justified, especially when corrosion resistance is a top priority. The verdict? Both ferrous and non-ferrous metals have their place in precision sheet metal fabrication.
Want to learn more about EVS’s ferrous and non-ferrous metal fabrication capabilities? Get a fabrication quote online, or call us at 1-888-9EVSMET.