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What are 316L, 904L, Surgical Grade Stainless Steel ?


Most high end wrist watches like emphasizing their watch bracelet and watch case are made of 316L, 904L or Surgical Grade Stainless Steel. What are they?

Stainless Steel is not a single material but the name for a family of corrosion resistant steels.

Properties of Stainless Steels

The advantageous properties of stainless steel can be seen when compared to standard plain carbon mild steel. Although stainless steels have a broad range of properties, in general, when compared with carbon mild steel, stainless steels have:

  • Higher corrosion resistance
  • Higher cryogenic toughness
  • Higher work hardening rate
  • Higher hot strength
  • Higher ductility
  • Higher strength and hardness
  • A more attractive appearance
  • Lower maintenance

Corrosion Resistance of Stainless Steel
All stainless steel are iron-based alloys that contain a minimum of around 10.5% Chromium. The Chromium in the alloy forms a self-healing protective clear oxide layer. This oxide layer gives stainless steel their corrosion resistance. The self healing nature of the oxide layer means the corrosion resistance remains intact regardless of fabrication methods. Even if the material surface is cut or damaged, it will self heal and corrosion resistance will be maintained.

Conversely, normal carbon steels may be protected from corrosion by painting or other coatings like galvanizing. Any modification of the surface exposes the underlying steel and corrosion can occur.

The corrosion of different grades of stainless steel will differ with various environments. Suitable grades will depend upon the service environment. Even trace amounts of some elements can markedly alter the corrosion resistance. Chlorides in particular can have an adverse effect on the corrosion resistance of stainless steel.

Grades high in Chromium, Molybdenum and Nickel are the most resistant to corrosion.

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