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The Difference Between Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metal


Ferrous metals, known for containing iron, have distinct properties and uses, contrasting with non-ferrous metals, which are iron-free. Understanding the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals is essential for professionals in industries like construction, manufacturing, and engineering. Let’s learn more about the differences between ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

What is a Ferrous Metal?

A ferrous metal is a classification of metals that is primarily composed of iron. This category includes a wide range of materials, with iron being the predominant element. The term “ferrous” is derived from the Latin word “ferrum,” which means iron.

Ferrous metals are known for their exceptional mechanical properties, making them valuable in numerous industrial applications. They are celebrated for their high strength, durability, and ability to withstand extreme temperatures, making them suitable for demanding environments. The magnetic properties of ferrous metals are another distinguishing feature attributed to the presence of iron.

Despite their many advantages, ferrous metals, particularly those with high iron content, are susceptible to rust and corrosion when exposed to moisture and oxygen. This limitation necessitates protective measures such as coatings or alloys to enhance their oxidation resistance.

Ferrous metals are the backbone of many industries, including construction, automotive, machinery manufacturing, and infrastructure development. Their strength, durability, and magnetic properties make them indispensable in various applications where reliability and performance are paramount.

What is a Non-Ferrous Metal?

A non-ferrous metal is a type of metal that does not contain a significant amount of iron and, as a result, lacks magnetic properties. These metals are prized for their resistance to rust and corrosion, making them highly valuable in applications where exposure to moisture or harsh environments is a concern. Unlike ferrous metals, non-ferrous metals do not exhibit magnetic properties, which is a distinguishing feature.

Non-ferrous metals are critical in various industries due to their unique properties. They are especially sought after when factors such as electrical conductivity, corrosion resistance, and lightweight design are essential considerations.

What’s The Difference Between Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metal?

The simple answer is that ferrous metals contain iron, and non-ferrous metals do not. The more in-depth answer is that ferrous and non-ferrous metals each have distinctive properties. These properties determine the applications they are most suited for. Here are the key differences between ferrous and non-ferrous metals:

Ferrous Metals Non-Ferrous Metals
Iron Content Ferrous metals contain a significant amount of iron, typically more than 50% by weight. Non-ferrous metals contain little to no iron. They have an iron content of less than 50%.
Magnetic Properties Ferrous metals are magnetic and exhibit ferromagnetism. They can be attracted to magnets. Non-ferrous metals are non-magnetic and do not exhibit ferromagnetism. They are not attracted to magnets.
Corrosion Susceptibility They are more susceptible to rust and corrosion when exposed to moisture and oxygen, primarily due to their iron content. They are generally more resistant to rust and corrosion, making them valuable in applications where exposure to moisture is a concern.
Density Ferrous metals tend to be denser and heavier than non-ferrous metals. Non-ferrous metals tend to be lighter and less dense than ferrous metals.
Strength and Durability They are known for their high strength and durability, making them suitable for structural and load-bearing applications. Many non-ferrous metals, such as copper and aluminum, are excellent conductors of electricity and heat.

 

When Did Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals Start Being Used?

Non-ferrous metals have been used since the beginning of civilization. The discovery of copper in 5,000 BC marked the end of the Stone Age and the beginning of the Copper Age. The later invention of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, started the Bronze Age. Lead was utilized for plumbing and in the production of cosmetics and paints by ancient cultures. Zinc has a long history of use, with evidence of zinc production in ancient India and China dating back to 1400-1000 BCE. It was used for medicinal purposes and brass production.

Aluminum was relatively rare and difficult to extract until the 19th century. In 1825, Danish physicist Hans Christian Ørsted produced small quantities of aluminum. However, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that efficient methods for aluminum extraction were developed, making it more widely available.

The use of ferrous metals began around 1,200 BC when iron production started to become commonplace. This ushered in the Iron Age. One of the significant advantages of iron was its abundance in nature compared to other metals like copper and tin (used to make bronze). Iron could be obtained from iron ore sources, and with the development of smelting and forging techniques, it became a widely accessible and versatile material.

Iron was crucial in shaping human civilizations and technological advancements throughout history, from tools and weapons to construction materials and machinery. Its usage continued to evolve, eventually leading to the Industrial Revolution, where iron and steel production became central to industrialization and modernization.

Which Metals Are Ferrous?

Some common ferrous metals include alloy steel, carbon steel, cast iron and wrought iron. These metals are prized for their tensile strength and durability. Carbon Steel – also known as structure steel – is a staple in the construction industry and is used in the tallest skyscrapers and longest bridges. Ferrous metals are also used in shipping containers, industrial piping, automobiles, railroad tracks, and many commercial and domestic tools.

Ferrous metals have a high carbon content, which generally makes them vulnerable to rust when exposed to moisture. There are two exceptions to this rule: wrought iron resists rust due to its purity, and stainless steel is protected from rust by the presence of chromium.

Most ferrous metals are magnetic, making them very useful for motor and electrical applications. The use of ferrous metals in your refrigerator door allows you to pin your shopping list on it with a magnet.

Steel

Steel is made by adding iron to carbon, which hardens the iron. Alloy steel becomes even tougher as other elements like chromium and nickel are introduced. Steel is made by heating and melting iron ore in furnaces. The steel can is tapped from the furnaces and poured into moulds to form steel bars. Steel is widely used in the construction and manufacturing industries.

Carbon Steel

Carbon steel has a higher carbon content than other types of steel, making it exceptionally hard. It is commonly used in the manufacturing of machine tools, drills, blades, taps, and springs. It can keep a sharp cutting edge.

Alloy Steel

Alloy steels incorporate elements such as chromium, nickel, and titanium to impart greater strength and durability without increasing weight. Stainless steel is an important alloy steel made using chromium. Alloy steels are used in construction, machine tools, and electrical components.

Cast Iron

Cast iron is an alloy made from iron, carbon, and silicon. Cast iron is brittle, hard, and resistant to wear. It’s used in water pipes, machine tools, automobile engines and stoves.

Wrought Iron

Wrought iron is an alloy with so little carbon content it’s almost pure iron. During the manufacturing process, some slag is added, giving wrought iron excellent resistance to corrosion and oxidation; however, it is low in hardness and fatigue strength. Wrought iron is used for fencing and railings, agricultural implements, nails, barbed wire, chains, and various ornaments.

Which Metals Are Non-Ferrous?

Non-ferrous metals include aluminum, copper, lead, zinc, and tin, as well as precious metals like gold and silver. Their main advantage over ferrous materials is their malleability. They also have no iron content, giving them a higher resistance to rust and corrosion, making them ideal for gutters, liquid pipes, roofing, and outdoor signs. Lastly, they are non-magnetic, which is important for many electronic and wiring applications.

Aluminum

Aluminum is lightweight, soft and low strength. Aluminum is easily cast, forged, machined, and welded. It’s not suitable for high-temperature environments. Because aluminum is lightweight, it is a good choice for manufacturing aircraft and food cans. Aluminum is also used in castings, pistons, railways, cars, and kitchen utensils.

Copper

Copper is red in colour, highly ductile, malleable and has high conductivity for electricity and heat. Copper is principally used in the electrical industry as wire and other conductors. It’s also used in sheet roofing, cartridge cases, statutes, and bearings. Copper is also used to make brass, an alloy of copper and zinc.

Lead

Lead is a soft, heavy, malleable metal with a low melting point and low tensile strength. It can withstand corrosion from moisture and many acids. Lead is widely used in electrical power cables, batteries, construction, and soldering.

Zinc

Zinc is a medium to low-strength metal with a very low melting point. It can be machined easily, but heating may be required to avoid cleavage of crystals. Zinc is most widely used in galvanizing, which is the process of applying a protective zinc coating to iron or steel to prevent rust.

Tin

Tin is very soft, malleable, ductile, and has a low tensile strength. It’s often used to coat steel to prevent corrosion. Tinplate steel is used to make tin cans to hold food. In the late 19th century, tin foil was commonly used to wrap food products but has since largely been replaced by aluminum foil. Tin can also be alloyed with copper to produce tin brass and bronze.

Metals are divided into two broad categories: ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Ferrous metals, rich in iron content, offer exceptional strength and durability but are susceptible to corrosion. On the other hand, non-ferrous metals, free from iron, boast qualities such as corrosion resistance, electrical conductivity, and lightweight design. Whether you need the strength and durability of ferrous metals or the corrosion resistance and conductivity of non-ferrous metals, Metal Supermarkets is your trusted source for a wide range of metal materials. Shop online or visit your closest store to find the perfect ferrous or non-ferrous metal for your next project.

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You can check out our video below to find out the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metal:


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