Qualities Needed for Stainless Steel Suppliers
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Because stainless steel is an alloy, there are many varieties available. A good supplier will have knowledge of the different grades of steel. The SAE (Society of Automative Engineers) has established a grading system for Stainless Steel which defines what specific types of steel are used for. It is important that your supplier not only understands the grading system but has labelled their products accordingly as the wrong grade of steel could cause structural failure.
Knowledge of steel certification is also vitally important. To reduce the cost of holding stock, steel often holds multiple certificates which means that one grade of steel can be applied in a number of uses. Knowledge of this is important as this multiple certification has both advantages and disadvantages in cost and metal properties.
There are many different types, or forms, of steel:
All stainless steel can be fabricated into any of these forms for selling for immediate use or further fabrication. A good supplier will have products available in all of these forms so that the client can purchase metal in the dimension they need, without producing too much waste metal.
 Coating and treatments
A good supplier will also provide additional services such as precipitation hardening and heat treatment. You may have your own fabrication company or have employed a fabricator, but your supplier will be able to advise you or your fabricator on best practice for manipulating the metal if it has been coated.
 Association membership
Stainless steel suppliers may also be members of a reputable local, national or international steel association. This membership not only reassures a customer that the supplier is legitimate and accountable, but the customer will then know that that supplier has access to news, training and the latest developments in the field of stainless steel fabrication.
Making sure the supplier has access to top quality cutting and bending equipment such as a plasma cutter, a bend press, band saw and a sheer cutter means that the customer can get their material expertly cut to the precise dimensions they need. This is especially important for stainless steel sheet metal, as this material is usually manufactured in large rectangular pieces.
It is also important to make sure that your supplier can provide sheet metal in a variety of widths, lengths and thicknesses. Although sheet metal can be easily cut and welded into the desired size for your product, retaining strength though heat treatment, a single piece of sheet metal is still stronger than two stuck together.
--Jake Hyten is regional director of stainless steel suppliers association and the owner of a number of fabricators. He deals with both industrial and private customers looking to purchase stainless steel sheet metal and has developed an understanding of what makes a good supplier.
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