As a sheet metal product, stainless steel is a popular material used by fabricators in the manufacture of parts and components for industrial, commercial, and consumer applications worldwide. Of the many sectors that utilize stainless steel fabrication for numerous applications—construction, aerospace, automotive, medical, pharmaceuticals, and marine to name a few—there is one industry in particular that relies heavily on the material: the food and beverage industry.
In terms of production, food and beverage-related equipment and processing systems consume over 30 percent of stainless steel produced for the fabrication of applications and products used in the industry.
Stainless steel is the name of a family of numerically graded steels best-known for their corrosion-resistant properties. Corrosion resistance is derived from alloying a minimum of 10.5% chromium to the material. The element oxidizes the surface of the steel providing approximately 200 times more corrosion resistance to the material than steels produced without chromium alloys.
However, it’s not just corrosion resistance that makes stainless steel ideally suited for equipment related to the food and beverage industry. There are more reasons to consider why stainless steel sheet metal is the ideal material for fabricating equipment related to the food and beverage industry.
1. Mechanical Properties
Stainless steel holds many mechanical properties that make it a desirable choice for a range of products in the food and beverage industry. It offers high strength and durability, high and low-temperature resistance, increased formability and easy fabrication, low maintenance, is serviceable, and long-lasting with an attractive appearance, all favorable properties for equipment fabricated for food industry applications.
2. Food Grade Material
The principal reason stainless steel is widely used for food industry equipment is due to its inherent corrosion resistance. The oxidation of stainless steel surfaces provided by chromium makes it nonporous. Food grade stainless steels have a high chromium content, as well as nickel added. The majority of the stainless steel used in food applications is approximately 16% to 18% chromium and 8% or 10% nickel, which provides the material with biocompatible and hygienic characteristics required to service a wide range of food and beverage media. Stainless steel austenitic grades 304 and 316 are commonly used for the manufacture of products used in food processing and related equipment due to the high chromium content.
3. Choice Material for Food Processing Equipment
Stainless steel is the most common and preferred material used in the fabrication and manufacture of food and beverage processing equipment because of its hygienic properties. The material is specified in the 3-A Sanitary Standards, Inc. (3-A SSI), an independent, nonprofit association that provides design criteria for equipment and processing systems used in the production of dairy, food and beverage products. Though 3-A SSI is a voluntary association of dairy and food producers and processing industries, its publications have established the standards and consensus opinions used to protect food from contamination and to ensure that product contact surfaces can be mechanically cleaned and sanitized easily. National and international regulatory bodies refer to 3-A SSI publications in advancing food safety through hygienic equipment design.
4. Easy-to-Clean Contact Surfaces
It’s because of stainless steel’s easy-to-clean surfaces that make it the first choice for equipment requiring the strict hygienic conditions the food industry demands. Such equipment as industrial food processing vats and tanks, refrigeration units, cookware, sinks, countertops, and tables. Stainless steel is also widely used for kitchenware and cutlery— from cookers, grills, and saucepans to knives, forks, spoons, and utensils. As a nonporous material, it can be kept germ-free with proper cleaning and does not absorb or interfere with the taste of the food or beverage.
5. Formability and Serviceability
The formability and weldability of the material allow for the fabrication of complex shapes and geometries often required of food industry equipment. Combined with its non-corrosive properties and easy-to-clean surfaces, stainless steel is a highly serviceable material too, that can be sterilized repeatedly without deterioration.
To learn more about sheet metal product uses across industries and the metal fabrication capabilities of Quest-Tech Precision, please contact us today!