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What is metallurgy?

Metallurgy is "the science and study of the behaviors and properties of metals and their extraction from their ores." – Practical Metallurgy and Materials of Industry

Modern metallurgy stems from the ancient desire to understand fully the behavior of metals. Long ago, the art of the metalworker was enshrouded in mystery and folklore. Crude methods of making and heat treating small amounts of steel were discovered by trial and error. Unfortunately, these methods were often forgotten and had to be rediscover if the metal craft was not handed down to the next of kin. Our progress during the Industrial Revolution has led us from those early open forges producing 20 to 30 pounds of wrought iron a day to our modern production furnaces producing well over 150 million tons of steel yearly in North America.

Nearly everything we need for our present-day civilization depends on metals. Vast quantities of steels, aluminum, titanium, copper, and nickel alloys are used for automobiles, ships, aircraft, spacecraft, bridges, and buildings as well as the machines required to produce them. Almost all uses of electricity depend on copper and aluminum. All around us we see the utilization of aluminum, copper, and steels, often in new applications combining metals with plastics and fiber-reinforced composite materials. Some metals such as titanium and zirconium – impossible to smelt or extract from ores just a few years ago – are now used in large quantities and referred to as space-age metals. There are also hundreds of combinations of metals and nonmetals called composites, along with many new tool steels.

What's all that got to do with metallurgy? Metallurgy is relevant to the materials science, welding, machine shop, quality control, and industrial technology industries, each of which share equal responsibility for the design, development and implementation of metals and materials processing in industry today. Parts fail, and it is the duty of the metallurgist to find the cause of failure through failure analysis. Metal parts often require a specific strength, through heat treatments and microhardness testing to ensure the level of strength is achieved. Metallurgy even plays a role in the production of metals, from extracting from ores to the casting of metals. Every step of the way, from ore to its final form, metallurgists can study the behavior and properties of the metal(s) and offer their experience, advice and guidance towards making a better product.

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