Hot rolled steel has been roll-pressed at high temperatures (over 1,700˚F), which is above the re-crystallization temperature for most steels. This makes the steel easier to form, and also results in products that are easier to work with.
To process hot rolled steel, manufacturers start with a large, rectangular billet. The billet gets heated and sent for pre-processing, where it is flattened into a large roll. From there, it is kept at a high temperature, and the glowing white-hot steel is run through a series of compression rollers to achieve its finished dimensions. For sheet metal, manufacturers spin the rolled steel into coils and leave it to cool. For other forms, such as bars and plates, materials are sectioned and packaged.
Steel shrinks slightly as it cools. Because hot rolled steel is cooled after processing, there is less control over its final shape, making it less suitable for precision applications. Hot rolled steel is often used when minutely specific dimensions aren’t crucial—in railroad tracks and construction projects, for example.
Hot rolled steel can often be identified by the following characteristics:
• Scaled surfaces, the remnants of cooling from extreme temperatures.
• Slightly rounded edges and corners for bar and plate products (due to shrinkage and less precise finishing).
• Slight distortions, where cooling may leave slightly trapezoidal forms rather than perfectly squared angles.
Cold Rolled Steel
Cold rolled steel is essentially hot rolled steel that has gone through more processing. To get cold rolled steel, manufacturers generally take cooled-down hot rolled steel and roll it more to get more exact dimensions and better surface qualities.
But the term “rolled” is often used to describe a range of finishing processes such as turning, grinding, and polishing, each of which modifies existing hot rolled stock into more refined products. Technically, “cold rolled” applies only to sheets that undergo compression between rollers. But forms like bars or tubes are “drawn,” not rolled. So hot rolled bars and tubes, once cooled, are processed into what are called “cold finished” tubes and bars.
Cold rolled steel can often be identified by the following characteristics:
• More finished surfaces with closer tolerances.
• Smooth surfaces that are often oily to the touch.
• Bars are true and square, and often have well-defined edges and corners.
• Tubes have better concentric uniformity and straightness.
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