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When to specify stainless steel for component parts

23rd June 2020

Stainless steel is a material often specified for engineering projects due to its combination of strength and corrosion resistance. However, there are various grades of stainless steel to choose from – each with their own characteristic and costs – so it’s important to make the right choice for your application.

John Marshall, Technical Manager at WDS Components Parts Ltd., explains the advantages of stainless steel for standard and component parts.

It’s the chromium alloy which gives stainless steel its best known advantage – high resistance to corrosion. The chrome component not only creates the corrosion resistant chromium oxide protective layer, but also contributes to its hardness, making it highly robust and resistant to impact. However, its relative hardness makes it more difficult to machine than mild steel, which means careful selection over your supplier is required in order to ensure optimum product quality and accuracy.

The main types of stainless steel for component parts

Type 304 is the most common type of stainless steel for component parts, composed of up to 20% chromium, enhancing its resistance to corrosion. It’s often used in areas which are mildly corrosive or which require only an occasional washdown, for example handles or hinges. For this reason, it’s also a more economical choice. Type 303 has similar properties but slightly improved machinability when very low tolerances are required, but with slightly lower durability.

The highest quality stainless steel generally used for standard parts and components is Type 316. It’s added molybdenum component makes it highly resistant to corrosion as well as pitting, the effects of which would create a less hygienic environment and accelerate corrosion. Known as ‘food grade’ (though it’s also the first choice in the marine industry), 316 can endure regular chemical washdown or environments of high salinity. While Types 303/4 steels should only be specified for certain conditions, Type 316 could be widely used for any application. These characteristics make it more expensive, although the cost difference between 304 and 316 has reduced over time.

Growing range of stainless steel components

The range of stainless steel components which WDS provides continues to grow through increasing demand across wider industries and applications. Hand knobs, for example, are ubiquitous throughout industry, including food and beverage, marine, and also for machine parts. New to the WDS range includes a T Knob with threaded stem as well as a four-spoke threaded hand knob, both in 316 stainless steel. While stainless steel is often selected for its shine, the new threaded hand knob is also available in 316 with a matt finish, usually chosen in order to hide finger prints and maintain the most hygienic appearance.

Another new addition in stainless steel is the handwheel. Handwheels are often provided in aluminium, which can be suitable even for outdoor use if safety, hygiene or regulations allow. However, the new 316 stainless steel handwheel will last far longer and is the choice for use in corrosive environments, such as marine applications. Small crafts to superyachts use WDS components and not only does 316 stainless steel provide the anti-corrosivity required, its aesthetic appeal is also more popular in the market.

Used as a fixing on a machine when indexing a range of motion or series of positions, a cam action indexing plunger is now available in stainless steel. Indexing plungers and bolts are generally manufactured in Type 304, giving adequate resilience even if it’s not required to face the full rigours of a daily wash down.

Similarly, castor wheels for use in food manufacture and preparation must meet the necessary hygiene standards, but at the same time aren’t required to withstand full washdown. Therefore, a stainless steel Type 304 frame is suitable, combined with a nylon wheel. On the same principle, levelling feet with up to 50 degrees of angle tilt are also available in a 304 stainless steel stem and can be fitted with an anti-microbial polypropylene base.

Alternatively, an example of necessary use of the higher 316 grade for the food and beverage industry is on gas struts, precisely because of the essential nature of a regular wash down. Used on food service hatches, mobile catering vans and ventilation grilles, these applications face regular contact with food and grease splashes. For necessary hygiene standards, a regular washdown is needed and Type 316 stainless steel is required to withstand corrosivity.

The importance of the manufacturing process and service

As stainless steel can be more challenging to machine, especially Type 316, because of its hardness, it’s essential that your component part supplier can reliably provide a precise, corrosion resistant finish. WDS designs and manufactures in-house at its Leeds facility, with capabilities including CNC milling, turning, drilling, grinding and honing. Operations include stringent training for its machinists and a test procedure with batch control to ensure repeatable high quality.

In addition to direct support provided by WDS’ experienced Technical Team, includes a full parts catalogue with 2D and 3D CAD drawings. The website now also features colour images as opposed to black and white line drawings, which is a useful addition for aesthetic planning and design.

In addition to manufacture on site, WDS also has an extensive stock range. Most parts available for same-day or next-day despatch, with global delivery available.


Image 1: There are various grades of stainless steel to choose from – each with their own characteristic and costs.

About WDS Components Ltd

WDS Components is the home of standard parts and machine accessories. Established in 1952 ‘Woodside Die Sinking Company’ made jig and die parts to speed up production in tool rooms, WDS Components has grown from humble beginnings to become a leading European manufacturer and global distributor of high quality durable parts at competitive prices. We supply components, standard parts and machine accessories to original equipment manufacturers, maintenance engineers, small businesses and individuals all over the world. Over 98% of our range is available from stock and can be shipped the same day from our global distribution centre in the UK, using best in class worldwide logistics companies.We provide unrivalled choice and unequalled availability.

WDS Components are proud to support some of the most prestigious engineering companies and brands in the world, who all trust WDS Components to service their needs.

We are committed to engineering excellence and continuous improvement. Our team of in-house engineers has expertise spanning several decades and is a blend of highly experienced and new generation graduate engineers who focus on the latest developments in design and manufacturing technology.

Our entire range of products is available to purchase on our website WDS COMPONENTS.COM where designers and manufacturers alike can download 3D models of all components in the widest range of formats available.

WDS Components provide solutions for customers who require a wide and growing range of high quality, competitively priced products, coupled with incredible product availability and same day despatch, backed up by easily accessible technical support.

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