Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals

The primary difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals is the presence of iron within ferrous metals, whereas non-ferrous metals do not include iron (or enough to be considered ferrous). Ferrous metals are also magnetic while non-ferrous metals are not; and other notable differences include non-ferrous metals being rarer, more expensive and more resistant to corrosion and rusting than ferrous metals.


Ferrous Metals

What is a ferrous metal?

The word “ferrous” comes from the Latin word “ferrum” and is the source of its chemical symbol “Fe”.

A metal which sits inside the ferrous category contains iron, with this making up a relatively large percentage of its composition.

Ferrous metals have magnetic properties, and are typically heavier than non-ferrous, because of their high carbon content are more susceptible to rusting and often require a protective finish such as galvanizing and/or powder coating if going into harsher environments.


Types of ferrous metals and their uses

Type of Ferrous Metal Properties Uses
High-carbon steel
  • Carbon content: 0.60-2.0 wt.% (weight percentage)
  • Manganese content: 0.30-0.90 wt.%
  • Lowest ductility among carbon steels
  • High hardness and toughness
  • Excellent wear resistance due to hardening and tempering typically
  • High-carbon steels used in tool parts (e.g., drills, screwdrivers)
  • Utilised for making dies in press brakes for sheet metal stamping
  • Ideal for applications requiring high wear resistance and strength
  • Commonly found in wire ropes, bridge suspension cables, and heavy coiled springs
Medium-carbon steel
  • Carbon content: 0.30-0.60 wt.%,
  • Manganese content – 0.60-1.65%
  • Heat-treatable for enhanced mechanical properties
  • Heat treatment and quenching increase toughness and durability
  • Versatile for various applications with improved performance
  • Commonly used for applications demanding high-tensile strength and ductility
  • Widely employed in structural steel applications (e.g., steel beams)
  • Used in shafts and gearing (e.g., axle shafts, crankshafts, gearing plates)
  • Suitable for pressurised structures like tanks and water heaters
  • Utilised in rail applications, including railway wheels and tracks
Low-carbon steel
  • Carbon content: 0.05-0.30 wt.%
  • Widely prevalent and common grade of steel
  • High ductility and weldability attributed to low carbon content
  • Reduced susceptibility to corrosion compared to other steel types
  • Low-carbon steels, such as mild steel, find diverse applications
  • Used for automobile parts, architectural metalwork, fencing, street furniture, and machinery parts
  • Suitable for manufacturing cooking utensils
  • Meets stringent seismic and wind requirements, making it ideal for steel frame buildings in construction
Cast iron
  • Carbon content 2.0-4.0 wt.%
  • 1.0-3.0 wt.% silicon and minor elements
  • Alloying with elements like manganese, molybdenum, titanium, nickel, cerium, vanadium, and copper enhances its properties before casting
  • The alloying, heating, and cooling processes result in various cast iron grades with distinct properties
  • Four main types: white cast iron, grey cast iron, malleable cast iron, and ductile cast iron
  • Grey cast iron, the most widely used grade, offers cost-effective manufacturing and a range of benefits.
  • Notable for good ductility, tensile strength, and impact resistance, it is commonly employed in pumps, stove parts, tractor components, weights, and machinery bases.
  • White cast iron serves applications prioritizing abrasion resistance over ductility, such as pipe fittings, cement mixers, crusher liners, and pump impellers.
  • Malleable cast iron, with strong tensile strength and ductility, finds use in hand tools, farm equipment, and electrical fittings.
  • Ductile cast iron, more ductile than white or grey cast irons and resistant to thermal cycling, is prevalent in vehicle gears, suspension components, brakes, valves, pumps, and hydraulic parts.
Stainless Steel
  • Stainless steel, part of the iron-based alloy family, boasts superior properties compared to materials like mild steel.
  • It offers higher corrosion resistance, cryogenic toughness, ductility, strength, hardness, durability, and work hardening rate.
  • Stainless steel’s growing popularity is attributed to its aesthetic appeal, environmental friendliness, and reduced maintenance needs.
  • A minimum chromium content of 10.5% is a defining characteristic.
  • Five types: Austenitic, Ferritic, Duplex, Martensitic, and Precipitation Hardening.
  • Stainless steel’s diverse range of applications is driven by its numerous advantages.
  • In the transportation sector, it finds use in automotive parts like exhaust grills and trims, shipping containers, road tankers, and for transporting chemicals and food.
  • Stainless steel is preferred in medical technology for its resistance to corrosion and ease of cleaning, making it suitable for surgical and dental instruments, MRI scanners, and orthopaedic pins and plates.
  • In construction, it is valued for its strength, recyclability, and aesthetics, making it suitable for handrails, architectural metalwork, backsplashes, and countertops.
  • In aerospace, stainless steel shines in engine and exhaust components, key superstructure joints, and landing gear components due to its ability to withstand extreme temperatures, superior durability, and high tensile strength capable of absorbing substantial impact stresses.

Non-Ferrous Metals

What is a non-ferrous metal?

Non-ferrous metals are metals that do not contain any or an important enough to be noticed, amount of iron.

Typically, non-ferrous metals are lighter than ferrous metals; they are non-magnetic, provide higher conductivity and resistance to corrosion, and are generally more expensive.


Types of non-ferrous metals and their uses

Type of Non-Ferrous Metal Properties Uses
Aluminium Aluminium, often called the “miracle” metal, has exceptional properties:

  • Low weight (one-third of iron)
  • High corrosion resistance
  • Excellent thermal/electrical conductivity
  • Reflectivity
  • Increased tensile strength at low temperatures
  • Malleability, durability, ductility, and odourless nature
  • 100% recyclability
Aluminium finds extensive use in various manufacturing and commercial applications:

  • Widely employed in power lines due to its superior conductivity-to-weight ratio compared to copper.
  • Commonly used in window frames, refrigerators, and air conditioners.
  • Essential in transportation (accounting for 27% of all aluminium usage) for its exceptional strength-to-weight ratio, seen in aircraft structures and seating, as well as trains to reduce friction resistance.
  • Vital in the automotive industry for its lightweight properties, contributing to CO2 emission reduction efforts through enhanced fuel efficiency.
Copper Copper is a reddish-gold metal that boasts:

  • Ductility and malleability
  • Remarkable electric and thermal conductivity
  • Corrosion resistance
  • Strength and alloying capabilities
  • Recognised antibacterial properties, endorsed by the US Environmental Protection Agency as the inaugural solid antimicrobial material.
  • Copper, the earliest metal crafted by humans, had its initial use in coinage.
  • In modern times, construction is the predominant domain for copper, especially in electrical and plumbing applications like wiring, piping, and roofing.
  • Copper is being explored for its potential to mitigate bacterial infections in hospitals by incorporating it into touch surfaces such as door handles, bathroom fixtures, and railings.
  • Brass, a soft and low-friction metal, is predominantly composed of copper and zinc, often in a 67% copper and 33% zinc ratio.
  • It may include lead to enhance machineability.
  • Brass can exhibit a bright gold appearance, with variations based on the copper/zinc ratio, resulting in rosy or silvery tones.
  • This metal is known for its high malleability, relatively low melting point, efficient heat conductivity, antibacterial properties, corrosion resistance, and ease of casting.
  • Brass finds widespread use in mechanical, decorative, and medical applications.
  • Its aesthetic appeal, ranging from silver to rose and light gold, along with antibacterial properties, makes it a popular choice for bathroom fixtures, fittings, and door handles.
  • Brass is also employed in various other applications such as nuts, bolts, threaded components, injectors, and shell casings for firearms, including bullets.
  • Musical instruments like trumpets, trombones, tubas, and French horns often feature brass components due to its unique properties.


In summary, understanding the distinctions between ferrous and non-ferrous metals is crucial in various industries, from construction to aerospace, and even healthcare. Ferrous metals, enriched with iron, offer strength but require protective measures against corrosion. Meanwhile, non-ferrous metals, devoid of iron, provide unique properties like corrosion resistance and conductivity, making them invaluable in numerous applications.

At ADS Laser Cutting, we specialise in working with both ferrous and non-ferrous metals, offering a wide range of services from laser cutting and folding to fabrication, finishing, and assembly. Our expertise allows us to deliver bespoke and volume solutions tailored to your specific needs.

Whether you require precision components for the aerospace sector or intricate designs for architectural metalwork, we are here to deliver quality and excellence. Contact us today to explore how our metal processing capabilities can elevate your projects and meet your requirements.

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