When busy working mum Viv Ryan sits down to breakfast with her family, they rely on a rock they’re unlikely to see in their everyday lives: iron ore.

The knife Viv uses to slice up fruit is only possible because of iron ore, as are the spoons daughters Cora and Sadie use to eat their cereal and the kettle partner Jay uses to make the coffee he’ll drink on the way to work.

Working mum Vivienne Ryan and her family rely on a rock they are unlikely to see in their everyday lives: iron ore

“When you think about it we use products from the mining industry every day,” says Viv, a Perth-based communications consultant.

“I couldn’t live without my fridge, my kettle, my car. And when I take Cora and Sadie to the park they play on swings and climbing structures which are all made from steel which, of course, comes from iron ore.

“We take these things for granted but without steel our lives would not be the same. Imagine coming home after a hard day’s work and having to make the family meal from scratch because there’s no fridge,” laughs Viv.

Producing iron ore is essential to making modern life work. From ships to skyscrapers, we help create products necessary for our future

Steel – one of the world’s most widely used materials

Structural engineer and University of Western Australia Senior Research Fellow Dr Andrew Grime agrees that steel is such an all-pervasive material we’ve stopped noticing it.

“Steel is one of the most widely used material in the world today,” says Dr Grime, a structural engineer whose current work is improving floating mining platforms.

“We use it for everything,” he explains. “How would you make toast? How would you put butter and vegemite on your toast? Where would you keep your butter without a fridge?”

University of Western Australia Senior Research Fellow Dr Andrew Grime believes steel made from iron ore is such an all-pervasive material we’ve stopped noticing it

Indeed, steel is so integral to the way we live that modern life is unimaginable with it, according to Dr Grime.

“We’d be living and working closer to the ground because there’d be no multi-story buildings; agricultural production would collapse because we’d return to primitive tools; transportation would go back to the horse and buggy era; computers and the Internet would not be possible; and doctors wouldn’t have those life-saving instruments.”

In most cases we only have to open our eyes to grasp the role played by steel in everyday life.


Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon

The earliest known examples of steel were weapons and ironware dating back to 1800BC

75 percent of all major appliances are made from steel

Steel products can be recycled without loss of strength

Steel bridges are four to eight times lighter than those built from concrete

On a hot day the arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which is made entirely of steel, can expand up to 18 centimetres in height

From the nails that keep down the floorboards in our homes to the steel girders that hold up your verandah, the strength, ductility and durability of steel make it an incredibly versatile material.

However, there is a myriad of unseen ways in which steel is used, such as reinforcing the concrete used in construction.

“Concrete can hold great weight but it has no tensile strength. Without the addition of steel within the concrete it would not be able to stand any tensile stress,” explains Dr Grime.

One of the most important aspects of steel that is too easily overlooked is how recyclable it is.

Autonomous vehicles have been on our mines for 10 years. When will we see driverless cars on our roads?

“Steel is an incredibly durable material so it can be used over and over again, either by being melted down and remoulded for a different purpose, or simply being repurposed,” he says.

“I was at Monash University in Melbourne earlier this year and they were designing a steel-framed building to be dismantled and used somewhere else,” recalls Dr Grime.

“Steel is not talked about much by the conservation movement but it is a material that greenies should love because it’s so durable and endlessly re-usable.”