In the middle of the 19th century tungsten was introduced to technical applications, mainly in steel production. From then until the first quarter of the 20th century, its importance in this field steadily rose and steel became the biggest tungsten consumer. Tungsten was among the first alloying elements systematically studied and used to improve steel properties, for example hardness, cutting efficiency and cutting speed of tool steels. Different tungsten containing steels were developed in Austria, Germany, France and England, followed by high speed steels in the USA. Pioneers in the field of tungsten applications in steel making were Franz Köller, Franz Mayr, Robert Mushet, Sir Robert Hadfield, Frederick Winslow Taylor and Mansel White.
The addition of tungsten to construction steels has decreased since 1940 because alloying with Mo and Cr, as well as with V and Ni, yielded better performance at a lower price. From 1927, when cemented carbides (hardmetals) were developed, the production of total tungsten consumed in steelmaking declined constantly to a current figure of about 20%, but nevertheless steel is today the second biggest consumer. This percentage is the average for demand worldwide but in different markets tungsten consumption of steel differs considerably, from 2% in the USA to about 10% in Europe and Japan and about 30% in Russia and China.
For more information on tungsten in steel, see the article on tungsten steels in the December 2008 Newsletter. More information on the History of Tungsten in Steel can be found on the Tungsten Brochure.