It’s important to note that the main difference between hot rolled and cold rolled steel is one of process. “Hot rolling” refers to processing done with heat. “Cold rolling” refers to processes done at or near room temperature. Although these techniques affect overall performance and application, they should not be confused with formal specifications and grades of steel, which relate to metallurgical composition and performance ratings. Steels of different grades and specifications can be either hot rolled or cold rolled—including both basic carbon steels and other alloy steels.
It may seem obvious, but some types of steel are better suited for certain applications. Knowing which to use can help avoid over-spending on raw materials. It can also save time and money on additional processing. Understanding the differences between hot and cold steel is integral to choosing one over the other.
HOT ROLLED STEEL
Hot rolled steel is steel that has been roll-pressed at very high temperatures—over 1,700˚F, which is above the re-crystallization temperature for most steels. This makes the steel easier to form, and resulting in products that are easier to work with.
To process hot rolled steel, manufacturers first start with a large, rectangular length of metal, called a billet. The billet is heated and then sent for pre-processing, where it is flattened into a large roll. From there, it is kept at a high temperature and run through a series of rollers to achieve its finished dimensions. The white-hot strands of steel are pushed through the rollers at high speeds. For sheet metal, rolled steel is spun into coils and left to cool. For other forms, such as bars or plates, materials are sectioned and packaged.
COLD ROLLED STEEL
Cold rolled steel is essentially hot rolled steel that has been through further processing. Once hot rolled steel has cooled, it is then re-rolled at room temperature to achieve more exact dimensions and better surface qualities.
Cold “rolled” steel is often used to describe a range of finishing processes, though technically “cold rolled” applies only to sheets that undergo compression between rollers. Steel forms that are pulled, such as bars or tubes, are “drawn,” not rolled. Other cold finishing processes include turning, grinding, and polishing—each of which is used to modify existing hot rolled stock into more refined products.