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The History And Growth Of The Paperclip Engineering Essay


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Before paper clips, books were bound together by string and wax. This, however, was not practical for the arrangement and bounding of shorter papers, something similar to receipts. The concept of the modern paper clip, the "gem clip", was not introduced until the late 18th century. A paper clip keeps many sheets of paper together through pressure: it leaves the paper undamaged and can be quickly and easily detached. It contrasts the staple that damages the paper unless taken away carefully and always leaves two puncture marks in the paper. A paperclip is generally a thin loop-shaped wire that gets its usefulness from the flexibility and vigor of the material it is constructed from, which is commonly steel (but plastic is being increasingly used), to pack and then hold two or more pieces of paper together by means of torsion and friction. The wire should be rigid as much as necessary to hold its shape while it is being used, but not rigid to the point that it cannot be opened. Engineers also take into account yield stress during the design stage of a paper clip. Yield stress is how much stress that is needed to reshape the wire for as long as it is needed to stay in that shape. If the wire's yield stress is not sufficient, it will continue to be open, and it will not keep the papers together tightly. Engineers must also take into account the cost effectiveness of the materials that will be used. Having a cheaper, thinner wire, as opposed to a more expensive, thicker wire, may allow the manufacturer to waste less money, but the wire may or may not perform well in the manufacturing process and not leave sharp burrs at the ends that were cut. They must also be able to resist cracking and breaking. The material must definitely be non-corrosive. The appearance of the paperclip should also be considered in design. The clip can have an assortment of finishes: it can be smooth or somewhat jagged, glossy or dull, and it can be formed into various sizes. Even though the Gem design has mostly lasted untouched for about a century, manufacturers still deal with design and materials selection when they make new paper clips.

Normally, paper clips are constructed from galvanized steel wire. The wire's diameter is dependent on what quality and dimensions the paper clips being made from it are (enotes, 2010). A galvanized steel wire is a zinc-coated steel wire. Sometimes, it is made by depositing the steel through molten zinc at a temperature of approximately 860 °F. Pure zinc reacts with oxygen to form zinc oxide when it is exposed to real atmospheric conditions, which then reacts with carbon dioxide and yields zinc carbonate (ZnCO3), a dull grey material which is quite strong and stops further corrosion in many conditions, defending the steel underneath from the elements. Paper clips can be made from inexpensive lightweight steel, or from top-of-the-line steel, depending on the maker. The objects used, however, must meet specific physical strictures to produce acceptable paperclips (UFL, 2010).

Steel is made from iron. The iron ore mining process can be summarized in eight steps. Step one is explosion - holes are carefully drilled in engineered patterns that produce 550,000 tons of material. Step two is shoveling - blasted ore is packed into trucks using an electric shovel. Step three is moving - the ore and other resources are taken to the crusher by the truck. Step four is crushing - the ore is smashed into smaller-than-9-inch pieces. Step five is grinding - the smashed iron ore is grinded into powder-fine evenness. Step six is processing - the silica waste is detached by magnetic cobblers, waste is washed away as the large magnets attract iron, the waste rises to the top and the iron sinks to the bottom because the material is floated, limestone and dolomite are added. Step seven is pelletizing - the powdery ore concentrate is formed into pellets, ready for shipping, and the pellets are dried, preheated and put into a kiln to harden. Step eight is shipping - pellets are taken from the plant and put into a bin to be filled into a railroad freighter and the freighters move the iron to a steel mill (MTU, 2010).

The next step in the production of paperclips is the formation of steel. Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon. Steel is produced in two stages. In the first stage, as aforementioned, iron ore is melted down with coke, the solid carbonaceous substance coming from the environmentally harmful distillation of low-sulfur bituminous coal (Wiki, 2010), and limestone in a blast furnace making molten or pig iron, which then undergoes stage two of the process - steelmaking. Stage two of the process can be expressed in seven steps. Step one - the molten pig iron is moved from the blast furnace and into a ladle, a big refractory-lined container. Step two - the metal from the ladle is sent for basic oxygen steel (BOS) making or to a pretreatment stage. To reduce the refining load of sulfur, silicon, and phosphorus, the metal in the blast furnace should be taken through pretreatment. A lance is brought down into the molten iron in the ladle and a large amount of powdered magnesium, several hundred kilograms, is added. Magnesium is found in abundance in seawater. To extract the magnesium, calcium hydroxide is added to the sea water to produce magnesium hydroxide precipitate. The chemical reaction is as follows:

MgCl2 + Ca(OH)2 → Mg(OH)2 + CaCl2.

Since magnesium hydroxide is soluble in water, it is filtered out and reacted with hydrochloric acid to produce magnesium chloride. The chemical reaction is:

Mg(OH)2 + 2 HCl → MgCl2 + 2 H2O.

Magnesium chloride undergoes electrolysis to form magnesium leaving Mg2+ and Cl2. Sulfur impurities are reduced to magnesium sulfide in a violent exothermic reaction. The sulfide is then scraped. Pretreatment is also used for the desiliconisation and dephosphorisation. Iron oxide and lime are used as reagents. Whether or not they decide to pretreat the metal depends on the quality of the blast furnace metal and the desired quality of the outcome of the BOS steel. Charging is the process of loading the furnace with the ingredients. The required thermal energy is produced during the process, so the maintenance of the correct ration of hot metal to scrap is extremely imperative. Only one-fifth of the BOS vessel is loaded with steel scrap. Taken from the ladle, molten iron is added on a as-needed-basis to keep the charge balance. The regular chemical make-up of hot metal charged into the BOS vessel is:


Carbon (C)

Silicon (Si)

Phosphorus (P)

Sulfur (S)






The vessel is then placed erect and a water-cooled lance is lor down into it. The lance blows 99% pure oxygen onto the steel and iron, lighting on fire the carbon dissolved in the steel and smoldering it to make carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, making the temperature rise to approximately 1700°C. This melts or liquefies the scrap, reduces the amount of carbon in the molten iron and aids in taking away unnecessary chemical elements. The use of oxygen, as opposed to air, is what has been enhanced in the Bessemer process. Nitrogen in the air does not react with the charge as well as, if at all, as oxygen does. Oxygen that is high in purity is blown at speeds faster than Mach 1 into the heater or BOS vessel by means of an upright water-cooled lance. Fluxes (burnt lime or dolomite) are lead into the vessel to make residue that takes in the impurities of the steelmaking procedure. Blowing the metal in the vessel forms a mixture with the residue, making the refining process possible. The temperature is measured and samples are acquired close to the end of the 20-minute blowing cycle. The samples are experimented with and a computer gives an analysis of the steel in no more than six minutes. The regular chemistry of the blown metal is:


Carbon (C)

Manganese (Mn)

Silicon (Si)

Sulfur (S) and Phosporus (P)






The BOS vessel is shifted again and the steel is dispensed into a large ladle. This process is called tapping the steel. Furthermore, the steel is refined in the ladle heater by adding alloying materials to provide the special qualities desired by the consumer. Occasionally, argon (Ar) or nitrogen (N) gas is effervesced into the ladle to ensure that the alloys blend properly. Now, the steel has 0.1%-1% carbon. The more carbon the steel contains, the harder it is. It is also more fragile and less bendable. Once the steel is taken away from the BOS vessel, the residue (slag), loaded with impurities, is poured off and chilled. The zinc reacts with the iron molecules in the steel and makes galvanized steel. The outermost layer is completely zinc, but the layers that follow are a mixture of zinc and iron. The innermost layer is pure steel. These several layers are accountable for the remarkable property of the galvanized metal to be able to endure corrosion-inducing conditions that may be caused by saltwater or moisture. If, for one reason or another, rust does manage to make it onto the outside of the galvanized steel, the zinc will be the first to get corroded. This lets the zinc that is extended over the breach or grazes to stop rust from getting to the steel. The extent of galvanizing is normally characterized as the zinc's weight per surface area, instead of the width of the zinc, because this provides a better idea of how much metal has been put into operation. Steel is usually galvanized once individual parts like braces, nails, or screws have been formed. Nevertheless, unprocessed galvanized steel in sheets will endure some bending and forming devoid of flaking. Zinc metal is formed by means of extractive metallurgy. Froth flotation, which carefully breaks up minerals from gangue, a worthless rock, by taking advantage of dissimilarities in their hydrophobicity (incompatibility with water), is employed to acquire ore concentrate. A concluding concentration of zinc of approximately 50% is accomplished by this process with the remnants of the concentrate being 32% sulfur (S), 13% iron (Fe), and 5% silicon oxide (SiO2).

Roasting changes the zinc sulfide (ZnS) concentrate formed during processing to zinc oxide (ZnO). The reaction is represented by the following equation:

2 ZnS + 3 O2 → 2 ZnO + 2 SO2.

Pyrometallurgy or electrowinning is used to continue processing. Pyrometallurgy processing condenses zinc oxide with carbon at 1,740 °F into the metal. The zinc oxide is later distilled as zinc vapor. The zinc vapor is put into a condenser. The reaction is represented by the following set of equations:

2 ZnO + C → 2 Zn + CO2

2 ZnO + 2 CO → 2 Zn + 2 CO2

Electrowinning processing leaches zinc from the ore concentrate via sulfuric acid. The reaction is represented by the equation:

ZnO + H2SO4 → ZnSO4 + H2O.

Electrolysis is then used to form zinc metal which is represented by the equation:

2 ZnSO4 + 2 H2O → 2 Zn + 2 H2SO4 + O2.

The sulfuric acid that is redeveloped is recycled to the leaching process. When the last zinc production step is completed, it is taken to the steel mills and combined with the steel to make galvanized steel through continuous galvanizing, a hot-dip process where the wire is cleaned, preserved, and fluxed on a processing line that is around 500 feet long, and runs at speeds between 100 to 600 feet per minute. A post-galvanizing, in-line heat process called galvannealing. The process can also be used to form a fully alloyed coat of zinc. Galvannealing is typically ordered by consumers that want to paint over the outer zinc layer because the occurrence of alloy layers on the steel exterior advocates paint adhesion. The steel is then taken to factories to be shaped into paperclips. The process begins with a giant spool of galvanized steel wire. A worker enters the end of the wire into the paperclip-making machine. Finished paperclips have three bends. The machine fashions the wire into the three bends by cutting it to typical paperclip length and passing it by three small wheels. The wheels are a little coarse, and takes hold the wire in its entirety as it goes through. The first wheel rotates the wire 180 degrees and makes the first bend, the second wheel's rotation makes the next bend, and the third wheel's rotation makes the final bend. The entire process happens very quickly; the machine can toss out hundreds of clips in a minute. The completed paper clips drop into boxes that are open. The boxes are then shut and sealed with tape when they become full. Many paper clip machines may be operate at once, thus making a large amount of paperclips at a time. Mechanized controls permit one worker to keep an eye on several machines. Quality control is not very important in paper clip manufacturing. Just looking at the product is enough to recognize a problem. No particular tests are necessary. The manufacturing equipment is maintained so that it may work properly. Some machines still in use today in the United States were built in the 1930s or even earlier. Qualified workers check the equipment for wear and flaws that may have an effect on the quality of the completed clips (enotes, 2010). The clips are transported by truck to be warehoused by a paperclip company. Afterwards, the clips are taken to stores that sale stationery items such as Office Max or Office Depot by a truck. A consumer drives to the store and purchases the item and takes it back to their home or workplace. Also, the product may be available for online purchase. The paperclips are taken from the warehouse to the office or house of the consumer by some kind of postal truck (FedEx, USPS, etc.). Though paper clips can be used again and again, they are usually thrown away. Some office paper recyclers request that paper clips be detached before paper is placed in recycling bins. Some recyclers use metal detectors that part out staples and paper clips, so that the paper clips and paper may be recycled through their own individual processes. Because paper clips are inexpensive to manufacture and to buy, most are thrown away. First, paper clips can be reused. Paper clips can be used as hangers for several different projects. They are ideal in replacing curtain hooks, hanging calendars and pictures. A paper clip makes a wonderful Christmas ornament hook. Paper clips can be used to make emergency repairs to clothing and other items. Paper clips work wonderfully as hem holders. They also make exceptional zipper tabs or belt holders. Reused paper clips can be used for eyeglass repair or as hair barrettes. Paper clips can be used as cleaning devices; they work well for cleaning finger nails, unblocking glue bottles, and clearing the holes in salt, pepper, or other shakers. They can be used to clean the hard-to-reach spaces between the keys on keyboards. Paper clips are often used in arts and crafts projects for children; they can be used to punch holes in paper and they can be glued onto projects for a glossy effect. Instead of using a traditional bookmark, the page being read can be marked with a paper clip. It stops the worry a bookmark may cause by falling out of a book and having the reader look through the book to find the point where they left off. A paper clip can be used for lock-picking; when unable to open jewelry boxes, screen doors, and even center key bathroom doors, straightening a paper clip and shaking it inside the lock will usually open it. When reusing is not desired by the consumer, it is placed into green recycling bins that are pulled out to the curb, collected by trucks, and transported to a steel recycling center. Steel can easily be removed from other recyclables because it is magnetic. Once separated the steel is melted in a furnace and then poured into casters that roll the steel into sheets. Recycled steel can be made into new cars, ships, or new food cans. Steel can also be recycled again and again. It does not lose any of its strength or quality in the recycling process. It can be a continuous process that continues to save energy and resources. However, paperclips are often just thrown away. Steel and aluminum ends up in a landfill when they are not recycled. Landfills produce toxic secretion like carbon dioxide and methane. These greenhouse gases add on to global climate change. Climate change already impacts humans and the environment, most noticeable in human health and the agricultural areas (Cleanup, 2010).

Though there are many types of paperclips, the most common one is the uncolored galvanized steel gem clip. Less of an emphasis will be placed on the production of vinyl paperclips because the primary objective is uncolored paper clips made from galvanized steel. Paperclips can be coated in vinyl which is a petrochemical product. Simply stated, oil is produced from what's left of small plants and animals that died in seas around 10 million and 600 million years ago (,2010). The oil life cycle is simple: first, a site is explored. The oil is extracted from the ground when a site is chosen. The oil is then transported to a very large crude carrier (VLCC) by a truck. The oil is then polymerized and transported to a refinery by a truck. When the oil is refined, a truck transports it to a vinyl making factory and made into a vinyl. Once it is a vinyl, it is transported to a coating factory for steel preservation. Then, it is transported to a polymer coatings factory. The galvanized steel is also transported there, and that is where the vinyl is applied to make colored steel wire. The wire is transported to a paperclip making factory and undergoes the same process uncolored steel does to be bent into paperclips. Colored paperclips, however, tend to be more visually appealing to consumers using paperclips without business interest. From there, it goes through the same distribution and consumption process uncolored paperclips go through. The difference is recycling. A variety of vinyl products can be recycled and remade into products again.

A paper clip is a ubiquitous device that has been around for centuries. The gem clip has succeeded in comparison to other paper clip designs for decades. All-plastic paper clips became available for mainstream consumption in the 1950s and were followed by plastic-coated clips which were steel clips that were only covered in plastic rather than being entirely plastic. A Pennsylvania company started to market a giant Gem clip, which would be able to hold more than one hundred sheets of paper. Not one of those developments is significantly different from the popular design consumers can easily recognize. This brings about the claim that the Gem clip is already an ideal design, allowing no room for further development.

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