The Truth About Buying Small Pieces of Steel

Stacks of Steel PlatesHave you ever needed a small piece of steel for a project and found it really difficult or expensive to source?

There are several reasons for this and I’ll try and explain them to you.

Steel Comes in Standard Sizes

Stockholders and steel service centers purchase steel in standard dimensions from the mills. The standard dimensions are a compromise between easy transportability of the plate (putting a 5m wide plate on a lorry is a nightmare) and the experience of customers.

Many customers will design according to the standard sizes and work to minimize the wastage and welding.

So traditionally there are a relatively small number of plate sizes that can be bought ex-stock: 12×3, 6×3, 3×2, 6×2 are some of the more common ones.

The Cost of Offcuts

However some customers ask for specific sizes, say 480 x 1190 mm of S690QL, and this can create a problem for the stockholder. If he cuts this from a 3×2 the left over may take 18 months to sell rather than the normal 3-4 months.

And over time he can see a large proportion of his stock turning into pieces that are slow to sell which has lots of negative impacts on the business.

This all changes if you want a lot of 2×1 pieces. The odd pieces can be factored into the overall price and they will sell eventually.

The Cost of Selling

The other big problem from a stockholder’s point of view is that it costs them as much to sell a 70 kg piece of steel as it does a 100 MT. The piece has to be found, moved, processed and loaded and these activities use up expensive man hours. These can then be put on the price – making normal carbon steel appear more like stainless or titanium in price – or for a regular customer they can be miserably absorbed.

So what stockholders will tend to do is to offer you the smallest piece that they have available that fits your requirements. And that may have a lot of wastage – which can drive up the real cost of your work significantly.

So what to do?

So stockholders don’t like selling odd small plates. What can you do about it?

Firstly, there are small plates out there – you’ll just have to call more people to find them. For odd sized pieces, it might be five times as many stockholders before you can get your requirements met.

Secondly, you can be a lot more flexible in your design requirements. By stating the minimum and maximum dimensions and grades that you can work with you give your designer more of a headache, but at the same time you can significantly reduce the source time and cost.

Thirdly, you can bite the bullet. This might mean pushing back with the customer and persuading him to buy a whole plate, or doing it yourself and holding it in stock (and you don’t want to do that for the same reason the steel stockholder doesn’t want to).

Finally you can be creative. Your competitors use the same type of steel as you and have the same problems. Give them a call and see if they have some material that could let you have, and encourage them to do the same


If you need lots of small pieces or profiles this is quite different to just needing one small piece. We have 150 m of cutting tables with a width of 6m and the floor space to efficiently layout the profiles to optimize the logistics.

We can cut plates up to 300 mm thick using our flame and plasma cutting machines and do very complex cutting and beveling enabling you to use the profiles in your production with no further processing.

And one other benefit semi-finished products can benefit from more favorable import tariffs than plate (in Malaysia HS7207 is 5% and HS7210 is 20%) – which can be an easy way to reduce input costs.

Have a great day! When you need profiles of lots of pre-cut pieces give us a call (even better if they are thick!).

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