The processing of raw materials involves taking substances or resources from the earth and converting them into products that are useful to humankind. For example, crude oil is a raw material extracted from deep within the earth, processed into various fuels, oils, plastics, and other chemicals used to produce many different products. Throughout history, humans have been able to take raw materials from the earth and make useful items. Some methods used in processing raw materials may require a great deal of effort and financial investment while others may require simpler, less costly methods. Techniques used in processing raw materials are determined by the type of material and the type of end product required.
Raw materials consist of substances that can be mined, harvested, collected, or otherwise taken from the earth. There are many types of raw materials including lumber, metal ores, grain, cotton, and crude oil. These raw materials are put through a process and changed into one or more different forms. Raw material changed into these altered forms may then be easily transported, stored, and used to create finished goods or parts. Humans have been processing raw materials during their entire history, but today, the methods used to make everything from basic cotton fabric to the tempered steel used in the International Space Station have become much more complex.
Processing of raw materials into products may require a great deal of money. For example, gold is a raw material that must sometimes be extracted from solid rock. Processing raw materials like gold by hand is difficult, slow, and not likely to be profitable, however, a more profitable means of mining gold involves expensive machinery, explosives, and the efforts of many workers. Not all methods used in the processing of raw materials are expensive. For example, processing raw cotton into finished cotton cloth is relatively inexpensive and only requires some basic manual labor, a spinning wheel, and a loom.
The methods and techniques used in processing raw materials depend entirely upon the finished product desired. The processes used for each type of raw material often involve transformation of that material into another form that has a useful purpose. The process used in converting raw metals like iron ore into steel involves beneficiation, or crushing and separation, and smelting, the process of heating the ore to obtain the pure metal. Processing of raw materials like trees may involve an entirely different process. For example, when trees are harvested, the wood is cut into logs, shipped to a sawmill, cut into more easily transported sizes, seasoned, formed into other products like plywood or chip board, and finally used to create finished products like homes, furniture, or guitars.