Copper has performed a vital role in human societies since ancient times. Today, this attractive, highly conductive pinkish-orange colored metal continues to hold importance.
Easily formed, with good strength and a lustrous shine, the metal designated as “Cu” in the Periodic Table of Elements permits the generation of numerous products enhancing daily life. Copper and its alloys contribute to industries around the world!
In order to classify copper alloys, it proves useful to distinguish pure copper from some other important, widely used metals. All copper alloys utilize copper as the principal component. However, manufacturers often add elements such as tin (Sn) or zinc (Zn) to copper in order to create copper alloys displaying a variety of desirable properties unavailable through the use of copper alone. Combining copper and tin produces bronze. Adding copper to zinc creates brass.
Both the American Section of the International Association for Testing Materials (the “ASTM”) founded in 1898 and SAE International, a trade association for vehicle developers, recognize a unified structure for classifying metals and alloys. The Copper Development Association (the “CDA”), a marketing trade group within the copper industry, closely follows the classifications relating to copper and its alloys. These private organizations all employ a classification system for describing copper and its alloys referred to as “the Unified Numbering System” or “UNS”.
In general, under the UNS system of classification, the designations C10000 through C79999 relate to wrought alloys while the designations C80000 to C99999 concern cast metal alloys. Some major sections of this classification system include:
As a general matter, although technically bronze consists of a mixture of copper and tin, people today sometimes loosely apply this label to other copper alloys containing little or no tin. Nickel silvers contain no silver, but instead may display a white, silvery appearance resulting from the presence of nickel.
Manufacturers use copper alloys and copper extrusions in a wide array of useful products. The properties of these metals, especially their excellent thermal and electrical conductivity, formability and aesthetic qualities, create high demand. Just consider a few of the sectors in which copper alloys contribute significantly to modern society:
Manufacturers create products used in the building trade using castings, extrusions, forgings, hot rolling, stamping and other techniques. The lustrous shine of many copper alloys contributes to the popularity of decorative parts and accessories, such as plaques, glossy trim and door handles.
The high electrical conductivity of copper makes copper and copper alloys vital to numerous electronic and consumer goods manufacturers. Copper wire can transmit an electrical charge better than many other types of metals, for instance.
Automakers depend upon copper alloys and copper extrusions for many purposes, too. For instance, in addition to sophisticated electronic circuitry, modern automobiles often use decorative copper alloys in cabin decors.
Copper and copper alloys transmit thermal energy well. For this reason, they play a significant role in many plumbing systems.
Industrial manufacturers rely on copper alloys and copper extrusions for numerous purposes. For example, copper-based finishes may cover some metal components. Copper alloys (including bronze) withstand many types of machining well.
Copper and copper alloys help form pipes and tubing. The oil and natural gas industries use copper products widely.
Some specialized types of copper alloys have gained popularity due to their resistance to corrosive marine environments. For example, naval bronzes and naval brasses frequently form fixtures and decor items aboard ships.
Copper alloys and copper extrusions play an important role in telecommunications systems. From satellites to space exploration and mobile phone technology, copper alloys will likely remain important to human innovation in the telecommunications industry in the future!
Copper’s many useful properties allow manufacturing companies to manipulate copper alloys to develop metal products offering a variety of useful features. The advantages copper alloys and copper extrusions stem in large measure from important physical properties displayed by the element copper.
For example, the malleability of this metal enables the shaping and re-shaping of copper into a variety of useful forms. Manufacturers frequently recycle products containing copper in order to extract the metal for inclusion in new items.
High thermal conductivity renders copper valuable in water pipes, tea kettles and radiant heating systems and a host of other products, as well. Copper transmits heat more effectively than many other metals.
Copper’s ability to conduct electricity makes it valuable as a component in electrical wiring. Today, the electronics industry utilizes copper extrusions and cast, rolled, forged and stamped copper parts of many sizes. Copper and its alloys perform essential roles in a wide array of electrical assemblies.
The composition of copper alloys influences the ability of the metal to display magnetic attraction, or not. Today, some non-magnetic copper alloys perform an important function in industries ranging from the electronics industry to aerospace and aviation technology.
Although over time the surface of copper will develop a characteristic patina, the metal itself proves resistant to many forms of corrosion. Thanks in part to this property, archaeologists occasionally discover intact copper implements, jewelry, weapons and other copper or bronze items dating back centuries. Many copper alloys demonstrate “low maintenance” properties because people can clean off the oxide film covering the surface of aged copper to restore the original appearance of the metal.
Reddish-gold copper metals and copper alloys provide appealing aesthetic qualities, making these metals a popular component of decorative items in building and plumbing fixtures. The luster of copper products lends visual interest to jewelry items, too. Copper and many of its alloys will polish well to produce a glossy or reflective surface. These metals sometimes supply surface treatments and finishes used to decorate other metallic products. Due to their beauty, brasses and bronzes also frequently perform this aesthetic role.
Manufacturers in industrial settings often create extrusions of copper or copper alloys. As rods, ingots and more, copper lends itself to reshaping into wire, chain and other products. While not as strong as some commercial metals, copper will combine in alloys with other, stronger metals to help create copper alloys demonstrating greater strength than copper alone.
The element copper maintains a sufficiently high melting point (1083 degrees Centigrade) to prevent copper items at room temperature from melting.(4) Certain other metals, such as mercury, do not display this property. Conducting heat well, copper plays an important part in many electrical systems. The resistance of copper to sparking makes some copper alloys especially useful in certain potentially hazardous environments, such as mines and oil refineries, in which sparking poses a risk of precipitating fires or explosions.
Copper’s effectiveness as an antibacterial agent has limitations, because some individuals experience skin allergies to metals. Nevertheless, the American Society for Microbiology recently reported dry copper surfaces kills bacteria on contact.(5) Perhaps for this reason, in recent years, some sources have alleged copper maintains effectiveness against a number of pathogens, including MRSA, Staphylococcus aureus, and the dreaded E. coli 0157:H7. However, little evidence supports the utility of regular copper supplementation outside of physician prescribed vitamin tablet use.(6) Although the human body does use copper as an enzyme in some essential metabolic processes, the outward appearance of the element within a biological system appears strikingly different than copper extrusions or sheet metal products on a busy manufacturing shop floor!
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