Introduction to Copper & Copper Alloy

Copper is the oldest metal used by man. Its use dates back to prehistoric times. Copper has been mined for more than 10,000 years with a copper pendant found in current day Iraq being dated to 8700BC. By 5000BC copper was being smelted from simple copper oxides.

Copper is found as native metal and in minerals cuprite, malachite, azurite, chalcopyrite and bornite. It is also often a by-product of silver production. Sulphides, oxides and carbonates are the most important ores.

Copper has a face centred cubic (FCC) crystal structure. Copper and its alloy have a range of yellow/gold/red colours and when polished develop a bright metallic lustre.

Copper alloy can be specified according to temper levels. The temper is imparted by cold working and subsequent degrees of annealing. Typical tempers for copper alloy are: Soft, Half-hard, Hard, Spring & Extra-spring. Yield strength of a hard-temper copper alloy is approximately two-thirds of the materials’ tensile strength.

Copper and copper alloy are some of the most versatile engineering materials available. The combination of physical properties such as strength, conductivity, corrosion resistance, machinability and ductility make copper suitable for a wide range of applications. These properties can be further enhanced with variations in composition and manufacturing methods.

Features & Applications

The building industry is the largest single consumer of Copper alloy. The following list is a breakdown of copper consumption by industry on an annual basis:

  • Building industry – 47%
  • Electronic products - 23%
  • Transportation - 10%
  • Consumer products - 11%
  • Industrial machinery - 9%

There are around 370 commercial compositions for copper alloy. The most common alloy tends to be C106/ CW024A - the standard water tube grade of copper. World consumption of copper and copper alloy now exceeds 18 million tonnes per annum.

Features

  • Copper is a tough, ductile and malleable material. These properties make copper extremely suitable for tube forming, wire drawing, spinning and deep drawing.
  • Excellent heat conductivity
  • Excellent electrical conductivity
  • Good corrosion resistance
  • Good biofouling resistance
  • Good machinability
  • Retention of mechanical and electrical properties at cryogenic temperatures
  • Non-magnetic
  • Copper and copper alloy have a peculiar smell and disagreeable taste. These may be transferred by contact and therefore should be kept clear of foodstuffs, although some cooking pans do use these metals.
  • Most commercially used metals have a metallic white or silver colour. Copper and copper alloy have a range of yellow/gold/red colours.
  • Melting Point: The melting point for pure copper is 1083ºC.

Applications

  • Power transmission lines
  • Architectural applications
  • Cooking utensils
  • Spark plugs
  • Electrical wiring, cables and busbars
  • High conductivity wires
  • Electrodes
  • Heat exchangers
  • Refrigeration tubing
  • Plumbing
  • Water-cooled copper crucibles

In addition, there are many more applications for the other copper alloys like brasses and bronzes.

Copper Types

Cast Copper Alloy

The nature of the casting process means that most cast copper alloy have a greater range of alloying elements than wrought alloy.

Wrought Copper Alloy

Wrought copper alloy are produced using a variety of different production methods. These methods including processes such as rolling, extrusion, drawing and stamping. Such processes may be followed by annealing (softening), cold working, hardening by heat treatments or stress relieving to achieve the desired properties.

Properties of Copper & Copper Alloy

Surface Oxidation/Patination

Surface Oxidation/Patination

Most copper alloy will develop a blue-green patina when exposed to the elements outdoors. Typical of this is the colour of the copper Statue of Liberty in New York. Some copper alloy will darken after prolonged exposure to the elements and take on a brown to black colour.

Lacquer coatings can be used to protect the surface and retain the original alloy colour. An acrylic coating with benzotriazole as an additive will last several years under most outdoor, abrasion-free conditions.

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