Lightweight Construction with Non-Ferrous Metals, Now and in the Future
We’ve come a long way since the Copper and Bronze Ages, and the many uses of non-ferrous metals permeate the world around us. With their light weight, non-magnetic characteristics, and a higher resistance to corrosion and rust than ferrous metals, they are found in anything from jewellery and electronic applications to construction and the automotive industry.
Throughout the world the automotive industry is thriving, and lightweight, non-ferrous metals are a large part of that. Aluminium is increasingly useful bearing in mind the rigorous laws relating to emissions and fuel efficiency. As a light metal, it is an excellent replacement for the traditional steel, ensuring manufacturers reduce the weights of their vehicles with ease.
Because of the toxicity of lead, traditional uses like paint and water pipes have now declined. However, it is still used for lead-acid car batteries to great effect.
Advantages and Uses of Aluminium in the Automotive Industry
Aluminium is very strong, rigid, light, and also has many environmental advantages. Its strength means it can absorb twice the crash energy of an equivalent structure made out of mild steel, while its lightweight capabilities mean the vehicle uses less fuel. The recycling possibilities are endless as 90% of a vehicle’s aluminium can be recycled with very little degradation. It is used to make heat exchangers, wheels, heads, blocks, brake and suspension components, and some chassis, many of which can be diecast.
Lead has the ability to withstand corrosion from both moisture and most acids. This, along with its low-melting point, malleability, and its ability to supply high surge currents means that the car batteries can supply surprisingly high power with respect to their weight.
Medical Technology with Non-Ferrous Metals
Aluminium again outperforms many other metals used in manufacturing medical equipment because of its sturdy recyclable qualities and strength. Copper is also a light metal, very durable, and resistant to corrosion. Add to that its natural antimicrobial properties, and it is of particular value to hospitals and medical facilities.
Aluminum can be easily machined and indeed diecast to create medical trays, cases, instruments, and many other hospital accessories. It will maintain its integrity particularly during the in-depth cleaning and sterilisation process required for medical instruments. As well as being decorative, the antimicrobial characteristics of copper and its alloys have led to its use for internal fixtures and fittings in medical centres, for example, handles, door knobs, and bathroom fixtures such as taps. It can kill more than 99.9% of bacteria within two hours of exposure on a continuous basis, making it an excellent choice for high-traffic and infection-control areas.
Uses in the Aerospace Industry
The aerospace industry has many uses for copper‐based alloys particularly for its critical components. They need to be extremely strong, highly ductile, and resistant to corrosion as safety and reliability are paramount. A zinc-nickel alloy will often be used as a protection for any steel or copper used in aeroplane construction. This is commonly being seen as a replacement for cadmium. Copper Nickel Alloys are known for their resistance to corrosion, light weight, and being thermally stable. They can be made into aeroplane landing gear and structural components such as:
- Actuator seals and bushings
- Up- and down-lock controls
- Hydraulic bearings
- Flap track bearings
- Pylon bushings
- Frame and door hardware
The zinc-nickel alloys are just as good if not better than cadmium with respect to corrosion properties, but the benefit lies in the fact that it is an environmentally safe alternative. Anywhere that steel and aluminium come into contact, usually bearings, electroplating with this alloy can minimise galvanic or bimetallic corrosion.
According to the Lightweight Technologies Forum in 2016, it seems that although these light metals have been crucial in facilitating the trend to reduce weight, particularly in the automotive and aerospace industries, there is a suggestion that single materials will not be used going forward. It is highly possible that better weight reduction, while still maintaining strength, could be better managed by using alloys and material composite technologies.
The Asia Pacific region has had particularly impressive growth in the global non-ferrous metals market over the last few years. Although China and Japan have increased their consumption it is India that is attributed with causing the greatest effect. A September 2017 report from KPMG has highlighted the “immense opportunities for the development of the industry in India given the inclination of strong economic growth of the country.” It also recommends producers of non-ferrous metals with diecast capabilities should look beyond the traditional industries and consider defence for ammunition components, hybrid and electric vehicles, solar panels, shipbuilding, and offshore platforms.
Globally, the last few years have been tempestuous for the non-ferrous metal industry with an economic slowdown and high raw material costs. However, maybe India is leading the way and diversification is where the future lies.