Copper alloys can be used for countless purposes across different industries. Copper alloys obviously contain copper as a base material, but they also contain other materials as well. Combining different elements with copper can yield dramatically different results, creating the vast number of copper alloys on the market.
Different minerals and elements have unique features and varying strengths, making it necessary to understand the benefits of each to determine which copper alloy is appropriate for a certain purpose.
There are five principal alloying elements for copper alloys:
- Zinc (Zn)
- Aluminum (Al)
- Tin (Sn)
- Nickel (Ni)
Some alloys are highly machinable, while others are highly resistant to corrosion; some of them are a comfortable mix of both. Some alloys may be a great general option for a variety of different industries, while others are perfect only for more specialized needs.
This guide will outline the uses of each material used in copper alloys, from the alloys’ typical makeup, qualities and usual uses and applications.
Brass is a copper alloy of zinc and copper. The composition of brass is generally 66% copper and 34% zinc, meaning that a little over a third of the alloy is composed of zinc.
Brass is considered an ideal material for manufacturing; it’s both conductive and malleable, allowing it to be molded into any shape.
Brass is perhaps the most well-known copper alloy in the world, and has countless uses in a number of industries. Brass is used in architecture and decoration, often used in household decorations and everyday materials ranging from silverware to zippers. Brass is also famously used in brass music instruments, like horns, trumpets, and tubas.
Aluminum bronzes use aluminum as their principal alloying element but also use iron and nickel in their makeup, according to MetalTek. Aluminum bronze can either contain 9-14% aluminum and 4% iron, making it a true aluminum bronze, or 9-11% aluminum, 4% iron and 5% nickel, making it a nickel aluminum bronze.
Aluminum bronzes have a high resistance to corrosion, and are particularly resistant to corrosion caused by water. Nickel aluminum bronze is even more resistant to corrosion thanks to the nickel in it.
Because aluminum is so strong, aluminum bronzes hold up as well as carbon steel. Despite their strength, aluminum bronzes are highly weldable, making them a flexible option for a variety of different industries. Aluminum bronze can be used to make bearings, aircraft parts, and marine applications.
Phosphor bronze contains phosphorus, tin, and copper, according to the Copper Development Association Inc. The makeup of phosphor bronze is between 0.5 and 11% tin and 0.01 to 0.35 % phosphorous, with the rest of the alloy being made up of copper.
Nickel aluminum bronze, also sometimes referred to as nickel brasses, are copper alloys that contain copper, nickel, and zinc. Most nickel aluminum bronze are 3-5% nickel, 62% copper, and 20% zinc, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, but the individual makeup of nickel aluminum bronze can vary slightly.
Nickel aluminum bronze does fairly well in marine environments, but is very strong compared to other alloys. They are highly machinable and can be altered into nearly any shape.
Nickel aluminum bronzes are a versatile alloy frequently used in the food service industry; they can be used in food handling equipment, tableware, photographic equipment and even musical instruments, says the Copper Development Association Inc. Because of their silvery appearance, nickel aluminum bronzes are also sometimes used to make jewelry.