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For many years, beryllium copper has been a common choice for commercial and industrial applications ranging from electronics and computer components to aircraft braking systems and telecommunication equipment. The reason for this has been its strong thermal and electrical conductivity and high ductility. However, beryllium copper comes with a significant downside. The material is highly carcinogenic and causes serious exposure risks for people who have to work with it and breathe in its toxic dust and fumes.
The good news is that a highly effective alternative to beryllium copper is readily available in the shape of spinodal alloys. These are versatile with excellent electrical conductivity, low heat distortion, reduced stress relaxation and the ability to be heat-treated to high hardness. More crucially than all of that, however, they contain no carcinogenic compounds whatsoever, making them a far safer alternative to work with.
Specialist metal products manufacturer, AMETEK Specialty Metal Products (SMP) offers two high performance spinodal alloys: Pfinodal® (C72900) and AM-388™ (C72650). Both deliver similar mechanical properties to beryllium copper but without the harmful exposure dangers and higher costs. They are made using the same wrought powder metallurgy as copper based products, with nickel and tin additions.
In addition to all the properties listed above, spinodal alloys from AMETEK SMP are also highly suitable for electrical contacts in addition, thanks to the spring properties exhibited in the hardened tempers. Their low heat distortion during hardening enables complex forming of parts without the need for additional costly fixtures to meet intricate customer specifications. What’s more, they can also be roll tempered to match desired mechanical properties, as well as avail themselves to age hardening for increased strength with no dimensional instability. This makes them ideal for use as bearing materials as well as electrical applications. They are highly resistant to shrinkage and warpage and offer excellent solderability, corrosion resistance and ease of cleaning.
Both of the AMETEK SMPspinodal alloys are being used increasingly across many different industries, with the company boasting multiple customers in the electronics, automotive, and oil and gas sectors among others. In the medical arena, Pfinodal® (C72900) has recently been used for high performance electrical connectors for critical medical devices. The stamped parts are processed in ductile form to create intricate parts, and then heat treated to produce high hardness and tensile properties.
Meanwhile, demand for AMETEK SMP’s spinodal alloys in the oil and gas industry shows no sign of slowing down, due to their non-sparking, non-magnetic and corrosion resistant properties. The welcome absence of toxic dust and fumes also makes the two products ideal for the bearings inside drill bits.
According to Matthew Lappen, Director of Sales and Marketing at AMETEK SMP, the company’s two flagship spinodal alloys represent a safe, viable and, above all, non-toxic solution for the replacement of beryllium copper:
““The global manufacturing industry has come a long way in its quest to protect the health of workers, recognizing the carcinogenic risks posed by beryllium copper and ensuring that regulations exist to eliminate the material as much as possible from the supply chain. We welcome the safety moves in this direction that we are seeing from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and other industry bodies and regulators who are monitoring and restricting its use.
“At AMETEK SMP, we are highly committed to protecting workers’ health. We are proud of our range of non-toxic, high performance spinodal alloys that offer comparable mechanical properties to beryllium copper but without the health risks. We are seeing demand for our spinodal alloys rising in all areas of operations, which is testament to their effectiveness, high performance and safety.”
Discussions around severely restricting or even banning of beryllium copper are gathering pace around the globe. As Matthew Lappen alludes to above, OSHA announced stringent revisions to its standards around the use of the material at the end of August 2020, particularly in the shipyard and construction industries, to simplify and improve compliance and enhance worker protection. This act has limited exposure levels to beryllium copper to trace amounts only and eliminated inconsistencies within general industry standards and regulations around working with hazardous substances.
OSHA estimates that around 62,000 workers are currently exposed to beryllium copper in the workplace, including approximately 50,500 workers in general industry and 11,500 construction and shipyard workers. These are high numbers that need careful protection to enable them to do their jobs without risking their health in the process.
As well as OSHA, beryllium copper is officially considered by the European directive, REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) to be a dangerous substance that is fatal to people who inhale it, and toxic if it is swallowed. Inhaling toxic dust and fumes beryllium copper can lead to lung cancer and can also cause berylliosis, also known as chronic beryllium disease, which causes severe medical symptoms.
AMETEK SMP comprises five specialty metallurgy business units: Hamilton Precision Metals, AMETEK Wallingford, AMETEK Eighty Four, Superior Tube and Fine Tubes.
Matt Lappen has been driving improvements in the specialty metals industry for more than 25 years. He has held a number of key technical and commercial roles at leading manufactures with operations worldwide. Matts metallurgical and technical expertise ranges from premium melt and metal powder compaction to finished materials. One of his key strengths is the development of new products, both within AMETEK Specialty Metals as well as in partnership with customer organization. Matt is passionate about adding value and driving the competitive advantage with rapid prototyping and material innovation for his customers.