Metals are used all around us – from our vehicles and wires to our cutlery. These materials are often recyclable and come with a range of beneficial properties like stability, conduction, strength, and ease of fabrication. In this article, we’ll discuss one such metal that’s been used since time immemorial – Copper.
Copper is a versatile material well known for its properties and its useful alloys. If you intend to use it in your projects, you can either get stock parts or hire a skilled metal fabricating company to produce custom-fabricated copper parts for you.
In this article, we’ll discuss why copper and its alloys are suitable for custom fabrication.
Copper as a Material for Fabrication
Let’s discuss how copper performs when used as a material for fabrication.
1. Thermal Conductivity
If your project requires a thermally efficient conductor, go for copper. This element has among the highest heat conductivities of all metals, making it an excellent choice in thermal applications.
2. Electrical Conductivity
If you want to fabricate a part that can conduct electricity seamlessly, copper is the right choice. This is why it is common in applications like wiring and transmission lines.
- Corrosion Resistance
3. Durability and Longevity
Applications that require a highly durable metal can be made easily with copper. It has corrosion and abrasion-resistant properties, making it long-lasting and durable.
Copper’s ductility is perfect for metal fabricators, making it easy to process and machine. So, your manufacturer can get you highly precise fabrications. This is incredibly useful if you want complex fabricated parts, like prototypes.
5. Unique Appearance
In this world where the color appears to be washing out into whites, beiges, and grays, copper’s unique reddish-brown hue can let your projects stand out!
6. Rare Anti-Bacterial Properties
Copper is among the metals that can damage bacterial cells. So, if you are working on a project that’s to be placed in a high germ-risk setting, like a hospital, custom-fabricated copper parts can serve you well.
7. Environmental Friendliness
If you want to make an eco-friendly and sustainable choice, copper will serve you well. Recycling copper is way more economically reasonable than mining it, so it’s re-purposed and recycled commonly.
Copper Fabrication Techniques
Let’s go through some common fabrication techniques used to make items out of copper
1. Copper Casting
In this process, you simply melt your copper and pour it into premade molds.
Here, you have to make the mold first by creating a pattern with a suitable material, like wood or plastic. Then, you fill it with your molding material, like sand, plaster, or ceramic. Once the mold is ready and separated from its initial filler, you fill molten copper in it and let it cool and solidify.
One of the major advantages of this technique is how it allows you capture the smallest details, given that you use the right material for the mold. It does not require as much effort as techniques like hammering as well.
Objects like complex copper machinery parts, detailed ornaments, and jewelry can be manufactured through this technique.
2. Copper Forging
This technique involves heating the copper to make it more malleable – easy to shape. The temperature you choose to heat your project to depends on the alloy you’re using. Then, you use a forging press or hammer to bend, press, flatten, or stretch it into your required shape.
The parts made through forging are more durable than other metalworking techniques. It’s a cost-effective process, especially for large-scale projects.
Automotive parts, copper plumbing fixtures, and statues are often fabricated through this technique.
3. Copper Extrusion
In this method, first, you take a copper billet and heat it to make it more malleable. Then, you place it in a hydraulic press to generate enough pressure to force it through a die. Then, you cut and cool your resulting object.
Extrusion is a relatively fast process that can generate consistent results. Pipes, tubes, copper wires, and architectural profiles are often made through this technique.
4. Copper Machining
This process involves using various tools to cut out excess metal from a raw shape until you have the object you desire. Machining techniques include:
- Cutting: Here, you use sawing, shearing, or plasma cutting to get rid of excess copper.
- Forming: You then use bending, rolling, or stamping to form a shape out of your metal.
- Machining: You use drills, lathes, and milling machines to make your project more precise.
- Finishing: You can use various surface treatments to finish your product.
Machining is a widely used fabrication process for copper industrial and household items alike.
Copper Shaping Techniques to Know
Let’s discuss some common techniques used to shape copper in custom fabrication:
1. Copper Rolling
In this process, you pass a copper sheet or plate between two or more sets of rollers to make it thinner and even. This results in a sheet with uniform thickness.
The rolling process is fast and efficient and generates consistent results with minimum waste. It’s used to fabricate sheet metals for applications like roofing, cladding, heat exchangers, etc.
2. Copper Welding
This technique is used when you have to join two or more pieces of copper together. Essentially, you selectively apply heat to the joints of the respective components to melt their surface. Then, you join them, add a filler if necessary, and allow them to solidify. Some common techniques include:
- Gas Welding: Here, you use a gas torch to melt the metal at the joint.
- Arc Welding:. Here, you use an electric arc to generate heat and target the joint to melt it.
- Resistance Welding: Here, you pass current through the joint and take advantage of the heat generated due to resistance to melt the metal.
Welded copper joints often perform better than soldered or brazed joints.
3. Copper Drawing
Drawing is used to make wires in the same way as rolling is used to make sheets. Here, you take a copper rod and ‘thread’ it through a rotating. Instead of pushing it in, you let the die pull it and reduce its diameter slowly into a thinner wire of your required size. You will need multiple blocks if you want to produce fine wires, as one cycle won’t suffice.
Common Surface Treatments for Copper Fabrications
Did you know you can get surface treatments to customize your copper parts? Here are some popular options:
1. Electroplating and PVD
You can get your custom copper fabricated part electroplated or PVD coated to introduce a thin film of another material on it. This can enhance your project’s functionality, corrosion resistance, and strength.
If you do not want to introduce another metal onto your custom-fabricated copper part, you can opt for anodizing. This ends up in an oxide layer upon your part’s surface.
3. Passivation and Polishing
You can remove the impurities and imperfections from your copper projects by opting for passivation, polishing, or both.
Polishing involves using abrasive materials to remove surface defects and imperfections, whereas passivation involves using an acid solution to remove impurities. These techniques can enhance your copper component’s appearance and make it more corrosion-resistant.
4. Lacquering and Powder Coating
You can apply lacquer to your copper component to protect it against environmental conditions and make it last longer. And if you want to enhance your project’s appearance, you can go for a powder coat instead. That process involves applying dry powder over the component’s surface and heating it to cure it to create a long-lasting, attractive finish.
Quality Control Methods for Custom Fabricated Copper Parts
Metal fabricators usually have a quality control team to ensure the products they make are visually and functionally sound. Common processes employed include the following:
1. Visual and Dimensional Inspection
You have to go over your fabricated part for dents, scratches, cracks, and other such defects visually. This can enable you to identify problems beforehand and eliminate the need to put your copper fabrication through X-rays.
Dimensional inspection is also a part of visual inspection. It involves measuring the length, width, height, thickness, curves, and angles to ensure the part is as per the client’s requirements.
2. Gauging Roughness
Here, the quality control team uses a surface roughness gauge (or tester or profilometer). It measures the height variations on the metal’s surface and gives a numerical value that you can compare to your expected value.
Knowing and controlling roughness is vital for applications like gears which require low friction.
3. Inspection Using Waves
You can use ultrasonic testing or X-Ray analysis for copper to reveal details hidden to the eye – porosity, inclusions, cracks, etc.
Ultrasonic testing is best suited for detecting surface and subsurface defects, and X-rays work better to identify and locate deeper internal defects. Note that X-Rays will even detect more minuscule problems than ultrasonic waves.
4. Chemical Analysis
You may have to chemically analyze your copper material to ensure it has the elements you expect it to. As alloying agents inside alter the properties of materials, this step is important if you’re seeking specific chemical, mechanical, or physical properties.
5. Functional Testing
You’ll have to make sure all custom copper components are performing as intended. Leak testing, pressure testing, stress testing, tensile testing for copper, etc., are all viable techniques.
Areas That Require Fabricated Copper Parts
Given the versatility of this material, you’ll find copper parts in many places:
- Transport: Whether it be planes or cars, you can find copper parts used commonly in the transport industry. As the material is ductile, it can be used to make complex parts that can tolerate and conduct heat and last long against corrosion.
- Art and Architecture: Given the unique appearance of copper, it is often used in artistic expression and architectural accents. And when you consider its sturdiness and longevity, the choice is justified.
- Jewelry: Copper has been long since used in jewelry due to its malleability, ductility, longevity, and aesthetic appeal. The metal is easily customizable per users’ needs.
- Plumbing Items: Copper’s anti-corrosive qualities and durability allow it to be used easily with items exposed to moisture. Custom copper pipes and fittings are common household items.
- Industrial Equipment: As copper is an excellent conductor of electricity and heat, you’ll find it commonly used in machines like transformers. It can also tolerate mechanical stress and high temperatures, making it useful in heavy-duty machinery.
- Medical Equipment: Copper’s antibacterial properties and ease of machining means it can be used in the medical industry easily. Making precisely detailed medical equipment with the metal is easy, and it’s antibacterial, to top the deal!
Choosing the Right Copper Alloy
Before proceeding, let’s go through the common copper alloys.
|Alloy||Prominent Properties||Common Uses|
|Copper 110. |
(Electrolytic Tough Pitch Copper)
Good thermal conductivity.
Good corrosion resistance.
Easy to fabricate.
|Copper 101. |
|Low oxygen levels.|
|Electrical wiring |
|High electric conductivity.|
|Electrical components. |
|Copper C260 |
Displays good stability against corrosion.
|Copper C715. |
(Copper Nickel 70/30)
|High strength. |
Good corrosion resistance, even to saltwater.
Off-shore oil and gas equipment.
|Copper C17200 (Beryllium Copper)||High strength.|
Excellent Wear Resistance.
|Aerospace components. |
Now, consider the following to choose the right alloy for your project:
1. Requirements of the Project
The properties your fabricated object must have will determine your choice of copper alloy. You’ll need to consider
- What environment will your object be in?
- Does it have corrosive elements, like saltwater or harsher chemicals?
- Will it be in a humid place, or will it be exposed to fluctuating or extreme temperatures?
- Will it often be exposed to forces like friction?
- What environment will your object be in?
- Does your object require heat or electrical conductivity?
- Is weight a concern?
- Is color a concern?
2. The Complexity of the Project
Your project’s geometrical complexity will be essential in determining the copper alloy you choose. This is the machineability, formability, cooling behavior, etc., that vary per different metal alloys. So, if you want a complicated structure that may have to be cast, you’ll have to go with an alloy that is compatible with the cast and cools evenly without warping.
3. Your Budget
Your budget will play a huge role in your alloy selection. For instance, alloys like beryllium copper, phosphor bronze, nickel silver, etc., have many desirable aesthetic and functional properties, but their components add to their cost.
Similarly, some alloys are costly to machine or form, adding to your project’s total cost.
Maintenance and Care of Custom Fabricated Copper Parts
Here’s how to take care of components made of copper-based materials.
1. Protective Coating
It’s best to periodically use wax or clear lacquer for your copper projects to ensure they do not tarnish. Consult with your manufacturer so they can suggest the right coating and coating frequency to you.
2. Environment or Storage
You have to keep your copper objects away from moisture or salt unless you have an alloy resistant to them. In general, copper is prone to corrosion when subjected to such agents.
You’ll also have to make sure you place your copper in a protected area where it can’t get scratched.
3. Cleaning and Inspection
Use a non-abrasive cloth or brush to remove debris from your object’s surface regularly. Make sure you do not use any harsh solvents, like bleach or ammonia; else, your copper will tarnish or corrode.
Alongside this, inspect your copper part for any dent or crack regularly. If any problem arises, get it fixed – that surface crack may be deeper than you realize.
Copper and its alloys are versatile and have many desirable properties. They’re sturdy while being ductile, good conductors, environmentally friendly, and easy to weld, form, and machine. So, copper alloys and copper will serve you well in your projects.
If you’re seeking metal fabricators to manufacture small or large-scale copper projects for you, contact us! We’re industry-leading certified experts and will get the job done perfectly.
1. Should I go for stock parts or custom-fabricated copper parts for my project?
Both choices come with their advantages and limitations.
Copper stock parts are available readily on the market. They’re also less expensive and made per standard sizes and specifications. So, if your project demands a standard, typical copper component, stock parts will serve you well. However, you’ll have little say over details, materials, and sizes.
However, if your product is highly customized or specific, custom-fabricated copper parts will serve you better. They are flexible in terms of shape, size, and materials as well. You can have greater control over quality and even get precision metal parts made if you opt for customization, although it’s pricier.
2. How do I choose the right copper alloy for my application?
You have to keep your project’s chemical and physical requirements, complexity, and budget in mind to choose the right copper alloy for it.
For example, if your project has a complicated geometry, you can opt for alloys like free-cutting brass, aluminum bronze, beryllium copper, etc., as they are very easy to machine. If you’re looking for a good conductor, copper alloys like Silver Copper (CuAG) and OHFC will serve you well.
3. What is the lead time for custom-fabricated copper parts?
The lead time for your custom copper component will vary based on:
- The design’s complexity.
- The material’s availability.
- The material’s ease of machining.
- The size of your order.
- The fabricator’s skill and equipment.
So, your custom part can arrive anywhere from days to weeks. Work with your copper manufacturer closely to develop a realistic timeline.
Copper Alloys – Source: Science Direct
Sheet Metal Fabrication Machines – Source: KDM
Using Copper In Sheet Metal Fabrication – Source: METAFAB
Fabricating Copper Sheet Metal – Source: Xometry