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Copper & Brass
Tuesday | 28 August, 2012 | 4:21 pm

Safe landing

By Gretchen Salois

Propelling innovation forward, one company ups the ante on new technology

August 2012 - A plane doesn’t appear in the air without first taking off. Once off the ground, landing safely on the tarmac is as important as navigating the flight. Landing gear equipment may not share the same sleek, eye-catching allure as the body of the aircraft but it serves an essential function. One company is advancing alloys for these crucial applications and is keeping its supply well stocked to meet customer demand.

With 29 years in business, National Bronze & Metals Inc., headquartered in Houston, provides customers with extensive inventories of brass, bronze and specialty copper alloys. Recently, the company began offering a large range of nickel aluminum bronze alloys and manganese bronze alloys, a new option for customers requesting the standard commercial continuous cast materials.

“With our state-of-the-art foundry, which opened in January 2010, we have been able to make some tremendous gains in the quality of our materials compared to what is available in the market right now,” says Norman Lazarus, senior vice president at NBM.

Lazarus says the company offers higher mechanical properties and improved surfaces and tolerances to customers. “Our materials have become a lot more homogenous—there will be significant advantages to the industry,” he adds, noting NBM can provide bars or semifinished materials to customers.

The company’s product line consists of tubes, rounds, hollows, rectangles, squares, hexagons, wires, plates and forgings, as well as made-to-order shapes for customer-specific drawings or end-use applications, according to NBM’s website. With more than 100 grades of copper alloys exceeding 10 million pounds, NBM meets the diverse needs of global customers.

AMS 4880 and AMS 4881 nickel aluminum bronzes are used for both commercial and military aircraft landing gears. Landing gears contain many pivoting points with flanged bushings. Companies working with these types of components need high-quality materials and are concerned about leftover scrap or waste. “Instead of just buying the bar itself, NBM can now provide the rough finished flanged bearings, as well,” Lazarus says. “If you look at the parts, 90 percent are flanged bearings.”

More than a capital investment

As NBM expands, the company has been building its team of experts to continue technological advances to its product line. In Lorain, Ohio, the company has expanded its initial 32-member workforce to 85 since opening in 2010. “We invested a lot in technology,” Lazarus says. “We have taken a huge increase in market share over the past couple of years, and with the addition of our new continuous cast bronze foundry, our demand has increased at a rapid rate.”

Among the company’s four locations in Houston, Lorain, and Toulon, France, and its most recent addition, a full-time facility in Monterrey, Mexico, NBM is solidifying its presence as market demand perks up. “We have hundreds of orders come through on any given day,” Lazarus says. The decision to open a new full-time office in Mexico is key to the company’s pre-emptive strategy. “There are different sectors in Mexico, including automotive, general engineering, aerospace, and oil and gas, that we want to make sure we are available to,” he adds.

Along with upgrades in materials, NBM has experienced increased demand in industries other than aerospace. An upswing in the oil and gas industry has been particularly strong for the company. Other areas include the power and energy sector, automotive, and marine and naval. “We’ve definitely seen some nice increases across a number of industries overall,” Lazarus says.

NBM supplies the raw material to manufacturers as well as rough-machined parts. NBM’s business with other service centers has expanded during the last two years. “We are in a position to supply very specific material with very fast turnaround times on a worldwide basis,” Lazarus says. “There aren’t many companies who can provide what we can. We have a very deep and wide inventory to cover many different applications, and we are still focused 100 percent in copper, brass and bronze alloys.”

Prepping customers, new opportunities

NBM processes orders directly from its mill or from inventory, just-in-time orders, contracts or customers can call the company for fill-in orders. “They can work with us and buy on-the-spot from our mills,” Lazarus says.

Despite the high volume of orders, the company is able to complete last-minute requests under tight deadlines. “Just recently, we processed an order for Lockheed Martin where they needed [materials] for a space program,” Lazarus says. “We were able to take on the order because of our technology. They could come to us for certain materials no one else could provide.”

One of NBM’s new material developments is a lead-free, dezincification-free cutting brass, NBM Model 3. The new brass, which was developed about three years ago, has excellent machinability and plating characteristics. NBM Model 3 machining brass is silicon- and bismuth-free and is recycled easily without fear of contaminating other leaded brass alloys, should the material be mixed in a machine shop or elsewhere in the scrap-recycling stream, Lazarus explains.

Meeting environmentally friendly ISO standards, NBM keeps waste away from customers. “By having NBM complete the rough machining of materials before they are sent to customers, we are taking the shavings and recycling them right from the source,” Lazarus says. “We take on that responsibility instead of the customer. They don’t want waste on their properties at all. We have reached that level where we can help to eliminate scrap and ensure that our customers can be more readily ISO 14000 compliant.”

Continuing its steps toward improvement, earlier this summer, NBM launched its updated and improved website. This website allows customers to find products or copper alloys easily and at any time. The site also serves as an educational guide for customers who aren’t 100 percent sure which product will best suit their needs.

Earlier this year, the company received full approvals to supply AMS 4880 to Messier-Bugatti-Dowty, the largest manufacturer of landing gears in the world. “Now we are an approved supplier and have ramped up our inventories on a worldwide basis, which will allow for very prompt service,” Lazarus says, adding that because NBM produces large volume-orders, the company has reduced costs and extended those savings to customers.

“It used to take 12 weeks to get materials, not only here in the U.S. but in Europe as well,” he continues. NBM is looking toward expanding its influence to Latin America and Asia in the near future.  MM

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