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Copper & Brass
Tuesday | 24 March, 2015 | 12:06 pm

Bacteria breakaway

By Gretchen Salois

Above: Hussey Copper is a fully integrated supplier of antimicrobial products.

Copper alloy provides antibacterial properties in everyday situations

March 2015 - Given the right environment—typically warm and humid—bacteria can fester and grow. Perhaps one of its most preferred incubators is the locker room, where countless microorganisms coalesce. Besides keeping facilities clean and encouraging athletes to regularly wash their uniforms and equipment, Gilmour Academy took hygiene a step further by installing custom-made hardware to locker rooms as well as doorways throughout its arenas to help keep students and spectators safe.

The school’s ice rink is where much of the action takes place as student athletes play competitive hockey. One day a parent of one of the players, an employee of Hussey Copper, introduced Hockey Director John Malloy to the germ-abating properties of copper. “We’re always cautious about MRSA and other illnesses that our athletes could be vulnerable to,” says Malloy. “We’re a two-sheet arena, not like a pro venue, so our arenas have more of a community feel to them—we rent out to other schools and teams. I was interested because installing copper hardware would provide us another layer of protection.” 

The Gates Mills, Ohio-based school isn’t kidding around when it comes to preventing the spread of potentially harmful bacteria. It also uses an ozone machine into which students can place athletic gear to kill bacteria. The machine sterilizes athletic equipment you can’t throw into a washing machine, such as helmets and skates. UV ozone levels contained within a sealed environment are used to sanitize the equipment. Levels are reverted back to oxygen once the process is complete. It gets rid of bacteria and, as an added bonus, bacterial odors.

Malloy recalls a football player who contracted a staph infection. While the infection wasn’t necessarily related to any of the facilities at the school, Gilmour Academy took extra precautions to ensure his infection would not migrate to anyone else. “After that kind of incident we want to do whatever we can to prevent something like that from happening in the future. We had to clear out the locker room and clean from top to bottom,” he says, noting it’s no small undertaking or expense.

While Malloy can’t say for certain that the copper fixtures have kept germs at bay since installing them last year, “We haven’t had any incidents.” 

The school did more than just replace hardware in the locker rooms, which included locker door hardware, as well as hooks to hang equipment. It also replaced the door handles throughout the arenas, so as people open and close doorways, germs are less likely to spread through hand-to-handle contact. Traditionally stainless steel would be used for such hardware, but would not provide the same level of antimicrobial benefits that copper yields. 

“It made sense to switch out the panels on our swinging double doors—it’s what people are constantly touching,” Malloy says. Had a parent not brought up the antimicrobial properties of copper, he is doubtful they would have come across this product as “it was not something being promoted through the normal arena expos.”

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Allied alloy

Hussey Copper, Leetsdale, Pennsylvania, is no stranger to athletic organizations and is in discussions with other sports programs, spanning beyond schools to the professional level. The company offers customers touch surface solutions in three different copper alloys and finishes, which are customizable for specific applications. Alloys 715, 706 and 110 are offered with a brushed or polished finish in many of the products offered.

“The parts installed at Gilmour Academy were produced with our nickel-based alloy having a very similar appearance to that of stainless steel,” explains Brian Sprochi, director of national accounts. “Parts produced with this alloy make it a strong fit in healthcare facility applications as well.”

As a fully integrated producer, “From casting to machining and fabrication we can offer solid copper antimicrobial solutions at a competitive price,” Sprochi says. “Coatings are never used as they would reduce or eliminate the efficacy of the product.”

Hussey Copper will develop custom solutions suitable for specific applications. Its engineered services team performs development, design and fabrication services. “As a matter of fact, we are right in the final stages of a complete design-and-install project at a major teaching medical institution,” he adds.

The benefits of antimicrobial copper are being applied in a number of industries and the list continues to grow. “Our products can be found today in healthcare, airports, athletic and educational facilities,” Sprochi says. “We continue to focus on growing these markets as well as developing additional channels to expand our presence in North America with antimicrobial copper solutions.”

The antimicrobial properties of copper continue to evolve as Hussey Copper collects data from research studying how effective copper is in reducing touch surface transmission of viruses and illnesses. “There will be an overwhelming pressure for organizations and institutions to take a real hard look at the cost versus benefits of upgrading their facilities to using copper to ensure the health and safety of their patients and visitors,” says Sprochi.

Custom copper

As demonstrated by the unique needs of Gilmour Academy, Hussey Copper has the ability to provide custom-made fixtures and solutions for customers. In this case, locker latches were specific to the locker facilities and produced with the mill’s waterjet technology. Other items at Gilmour Academy, such as the door handles, push plates and pull plates are more commonly requested so the company typically has inventory on hand to meet demand. “We’re not necessarily set up for quick-turn business with short lead times for custom projects,” adds Sprochi, because the order process usually entails a development cycle first. Once the plan is fixed, customers can expect products in a matter of days.

“As a mill we are naturally looking for larger volumes,” Sprochi says. “However, we work with distribution partners to service any size order that comes our way.”

Going forward, Sprochi believes if copper prices stabilize at their current level or continue to soften, Hussey Copper expects its market share against aluminum to grow in electrical applications.

“Copper is a superior carrier of current compared to aluminum as well as a better heat sink and although the rapid descent in pricing may squeeze some of our distribution customers in the short-term, lower metal values help our industry in the longer term. Antimicrobial applications are slowly gaining traction and we believe over the next five years this market will continue to grow.” MM

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