Banner
Copper & Brass
Friday | 10 March, 2017 | 9:19 am

Crises averted

By Corinna Petry

Above: Lead-free signifies content of less than 0.05 percent, which enables manufacturers of water handling products to guarantee safety for consumers.

A producer proves that experience matters when developing the market for lead-free copper alloys

March 2017 - On April 25, 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan, shut off access to the Lake Huron water they were receiving from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department and began drawing and treating water from the Flint River.

The Flint River-sourced water was insufficiently treated with corrosion inhibitors, causing lead from aging transmission pipes to leach into the water. This endangered 100,000 Flint residents, especially children, who are more susceptible to the neurotoxin.

This series of decisions, shared by state and local authorities in the name of cost cutting, launched a community health crisis unseen since Hurricane Katrina but in this case, the fallout was most likely avoidable.

FFJ 0317 copper image1

Concast’s origins go back to Pittsburgh in 1891, when it began producing brass and bronze ingots for 19th century applications.

Meanwhile, however, a growing number of companies in the water handling and plumbing industries are aware of what to do to prevent such a crisis and what to use to replace aging infrastructure that may contain toxins like lead.

Among the raw material suppliers they turn to is Concast Metal Products Inc., Wakeman, Ohio. It casts lead-free replacement copper alloy bar stock, which is recognized by the plumbing and water-handling industries as compliant with environmental standards to achieve a safer and healthier water supply. 

Going green

Concast traces its founding to Pittsburgh in 1891, when it began producing brass and bronze ingots. Roughly 100 years later, the company launched its GreenAlloys product line of lead-free alloys in bar form. The product development team recognized there was increasing concern around lead and the inevitable legislative move to mandate lead content within publicly delivered drinking water.

Employing 120 people at production plants in Birmingham, Ohio, and Mars, Pennsylvania, Concast claims to be the largest continuous cast manufacturer of copper alloys in North America. The two facilities operate a combined 14 casting lines and distribute bars, rods, tubes and rectangles around the globe.

Al Barbour, Concast Metal Products’ president, recalls, “We started creating lead-free alloys in 1992. At that time, it was an issue of reducing lead exposure for our employees. And then the idea about drinking water [surfaced].”

Martin Little, executive vice president of sales and marketing, says, “We knew lead-containing products were becoming an issue and wanted to be on leading edge and supply the market with a safer product.” 

The specification of Concast’s GreenAlloys line among customers “didn’t happen overnight,” Barbour says. “We had one or two customers in the 1990s that made up the bulk of our sales in those alloys, and they weren’t a large percentage of our business.”

Just the same, adoption has been growing over the past 25 years. “We tried to position ourselves as a leader in low-lead alloys by starting out early.”

FFJ 0317 copper image2

Lead-free alloys were originally melted and cast to order to meet custom sizes and specifications but are now held in inventory for rapid delivery.

Elements of purity

Concast worked with Federal Metals of Bedford, Ohio, to cast its product line using bismuth to replace lead, and used its metallurgical know-how to broaden the product line to 10 new alloys, including those with bismuth and high tin bronzes. Federal Metals was instrumental in Concast’s development of its bismuth-based, lead-free product line.

Concast has found applications beyond water treatment and plumbing. “Our customers wanted to stop machining as much leaded product,” says Barbour, because it became a risk for contamination within their own shops.

According to Little, demand has risen due to government mandates for lead-free material in certain applications. (Lead-free signifies content of less than 0.05 percent.) 

“Companies are much more aware of material content and they want environmentally correct products. It even gets to the shareholder level,” Barbour says. 

“A good example of applications that are a bit off the radar is large engine manufacturers, which are mandating that by a certain date, all engine components be lead free,” adds Little, “so it is not just plumbing but other sectors.”

Barbour explains that heavy equipment component makers and the OEMs they supply “are thinking about the end of life cycle, and the recycling of their product to make them sustainable.”

Recently, he says, makers of bushings and bearings that go into heavy vehicles and equipment also “want to know which alloys our products contain.”

Bismuth is more expensive than lead, Little concedes. Low-lead and lead-free products “cost more due to higher purity. Those customers who must use higher quality raw material with fewer contaminants are also getting a higher copper content—and that is the highest intrinsic cost in these alloys.”

FFJ 0317 copper image3

JIT inventory

Not only did Concast become the vanguard for developing lead-free castings, it is the first to make them a standard product in inventory. According to Little, “We carry well over 100 sizes of grade 89835 that are standard [replacing C932.] Customers can order from well-rounded inventory.”

Barbour recalls when these alloys were  melted and cast solely to meet custom sizes and specifications. “We cast a lot of alloys every day, every month. This fits in with that. We aren’t wedded to a few standard alloys. We take the opportunity to cast different alloys that customers request.”

He says the ready availability of low-lead and lead-free alloys has boosted sales.

Doing well by doing good

Concast ships its products internationally. “Eventually, as a leader, a lot of countries follow what the United States does,” says Little. “Eventually, we will sell more lead-free products globally. We have occasional sales into Asia now. We have a distributor in Brazil and Europe. As those markets become more interested in lead-free products, we are positioned well,” he adds.

“With the issue happening in Flint and that being in the public consciousness, our products will have more acceptance and growth. Even through lead-free alloys cost more, it’s what consumers expect.”

Little notes that through 25-plus years casting these alloys, “we learned a lot through trial and error; that’s experience others don’t have. Combined with the number of alloys we produce, we have developed a good reputation in the market.” 

On Feb. 10, Michigan state officials noted the latest six-month cycle of water testing showed contamination below the federal action level for the national Lead and Copper Rule, enacted in 2014. They said Flint’s water had a 90th percentile value of 8 parts per billion. The City of Flint launched a $55 million FastStart program a year ago to replace lead pipes with copper. MM

LATEST ISSUE 
MM Cover0917 digital

vert-current-linewhiteJanuary 2018

LIQUID COMMERCE

Renewing and rebuilding harbors and marine structures smooths pathways for internal shipping, international trade.

> READ THIS
MONTH'S ISSUE

MM digitaal archive banner 330

Instagram - @ModernMetalsMag

Modern Metals on Twitter

Banner

TrendPublishing 6 16 mm

Instagram Icon Large twitter facebook linkedin rss

MM Cover0917 preview FFJ Cover0917 preview mm 0917 brandingcovers2 3 2 Consumables 0917


BPA_WW_MASTER.jpg