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Copper & Brass
Tuesday | 01 September, 2009 | 5:30 am

Endless options

By Abbe Miller

August 2009 - For some things, there is no substitute. If a suitor shows up with zirconia instead of a diamond, there’s a fat chance he’ll be hearing "I do" any time soon. Same goes for turkey bacon. It’s just not the same.

In the case of some medical diagnostic equipment, beryllium is one of those things that simply doesn’t have an equivalent. Its low atomic number causes it to be nearly transparent to energetic particles, such as X-rays. So although beryllium can’t be bumped by a replacement for specific medical equipment applications, it’s proving to be the perfect alternative to other materials.

When paired with myriad metals, specifically copper, high strength, hardness and thermal conductivity can be achieved. This makes beryllium an obvious choice for a variety of nuclear power applications as well as for injection mold tooling that heats up during the injection cycle.

As a lightweight and rigid element, it’s strong enough to work as a part of the braking components in both military and civilian aircraft, and it’s light enough to help automotive, marine and aerospace vehicles shed pounds.

"Beryllium alloys, beryllium and other rare metals are the fundamental building blocks of the 21st century--a clean and green tech economy," says Anthony Dutton, CEO and president of IBC Advanced Alloys Corp., Vancouver, British Columbia, a newly launched manufacturer and supplier of advanced materials with a focus on beryllium. "In the metals market, you’ll have seen this new market appearing, which is specialized rare earth metals, rare element metals and exotic metals. They’re referred to by many names. There’s beryllium, lithium, niobium, germanium and many more. They will all play an important role in the next generation of the manufacturing cycle, which is going to be focused on miniaturization, hybrid automobiles, and clean and green technology."

Into the fold
Dutton’s statement for the future is bold, and his company’s position and recent activity mirrors that sentiment. IBC came onto the scene in November 2007 and did so with a mine-to-market focus.

"IBC was conceived as a special acquisition vehicle with nothing in it but an idea and the necessary financial backing," Dutton explains. "We determined a good future for beryllium-related products and technology. At the same time, we also needed to understand the existing market, which already has a nuclear angle to it. We decided that the best way to approach the future was to consolidate a manufacturing platform of existing companies that were already in that and other beryllium-focused business."

Nonferrous Products Inc., Franklin, Ind., a manufacturer of copper forgings, including beryllium copper, chrome copper and aluminum bronze in plate, disc, bar and rings, as well as specialty copper alloy forgings, was immediately targeted as a potential acquisition because it was one of the only companies in the United States that produced certain alloys of interest to IBC.

"Nonferrous had some attributes that were pretty unique," says Dutton. "They’re one of few companies that focus on forging, heat treating and machining of copper and copper alloys and especially copper beryllium alloys. They offer a wide range of copper alloy products including pure copper, chrome copper, beryllium copper, copper nickel and aluminum bronze alloys, which make them the critical source of supply for many industries and in some instances, the only source. In terms of their plant and equipment, they have one of the largest hydraulic presses in North America dedicated to copper and copper alloy forging."

On paper, Nonferrous fit the bill in capabilities alone. Upon acquiring the company in October 2008, it surpassed IBC’s expectations in every other department.

"They have a fantastic management team and a great group of people that really impressed us," Dutton continues. "Nothing is too much of a challenge for them. Part of IBC, going forward, is one of growth. So we needed to have people that would buy into our vision of growth rather than just wanting to maintain the status quo. The human side of Nonferrous was a huge selling point, as far as we were concerned. We needed people that wanted to grow, knew how to grow and knew where to go to grow."

Steady strides
Nonferrous Products Inc., which is also referred to as IBC Advanced Alloys Corp., Nonferrous Division, opened its doors more than 60 years ago. It started as a foundry and since then has made a name for itself stateside and in India, China, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, the U.K., parts of Europe and Mexico.

As time passed, the company’s collection of customers grew. Today, it serves those in the welding industry, the electronics industry, the plastic mold injection industry, and in the defense sector for naval ships and submarines.

Those markets will inevitably increase with the June installation of a ring rolling mill. With the mill in-house, Nonferrous’ forging capabilities increased tenfold. Copper, high copper alloys, beryllium copper and aluminum bronze rings, which are in the oil and gas, aerospace, and naval marine industries, as well as in electric motors, heat exchangers and desalination plants, are now possible thanks to IBC’s backing.

"They had long wanted a ring rolling machine to expand their capabilities," Dutton explains. "One of the first things we did when we came along was sit down with them and understand what the benefit to IBC was going to be, what the payback was going to be and why this would be a good thing to do. It didn’t take them long to convince us, and therefore, we authorized the purchase of that piece of equipment. It was barely in the ground and they were already getting orders on it."

Dutton says that with the ring roller, IBC can be considered one of the largest manufacturers of copper and copper alloy forgings in North America, "expanding our markets and products, which was what we intended to do."

Nonferrous has helped IBC achieve its initiatives with its staff of 35. In addition, that staff has also opened up the possibilities for its customers. Beyond supplying its variety of forgings--pieces from 5 pounds to 4,000 pounds--customers can rely on the employees at Nonferrous, who offer up their expertise in terms of alloy recommendations and engineering and design. It’s also possible for customers to bring in their own material to take advantage of the company’s metal conversion services for resizing and tempering.

"A lot of people who don’t understand the manufacturing benefits of beryllium copper just look at the upfront material cost," Dutton says. "In the case of beryllium copper being sold to the plastic injection mold industry, the cost per unit molded over the life of a mold is significantly less than using mold steel because beryllium copper has much better thermal characteristics. For example, the mold will cool down much more quickly, so you can use it again more quickly. There’s less time between injections into the mold. The material is stronger and will be used over a longer lifetime."

In 2008, IBC also acquired Freedom Alloys Inc., Royersford, Pa, enhancing its ability to supply beryllium-containing products to the marketplace. Freedom Alloys has been melting and casting beryllium-containing materials in its Royersford, Pa., plant since 1994. The company’s core expertise is casting beryllium copper and other beryllium-containing alloys.

"As sister companies, Nonferrous and Freedom Alloys provide a complementary platform of manufacturing capabilities to quickly and efficiently expand their business across a wider spectrum of applications for beryllium copper and other advanced alloys," says Rajeev Jain, IBC’s vice president of sales.

"Once people look beyond the materials cost and start to factor in the benefits regarding the length and strength of the mold and the efficiency of the mold, there’s a strong case for using it," says Dutton. Which leaves beryllium in a comfortable situation: It’s guaranteed its place in applications involving X-rays and a wide variety of other high-tech applications. But with the type of knowledge, product line and advice Nonferrous can offer, it can also find a home in end-use applications where it’s least expected. MM

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