Twenty Years of Copper Alloys in Moldmaking(2)

Beryllium Copper or Copper Nickel Alloys
Basically there are two families of alloy chemistries that yield high strength, high conductivity alloys that are the best choices for use as molding surfaces in molds. The families are either beryllium copper-based, or copper nickel-based. Both alloy families have other minor elements added for individualized purposes in each combination.

Sawing of 5-inch thick 30 Rockwell”C” copper alloy plate with carbide tipped saw blade.

Even producers of beryllium copper alloys have been offering copper alloys without beryllium due to competition and continuing issues associated with beryllium-containing alloys. In some cases, manufacturers have created alloy designations or names that detract from the acknowledgement of beryllium content (see Table 2).

Industry Challenges and Strategies
Global Competition
Like it or not, we are all working, competing, buying and selling in a global market, and remarks made by industry regarding the unfair competition from countries with lower labor costs, favorable monetary exchange rates, tax benefits or other motivating factors are common. However, this is nothing new and has still yet to run its course. In the 60s and 70s it was Japan, in the 80s it was Taiwan and Hong Kong, then Singapore and Korea, and now it’s China.

Table 2
CDA #
Cu Be Ni Alum
C17510 Balance .2-.6% 1.4-2.2% none
C17200 Balance 1.8-2% none none
C17200 Balance 1.8-2% none none
C18000 Balance none 1.8-3% none
none Balance none 6-7% none
C72700 Balance none 8.5% none
C72900 Balance none 15% none
C95400 83%min none 1.5% 10-11.5%
C95900 Balance none .5% 12-13.5%
none Balance none 2% 13%
Alloy designations. Table courtesy of CDA Bulletin 1433-8929.

Guess what? When the luster is gone from China as a source, then there will be some other county or region that joins in—countries such as Africa, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, even the Persian Gulf area, just to name a few.

Supply Chain Loyalty
Another common remark involves business dealings with the supply chains today and the lack of loyalty to companies that truly add value to the process. This would seem to be counterproductive to long-term success and can be a developing problem for companies in all facets of the supply chain with downstream consequences. It is extremely important to seek out and develop relationships with companies that add value and work to drive out unnecessary costs, not just one time, but with loyalty on a continuous basis.

A simple checklist or grading system is helpful in determining primary suppliers in your supply chain. The checklist should use a 5 (Best) to 1 (Worst) qualification process. This checklist should be maintained as the suppliers’ ongoing report card.

  • Maintains product inventory usable to your needs
  • Provides technical support for all phases of mold design and manufacturing
  • Experience in manufacturing the products and troubleshooting in applications
  • Well established in business
  • Regarded by industry as having high integrity
  • Quick response on quote requests and order processing

Phenomena of Change

The phenomena of changes with suppliers and products (many of these products are not actually new, just renamed, repackaged or an alloy that had been previously “retired”) is primarily driven by the evolution in the manufacturing sector in North America. Many manufacturers of OEM products that once used copper alloys in applications—other than moldmaking—are now sourcing from other continents.

Also with shorter OEM product lifecycles, those products no longer require high-performance copper alloys in their application. This, of course, means that manufacturers of copper alloys are looking to the moldmaking and molding industry to offset that lost market.

Adding value and driving out costs are accomplished by establishing relationships with suppliers that contribute the absolute latest in technical support along with the best product knowledge and experience in the marketplace. Many times this can only be accomplished through ongoing loyal business dealings that build trust. If customers buy from different suppliers every time or a purchase is based purely on price, neither the seller nor the purchaser has a real chance at long-term success.

Resistance to Change
Resistance to change has been—and still is—an uphill battle for many companies, especially when mold shops are seeking to make improvements in mold performance. Even the most successful molder or moldmaker with what they believe is the latest/greatest design is plagued by what appears to be this relentless issue. That resistance to accept ideas and technologies from outside or third-party sources has and does limit the potential for companies in the entire supply chain.

All too often molds are designed and built just “good enough to work” rather than designed and built with the very best design concepts, materials and components. In many cases, this resistance to change sets in motion an eventual bankruptcy, foreclosure or situations where an owner will just decide to downsize or close the doors entirely.

What is left for those of us still in business in this industry? Without a doubt a new attitude is needed followed with the sentiment for continued improvement and change. This industry must develop a survival of the fittest mentality—becoming truly “fit to serve the market”. This means we must develop a business attitude, which yields a company motivated to participate in ongoing change and continued development. This does not mean just change once or change just a little, then slow or stop.

The Copper Alloy Solution
So where are we today with the integration of copper alloys in mold building? There are still major opportunities and major contributions to be gained by companies that are willing to use these products.

Sawing the copper alloy plate again noting that the direction of cut is always in the thinnest cross section of material.

One example is there must be greater importance placed on water flow rates and controlling, such in molds when using copper alloys. To maximize the benefits of copper alloys the design of water flow should be to maintain “turbulent flow” versus “laminar flow”.

Turbulent flow maximizes the heat removal process. This turbulent versus laminar flow was not a significant issue due to the low BTU removal rate of tool steel. This without a doubt seems to be something that has long been overlooked by many in the industry because of the attitude, “It’s just a water line.”

If you do not believe this statement, ask any moldmaker how close they hold water line diameters/depths and whether turbulent flow calculations are used in determining watering systems. It is doubtful that any of them will acknowledge the need, because you will get the answer “it is just a water line”. Well readers, it is not just a water line anymore.

Another example for improving mold performance with copper alloy is cited in the October 2007 issue of MoldMaking Technology that references using bronze or aluminum bronze for the base material in making ejector sleeves for molds. These components when made using bronze material far outlast any tool steel sleeve and the problems, downtime and maintenance that results because of the tool steel will be a thing of the past.

Copper Alloy Brand Names or Number Designations

There is definitely confusion with copper alloys being offered on the marketplace. The CDA (Copper Development Association) number designation system applies to chemistry only and does not suggest any mechanical or other performance characteristics.

This means product literature provided by alloy manufacturers becomes the product benchmark. This makes product comparison or equivalents quite subjective to the company printing the literature, thereby promoting their own product over others.

Alloy manufacturers and suppliers take advantage then by offering their own versions or equivalents, which in some cases there are no equivalents. Because of this, producers/
distributors attempt to differentiate their products with brand name designations.

In the last 10 years, cycle times for successful molders have been cut nearly in half and there is still opportunity to run faster through the use of copper alloys. The technology of copper alloys as molding surfaces combined with controlled water flow and with all of the experience gained in the last 20 years will produce success in meeting the faster cycle requirements. If you are dealing with a material supplier that only “parrots” the history of their products in applications, you need to get hooked up with suppliers that can help with facts that lead to improvement in the designs that you have on the board today.

The question today is, “Is there still room to make improvements in mold designs and mold cycles? The answer is “Yes!” The opportunities are endless, and mold capabilities where the cool time is less than the mold fill time are possible.

Work with sources/suppliers that have a niche in their respective market, a true history of expertise in their discipline, willingness to openly provide improvements without reservation and a drive to maintain a successful business model in their own operations.

History has shown for most that cheap molds run and perform like cheap molds. For companies that are into buying cheap molds it may take some time for their true cost to surface. This is due to the real cost of a cheap mold never being exposed through the ranks of a company because the expense to get it running (productionized) is part of some departmental budgeting process that is not part of the initial mold cost, is not clearly visible, or is masked by the personnel involved in the mold procurement process. Remember, success does not come without a price tag and equally important is having the right people and right suppliers involved.

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