How Brass is Made and Why it Continues to be Useful(define stiffness Ernest)

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Brass is a metal alloy made up of copper and zinc that has been used for centuries thanks to its versatile properties. The proportion of copper to zinc can vary, resulting in different types of brass to suit various applications. Brass is highly malleable, durable, and corrosion resistant while also being relatively affordable. It is these characteristics that have ensured brass remains a popular material in manufacturing, musical instruments, plumbing, architecture, currency, and more.
Brass Production Process
The production of brass begins with the mining and processing of its constituent metals, copper and zinc. Copper is typically extracted from large open-pit mines before being crushed, concentrated, and smelted into copper matte. Further refining through processes like electrolytic refining and electrowinning produce 99.99% pure copper.
Zinc is mainly produced from zinc blende through froth flotation techniques. The zinc concentrate is then roasted to remove sulfur before being smelted to remove iron and other impurities. Electrowinning or distillation refines the zinc further into its pure metal form.
Once refined, the appropriate amounts of copper and zinc are measured out and melted together in a furnace to produce brass. The percentage of copper and zinc can vary based on the type of brass required. Common compositions include:
- 35% zinc - 65% copper: Architectural brass
- 37% zinc - 63% copper: Yellow brass
- 15% zinc - 85% copper: Red brass
- 45% zinc - 55% copper: High brass
Adding additional elements like silicon, aluminum, lead, or arsenic can enhance certain properties in the brass depending on the application. The molten brass can then be cast into ingots, sheets, rods, pipes, and wires.
Brass Uses and Applications
Thanks to its attractive gold-like sheen, malleability, machinability, and corrosion resistance, brass has been used in jewelry, decorations, utensils, and more since antiquity. Here are some of its major modern applications:
Plumbing and Fittings: Brass is the most popular material for plumbing fixtures and pipework. Its corrosion resistance makes it ideal for potable water transport while its machinability allows precise threading and compression fittings.
Electrical Equipment: Brass hardware components like screws, nuts, terminals, and relay housings provide electrical conductivity and corrosion resistance in power distribution systems, electronics, and more.
Automotive Parts: Radiators, bearings, bushings, brake components, and decorative trim in automobiles and motorcycles are often made of brass alloys. Their strength and wear resistance is valuable in high-stress applications.
Architecture: Brass fixtures like door handles, kick plates, railings, and lighting add aesthetic appeal and durability to buildings. The antibacterial properties of brass also make it useful in high traffic areas.
Ammunition and Weaponry: Cartridge cases, bullets, shotgun shells, and other firearm components rely on the strength, corrosion resistance, and malleability of brass. It also provides a softer interface between the firing pin and cartridge primer.
Musical Instruments: Brass instruments naturally get their name and sound from skillfully shaped brass components. Valves, tubing, bells, and mouthpieces must resonate cleanly when playing specific pitches and timbres.
Currency: The gold-like appearance and electrical conductivity of brass have made it a common coinage metal. The abrasion-resistance and antibacterial quality also help coins maintain integrity during handling.
Cost of Brass
As a metal alloy, brass derives its cost from the prices of copper and zinc on commodity markets. At present, copper trades around $4.50 per pound while zinc sits around $1.50 per pound. So the raw material cost for brass is approximately $6 per pound.
Additional costs are incurred in the production process including energy, labor, maintenance, and transportation. Different brass compositions and product shapes also influence the final pricing. On average, brass costs between $7-10 per pound with specialized alloys reaching $15 per pound or more.
Comparing to other popular metals:
- Aluminum: $1.70 per pound
- Stainless Steel: $2.50 per pound
- Copper: $4.50 per pound
- Brass: $7-10 per pound
So brass is approximately 3-4 times more expensive than aluminum and 2-3 times more than stainless steel. But it remains competitively priced compared to pure copper while offering benefits like corrosion resistance, hardness, and attractive aesthetics.
The continued use of brass in both traditional and high-tech applications speaks to its versatility as an alloy. Advancements in production and alloying processes will ensure brass remains relevant into the foreseeable future. Its unique combination of strength, workability, electrical conductivity, and appearance at a reasonable price point make it a valuable engineering and design material. CNC Milling