Monday, August 31, 2015

How the Steel Industry is Directly Related to the Bronze Industry

I am relatively new to the metals industry.  Now 10 years in an industry might not seem “new”…until you factor some folks have been in the industry for 30+ years…I’m new!  That being said, since joining the metals industry, I have heard repeatedly – If you want to see where copper prices are going, follow the oil prices.  Which I of course have been doing! But over the past few years, I have found that following after global steel consumption and loss has been equally valuable! 

Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon containing less than 2% carbon and 1% manganese and small amounts of silicon, phosphorus, sulfur and oxygen. Steel is the world's most important engineering and construction material, according to the World Steel Association, a trade group that includes steelmakers from 65 nations.

Steel has played a monumental role in the daily function of society, contributing to the cars that we drive the houses in which we live, the buildings that we work in and the infrastructure of the cities and towns around us. Its ability to be easily welded, resistance to heat and corrosion, and suitable machinability have made steel incredibly valuable – until recently. 

Although the nation’s economy is gradually improving across many industries, the steel industry is still waiting to feel any sort of economic lift as imports push steel prices down and the oil and gas industry cut orders in response to low energy prices. For the first half of 2015 ending in June, steel production in the United States has declined 6.5%, compared with the same period last year.

This decline is not specific to the United States; rather, it is a global concern. According to a report by Industry Week at the end of July 2015, China’s raw steel production was 68.9 million metric tons, down 1.4% from the previous month and down 0.8% compared to June 2014. Japan, the world’s second-largest steelmaking nation, produced 8.6 million metric tons of raw steel during June 2015, 3.9% less than during May and 6.2% less than during June 2014. Germany, the largest steelmaker in the European Union, produced 3.8 million metric tons of raw steel during June, increasing its output by 1.6% from May and 5.8% compared to June 2014. Despite the improvements, Germany’s year-to-date steel output is down 1.49% compared to the same period of last year.

The decline in bronze consumption in the US, and possibly across the globe, is directly related to a decline in steel consumption. Copper production fell more than 1% and, even worse, tin fell as much as 4.9%. Bronze, an alloy that is most commonly made with these two metals, has thus felt the impact in this slowed production. 

In a Bloomberg article titled, “Gold Rout Spreads to Copper, Tin and Zinc,” Daniel Brieseman, an analyst at a bank in Germany, stated, “Commodities are not in vogue. The weakness of the precious metals is spilling over to the base metals.” So as each of us watch oil & gas prices to gauge future Bronze usage…truly we should be watching oil & gas and steel. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ring the Bronze Bell: Why Using Bronze Will Provide Longer Product Lifetimes

While visiting Philadelphia the other week, I was walking along Independence Mall, where the Liberty Bell is located. I was astonished by the long, winding line of pedestrians eagerly awaiting their chance to view the historic monument with its famous cracked structure.

For centuries, bell makers relied on two main ingredients to ensure longevity and reliability: tin and copper. Both are relatively soft metals that will deform on striking. By alloying the two elements a harder and more rigid metal is created but also one with more elasticity than the use of one of the metals alone.  This allows for a better bell resonance and causes the bell to "vibrate like a spring when struck," (a necessary quality as the clapper may strike the bell at speeds of up to 600 miles per hour). The forces holding the tin and copper together cause vibrations rather than cracks when the bell is struck which creates a resonant tone. This metal combination also results in a tough, longwearing material that is resistant to oxidation and subject only to an initial surface weathering. Verdigris forms a protective patina on the surface of the bell, which coats it against further oxidation

The Liberty Bell weighed 2,080 lbs. at order. Over 200 years since its first ring from the tower of Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell not only symbolizes our country’s freedom, but it also shows how strong of a casting alloy that bronze is and how other products can have a similar lifespan. Now, I know you’re thinking, “Well what about the crack?” 

For me, if it had been made with a better combination of copper and tin, it would have remained in tact. You see even the hardest and strongest bronze contains large amounts of tin and little lead though an alloy with more than 25 per cent tin you will have a low melting point and the material will become brittle and susceptible to cracking. 

To put things in perspective, bronze highlighted much of the Ancient Egyptian lifestyle, from which artifacts still exist today. The Egyptians used it for weapons, armor, tools and, most famously, sculptures – all of which can be found in museums today, still in impeccable condition. So it truly boils down to how it’s cast and the chemistry and cooling!

Bronze can provide products a longer lifetime because it is harder than pure iron and copper. As well, it is also more resistant to corrosion and more malleable than other alloys.

Cast and sintered bronzes perform an important anti-friction function as bearings in millions of home products, automobiles and trucks, and in virtually all heavy industrial equipment, allowing for protection and thus, longer lifespans.

This topic trails back to a previous blog post I wrote, titled “A Sacrificial Metal: Why Bronze is So Selfless.” Although it discusses how bronze can be used to protect other metals, it also detail how strong and durable it is as an alloy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

“Bronze’s (Possible) Role in Saving the World in Armageddon”

In July 1998, the world as we know it almost came to an end. Well, in the summer blockbuster Armageddon that is. The science-fiction disaster film, starring Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler, was an international box-office success as well as the highest-grossing movie of 1998.

The film, tells the story of renowned deep-core oil driller Harry Stamper (Willis), whom NASA recruits to take on a dangerous space mission to stop an asteroid from colliding with Earth and wiping out humanity. Stamper, along with his crew, take off into space in the military shuttles, aptly named Freedom and Independence, to enact NASA’s plan, which includes drilling into the surface of the asteroid and detonating a nuclear bomb to split the asteroid in two.

If you’re familiar with the film, you’ll remember that the world was going to be saved by special drill designed by the lead character.  The drill would be affixed to the space vehicles, referred to as “Armadillos”. Featured below is the Armadillo, a mobile vehicle with the Special World Saving attached to the top.

So here is the question….would Bronze have played a part in saving the world? Would Harry Stamper have needed to call Atlas Bronze for Bronze parts to help run this drill? Theoretically, YES! 

Below, you can see the probable real-life equivalent of a Mobile Drill.  Sure it’s not futuristic shiny metallic or doesn’t have really cool looking drill heads but here on earth it gets the job done!

(Photo courtesy of Atlas Copco,

This Mobile Drill would indeed have required several bronze parts to operate the machine effectively.  As you can see in the below picture there are bronze parts that Atlas Bronze could have worked day & night to provide the brave crews of Freedom & Independence. Atlas Bronze could have provided bronze Finished Machine Bushings to fit a variety of anticipated material needs for the World saving mission; such as:
  1. Superior Wear Resistance - This would have been very helpful up on the asteroid as Harry’s rogue team member eventually blows out the transmission on the first go around in drilling on asteroid
  2. Resilience to Low Temperatures - In fact, copper alloys become stronger and more ductile as the temperature goes down, retaining excellent impact resistance to 20 K (-253 C or -424 F).  According to Google the average temperature of an asteroid is -100 degrees Fahrenheit
  3. Magnetic Resistance - This should cover the Magnetic field issue that the crew encountered when landing on the asteroid. 
So at the end of the day…Atlas Bronze surely could have helped save the day, even as the world is potentially ending. #BronzeIsEverywhere