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Spring 1992

Demand Increases for Copper Busbars

"Copper use in busbars has been on the increase during the past few years, especially for industrial applications," reports Andrew Kargocos, procurement coordinator for the Westinghouse Electric Corporation's (WEC) Distribution and Control Business Unit, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Busbars are used in high current/high voltage distribution and control equipment. WEC is one of the nation's largest purchasers of both fabricated busbars, sold chiefly to electrical contractors who then install them in various structures, and raw busbar material for use in the products WEC manufactures for its customers.

Low voltage bus duct with copper busbar. Low voltage bus duct with copper busbar.

Typically, busbar conductors are 1/4-inch thick, 3- to 4-inches wide and cut to size from 12-foot lengths. They are made of either copper or aluminum. Kargocos attributes copper's better performance as an electrical conductor plus its better corrosion resistance for the increase he sees in customer orders specifying copper.

Kargocos points out that it's the customer who decides. "And recently, we've had a lot of requests for copper." Kargocos, who helps negotiate contracts with suppliers, says, "The higher the voltage and current requirements, the more likely the busbar will be copper."

Copper terminals for feeding electrical busbar. Copper terminals for feeding electrical busbar.

As might be expected, WEC is itself a big busbar customer, with most of its applications at Westinghouse plants in the Carolinas and on the West Coast. John Titus, purchasing manager for WEC in Greenwood, South Carolina, says copper has the advantage over aluminum. "Conductivity; that's it, period! With copper, you can use a smaller busbar because of copper's greater conductivity." Titus adds that copper is a time-tested material.

Copper busbars are used in the following systems marketed by Westinghouse's Distribution & Control Business Unit:

  • Busway Systems - largest use of both aluminum and copper busbars.
  • Low and Medium Voltage Switchgear - primarily copper busbars.
  • Panel Boards and Switchboards - mixture of copper and aluminum busbars.
  • Control Equipment (such as motor control centers) - almost 100 percent copper busbars.

Busbar is a part of the copper industry's electrical and electronic end-use market, which is the second largest (of five) after building construction. In 1991, electrical and electronic uses represented nearly 25% of all copper consumption in the U.S.A.

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