Discover Copper Online

Fall 1994

Copper Alloys Tools Prevent Dangerous Explosions

The "Battle Ax," a multipurpose, beryllium copper tool for those who fight fires and other threats from NGK Berylco.

All it takes is one spark, and a huge grain elevator, chemical plant, petroleum refinery of empty tanker and can explode and burn, causing death and destruction. That's why workers in those situations use non-sparking copper alloy safety tools instead of steel tools that can generate sparks.

The vast majority of the world's safety tools are supplied by two U.S. based manufacturers, Ampco Metal, Inc. and NGK Berylco. How have these two manufacturers become so strong in this niche market? Speaking for Ampco, technical services manager, Rob Pearson said, "we enjoy strong distribution worldwide based on relationships going back as much as 50 years, and we provide a very complete line of bronze tools. For instance, we offer metric wrenches made to exacting standards."

To further enhance sales overseas, Ampco has created a catalog that describes its many tools in four languages. Most Ampco safety tools are made of C95500 aluminum bronze.

NGK Berlyco provides a broad line of safety tolls made exclusively of beryllium copper, high-strength alloys of copper with a percent or two of beryllium added. NGK's parent company in Japan makes the metric tools it supplies.

NGK Berlyco offers an unusual service: free sharpening, if the customer pays the freight both ways. All of this manufacturer's tools meet the ISO 9002 standard of the European Community and come with a lifetime warranty, assuming proper usage. According to Cassandra E. DeCesare, manager of Safety Tool Sales, "In four years, I recollect that only a few tools were replaced under the warranty."

OSHA Stresses Safety

Copper, in addition to blocking RFI, helps electronics survive in hostile environments. Thin heat and fluid resistant ceramic substrates coated on both sides with strip made from C10100 copper are employed as printed circuit boards in tough situations, such as aircraft engine controls. Copper on the bottom serves as a heat sink, while the copper on top is etched, as shown, to interconnect inserted components. The copper, which ranges from 8 to 20 mils in thickness, is either left bare or plated with gold or nickel, depending on customers requirements. These substrates are supplied by Tegman Corporation, a subsidiary of Brush Wellman, Syracuse, New York.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires the use of copper alloy safety tools in situations where explosions are feared. That's why copper alloy tools are in wide usage, even though they cost three times as much as their counterparts. The nonsparking requirement accounts for 90% of usage. Copper alloy tools are also corrosion resistant and nonmagnetic. The former feature is why the Ocean Spray Company uses bronze rakes (instead of steel rakes, which rust) to handle cranberries.

Nonmagnetic tools are used to repair very sensitive electrical and electronic instruments and are also required on minesweepers, which must contain as little iron as possible to avoid setting off underwater mines that detect magnetic anomalies. The U.S. Navy is a major purchaser of safety tools.

Because of their wear resistance, putty knives and hand scrapers are the most widely used beryllium copper tools. They are mainly used to separate segments of big oil and gas pipelines under repair, according to Kim Norman, manager of Ampco's Dallas Division, which manufactures the bronze tools.

Ampco also markets kits of bronze safety tools to those who own large boats with motors in enclosed space. In view of the hazards of using spark-generating tools in vapor filled engine spaces, Ampco expects this to be a growing market, according to Pearson.

Ampco Metal Inc.,
Dallas Division, 214-276-6181

NGK Berylco
Athens, TN 800/423-7717

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