Welcome to the nonferrous issue. In February, our goal is to ferret out content focused on anything but steel. One of our articles this month talks about several nonferrous products and discusses how they are produced. You will likely recognize the author of that one.

A second article discusses brazing of aluminum. The content is adapted from material submitted by Dan Kay for our online blogs. Check out our website for regularly updated blog content from Dan Herring, Dan Kay, Debbie Aliya, David Pye and Tom Joseph.

Our news section – print and website – is updated daily with breaking news from our industry. This often includes nonferrous news from Aerospace to Zirconium.

Speaking of news, we are always tracking stories that are pertinent to our industry. Our IH Daily offers a key news item for our industry each morning, and twice each month our magEzine newsletter takes a look at seven important news stories. Here is a sampling of nonferrous news we have been covering.

Some of the more interesting stories of the past year involved underhanded dealings with nonferrous materials. One story indicated that Vietnamese customs discovered and seized about $4.3 billion of Chinese aluminum falsely labeled “Made-in-Vietnam” before being shipped mostly to the United States. The aluminum was imported from China by a company that attempted to avoid U.S. tariffs. Another story that caught the attention of readers involved China’s largest aluminum extrusion company attempting to avoid paying $1.8 billion in tariffs by disguising “huge amounts” of aluminum as pallets and smuggling the material into the U.S.

“The Great Cobalt Heist” ended up being our most-popular news story of 2019. Cobalt is valuable because it is used to prevent lithium-ion batteries (found in cellphones and electric cars) from overheating. At a time when cobalt reached a record high of $100,000/ton, 112 tons of cobalt – worth approximately $10 million – was stolen from a warehouse in Rotterdam.

Nonferrous material, particularly aluminum, is a large part of the additive-manufacturing (AM) market because of lower melting temperatures. In spite of this, low-strength AlSiMg still dominates the market. With the launch of 7A77 aluminum powder, California’s HRL Laboratories has created the strongest AM aluminum to date.

Optimizing the characteristics of AM powders is the subject of much research. Equispheres announced the results of a research project, with McGill University, on its aluminum-alloy powders. University research has shown that the company’s powders are suitable for sintering with binder-jet 3D-printing (AM) technology. Equispheres claims that the combination of binder-jet 3D printing with aluminum-alloy powder is an unprecedented achievement with significant potential impact on the automotive industry. 

Titanium is seeing some work in the AM world because of its cost. There is no waste with AM, as compared to subtractive processes, so the higher AM costs can be more easily justified. For example, Denmark’s CeramicSpeed and the Danish Technological Institute (DTI) collaborated to additively manufacture a lightweight, hollow titanium pulley wheel for a professional race-bike gearing system. Reported to be the world’s lightest gear wheel, it was race-condition tested by competitors from this year’s Tour de France. 

Rare-earth (RE) metals are nonferrous materials getting some attention. China, which monopolizes the supply, has been sending veiled threats to the U.S. With REs being a part of most modern technology, the U.S. is beginning to mine a new source of RE materials – recycling. RE magnets taken from discarded tech (e.g., disk drives and MRI machines) are ground into a fine powder and processed into new magnets. A single company is expected to produce more than 1,000 tons of magnets annually with this approach. Barry Ashby’s Federal Triangle column in September 2019 also addressed rare earths.

Did anyone ring in 2020 with an aluminum wine bottle (pictured), which was unveiled in December? As the year progresses, we expect to see regular advances in AM materials/processes. Beginning in March, the quarterly Academic Pulse column will be exclusively dedicated to this topic. Stay tuned.