Introduction

COMMERCIAL COPPER ALLOY POWDERS, including brasses, bronzes, and nickel silvers, are manufactured in a similar manner. Usually, the same integrated manufacturing facilities are used to complete the melting process, atomization, final screening, and blending of a lot or batch.

The powder-producing process is similar to a foundry operation in which high-purity virgin metals are charged to a melting furnace in preweighed batches to be processed at predetermined heating rates and times. High-purity raw materials are required, because melting produces minimal refinement (only a partial transfer of contaminants from the melt to the formed slag occurs). To ensure continuity, homogeneity, and uninterrupted atomization, the molten batch of alloy is transferred to a second furnace with a greater holding capacity than the primary furnace melting rate. Induction heating is preferred for at least one furnace to ensure the constant induced metal movement required for alloy homogeneity and to ensure uniform lead dispersion in lead-bearing alloys.

Atomization is achieved by particulation of a controlled, constant-flowing, molten stream emitted from the secondary furnace by medium-pressure dry air. A typical melting and atomizing sequence is shown in Fig. 1. Subsequent reduction of oxides is not required for standard P/M grades.

Fig. 1 Flowchart for copper alloy powder air atomization. SQC, statistical quality control; SPC, statistical process control

Air-cooled, atomized powder is collected and passed over a primary control screen (sieve) to remove oversize particles. Usually, these are remelted concurrently during the processing of each alloy. Finally, the screened alloy powder may be blended with dry organic lubricants, such as lithium and zinc stearate, for use in the manufacture of P/M structural components.

Adjustment of powder properties (particle size distribution, apparent density, green strength, etc.) of each alloy is accomplished by controlled manipulation of the atomizing process conditions (e.g., atomizing air flow rate, molten metal temperature, nozzle configuration, etc.). Powder properties are maintained by periodically recording the atomizing parameters and by evaluating the properties of representative samples from the in-process atomized product.

A variety of copper-base alloys can be manufactured by the atomizing process; however, commercial P/M applications normally are confined to a rather narrow range of specific, single-phase ( ) compositions.

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