Ferrous, Non-Ferrous and Metal Alloys used in the Construction Industry





Ferrous, Non-Ferrous and Metal Alloys used in the Construction Industry

Ferrous Metals

The chief component in ferrous metals is iron. Other than iron, ferrous metals contain other elements or metals added to produce the desired properties. Ferrous metals are usually magnetic and they can easily be acquired from the demolition of old buildings, metallic remains from manufacturing sites, and from vehicle scrap metal (Street and Alexander 51). Other sources of ferrous metals include shipwrecks, farm equipment, and railroad tracks. The scrap metal recycling sector transform the scrap into commercially viable products which contributes up to 60% of the entire steel manufactured in the U.S (Street and Alexander 51). Steel occurs as the widely recycled ferrous metal in the U.S. and all over the world. Steel is mostly used to manufacture kitchen utensils such as forks, knives, and spoons, and is also applicable in the development of commercial steel rods used in construction. It is also common to find pots, stainless sinks, and pans made of steel.

Companies that handle ferrous metals apply the heat treatment method that includes combined processes that heat and cool ferrous metals to alter their features such as ductility, softness, and hardness. The heat treatment process may take the form of hardening which takes place through heating under the required temperature. Tempering is widely applicable during the production of steel to remove the internal stresses and to make the metal stronger and stiffer. Annealing is also appropriate in the treatment of ferrous metals to ease internal stressors, to soften them, and to improve their ductility. The process (annealing involves holding the metal at a prescribed temperature for sometime before restoring the room temperature. The handlers of ferrous metals may also apply normalizing which lowers internal stressors and to make the material stronger. The treatment method may have a significant impact on the quality and strength of the ferrous metal.

Non-Ferrous Metals and Alloys

Non-ferrous metals lack iron and are not magnetic. The metals have high resistance to corrosion compared to ferrous metals. Some of the common types of non-ferrous metals include aluminum, brass, lead, copper, and zinc (Newark Recycling Center). Most non-ferrous metals are alloys which are metallic compounds that comprise more than one metal, or metal and a non-metallic element. Some examples of conventional alloys include bronze which is a combination of tin (metal) and copper (metal). Brass is also a widely used alloy that comprises of zinc (metal) and Copper (metal). Steel, however, qualifies to be an alloy of iron which is metallic and carbon which is non-metallic but is not a non-ferrous metal because of the presence of iron in its component.

Copper metal – Source; Newark Recycling Center, 2015

Some alloys occur naturally and do not require many processes to convert them into industrial standards. Ferro-alloys such as Ferro-silicon and Ferro-chromium, for example, are extracted by merely smelting mixed ores. Trade and commercial alloys, nevertheless, require higher levels of processing and are often created by combining liquid metal in a regulated environment (Street and Alexander 74). One would be wrong in thinking that alloying metallic components are a simple process. Mixing lead and aluminum in their molten form using the conventional style, for example, would separate into distinct sections like water and oil. The engineers or the personnel handling the process, therefore, must employ great expertise to develop the metals.

Non-ferrous metals and alloys have a wide range of uses in different industries. Copper is widely used to create water pipes and is also used manufacture electric wires. Brass is widely used to develop water valves, to carry out brass fixtures, and to manufacture spent ammunition casings. Aluminum is increasingly becoming applicable in the creation of pots, pans, wheels, and window frames among other tasks (Newark Recycling Center). Non-ferrous metals are also widely suitable for the production of eyeglass frames, automobile parts, fashion accessories, and connector parts among others.

Rims made from aluminum – Source; Newark Recycling Center, 2015

Non-ferrous metals are usually more expensive compared to ferrous metals due to several reasons. First, as already mentioned, the metals that lack iron require complex processes compared to the ferrous category that may not need as complex forms of production during the recycling. The second reason that makes non-ferrous metals more costly is that they do not quickly degrade or lose their physical and chemical properties (Street and Alexander 81). The ability to withhold their features for more prolonged periods makes it easy to recycle them an infinite number of times without deforming their structure. The differences in ductility between ferrous and non-ferrous metals have an impact on their prices. Non-ferrous metals such as aluminum, tin, and zinc can be hammered into stretched or thin wires without breaking.  The high levels of ductility in ferrous metals make them more expensive because they can be applied in different areas of production (Street and Alexander 87). A comparative analysis between uncoated and unsoldered copper and stainless steel in the U.S. shows that whereas copper can fetch as high as $3.40 per lb, steel can only cost $.45 per lb which shows how the two differ in pricing. Finally, the differences in durability between ferrous and non-ferrous metals impact on their prices. Non-ferrous metals such as nickel, tin, zinc, and aluminum do not easily corrode as it happens with ferrous metals even after many years of exposure to humidity or water and oxygen which are the primary contributors for corrosion.

It is, however, worrying that the prices of non-ferrous metals are decreasing. A study by Berezowsky reveals that the global values (MMI Index Value) for non-ferrous metals such as copper and aluminum declined from August 2012 to August 2013. The MMI Index Value for copper, for example, stood at about 93 by August 2012 and fell to about 87 by the same time in 2013. Aluminum recorded a similar plunge after it dropped from 93 to 90. The chart below summarizes the MMI trends of how non-ferrous metals performed in the year 2012-2013;

Source; Berezowsky, 2013

The manufacturers of non-ferrous metals and alloys usually apply the heat treatment method as the primary way of adding value to the materials. The first process is to heat the metal under specific temperatures (American Machines Tools Corporation). The second step is soaking which is maintaining the high temperature until the heat spread evenly. The third and the final process when treating non-ferrous metals is cooling which entail lowering the temperature to form the desired shape. Manufacturers who come up with copper alloys and gold, for example, understand that the metals have high levels of elasticity and unregulated continuous heating widens them to form thinner sheets. The manufacturers, therefore, prefer to carry out the process in a nitrogen atmosphere to limit oxidation. The creators of aluminum alloys, on the other hand, know that the metal has a tough oxide coating that requires the heat treatment to occur in open air.




Ferrous and non-ferrous metals majorly differ because whereas one type contains iron, the other does not. Ferrous metals are not as durable and as ductile as non-ferrous metals which make the latter more expensive. The manufacturers who handle the different metals apply heat treatment methods that give the materials the desired properties and their commercial value. It is usually up to the user to select the metal that suits their activities.



















Works Cited

American Machines Tools Corporation. “Heat Treatment of Metals.” American Machines Tools Corporation, 2012. Accessed 20 February 2018

Berezowsky, Taras. “Non-Ferrous Metal Price Forecasts: Supply Side Leads Way to 2014.” MetalMiner, August 22, 2013. Accessed 20 February 2018.

Newark Recycling Center. “Non-Ferrous Metals.” Newark Recycling Center, 2015. Accessed 20 February 2018.

Street, Arthur and Alexander William. Metals in the Service of Man. Penguin UK, 1994.

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