Musings on Metals: Copper Print E-mail
User Rating: / 0
PoorBest 
Written by Dr. Ron LaskyMusings on Metals: Copper   
Thursday, 29 March 2012 13:28

It could be argued that civilization began with the smelting of copper. Although thousands of years before, humans fired clay to make figurines and containers, smelting required several non-obvious steps. After all, the firing of clay, at some level, can be accomplished by simply dropping clay into a fire.

To smelt copper, our ancestors had to:

  1. Take malachite (see photo) or another copper ore, grind it up or break it into small pieces
  2. Mix the ground malachite with carbon
  3. Heat the mixture in a vessel to 1,085oC.

Malachite Ore

Achieving this temperature with a wood fire is, to me, astounding.  Think about those days when you are grilling some burgers.  You leave the grill on after the burgers are done, to burn off the grease.  You come back 20 minutes later and the grill is at 500oF.  You can feel the heat.  Even touching the knob to turn the gas off is intimidating, as the heat drives you back.  This temperature, 500oF, is only 260oC!  The ancients reaching 1,085oC with wood and bellows is, indeed, impressive. By the way, a good rule of thumb to convert degrees C to degrees F from 100oC to 1,5000C is that 2XC=F, this fast approximation is accurate to about 10% in this range.

The confluence of the three procedures is not only non-intuitive, but think how many times the smelter of old could only reach 900oC and failed.  I have argued that if copper melted at 1,200oC or so, civilization would have never gotten started.  This temperature is perhaps a little too high to reach with a wood fire.  The smelting of copper encouraged investigations into other metals, eventually resulting in the discovery of the processing of iron, an even less intuitive process than smelting copper.  So, I believe that the success with copper was necessary to the production of steel.

Copper smelting became an industry that encouraged permanent settlements and stimulated trade, which encouraged writing and ciphering.  An effective copper smelter would likely keep secret some of his craft as he wanted a competitive advantage.  He could make more by smelting copper than doing anything else, so he almost certainly was an early specialist.

Considering all of this, I believe that without the discovery of copper smelting, we might still be living in huts or teepees, using stone tools, and living a nomadic existence without commerce, writing, or mathematics.  Examples to support this thesis are the state of native peoples in the Americas in the 1400s.  These native peoples had never learned to smelt metals and hence also lacked the follow-on aspects of civilization mentioned above.

Today, copper is a foundation material for electronics, given its excellent electrical conductivity, second only to silver.  Copper’s ductility likely aids in the formation of PWB traces and plated through-holes in that it resists cracking.

Additionally, copper's ability to form an electrical and mechanical bond with solder is another trait that makes it a winner as an electrically-conductive assembly material in modern electronics.

Copper has been used for more than 10 millennia, but, as with most metals, 90 to 95% of it has been mined since 1900. About 15 million metric tons (MT) are used each year, third to aluminum’s 22 million MT and steel’s unequaled 1 billion MT.

In the next installment, we will discuss tin and how it forms an intermetallic with copper during soldering.  Thus making solder paste, solder wire, and solder preforms critical components of electronics assembly.

Cheers,

Dr. Ron

 

 

 

Columns

Eastern-US: China’s New Competitor?

Parity emerges among EMS Factories from Asia, Mexico and the US.

For the first time in years we see parity in the Eastern US among EMS factories from Asia, Mexico and the US. This EMS market condition will permit American OEMs (the EMS industry refers to OEMs as customers) to have more EMS pathways to choose from. Now more than ever, such EMS assignments will require deeper investigation relating to the OEMs’ evaluation of manufacturing strategies.

Read more...
 
The Human Touch

For those who count on the electronics industry for big feats, it’s been a remarkable couple of years.

Read more...
 

Features

Advances in Concentration Monitoring and Closed-Loop Control

Contaminated bath water skews refractive index results. New technology can accurately measure aqueous cleaning agent concentration.

Read more...
 
Circuits Disassembly: Materials Characterization and Failure Analysis

A systematic approach to nonconventional methods of encapsulant removal.

Read more...
 

Search

Search

Login

CB Login

Language

Language

English French German Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish
 

Products

Panasonic Debuts PanaCIM Maintenance with Augmented Reality
PanaCIM Maintenance with Augmented Reality software provides instant communication and information to factory technicians -- when and where it is needed -- so they can respond to factory needs more...