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  • Rajiv Kumar Kushwaha

All You Need to Know About Non-ferrous Metals


Alloys or Non-ferrous metals have no iron content, and they have a long history that goes as far back as ancient times. As non-ferrous metals are not iron based, they are generally resistant to rust. Some of the common non-ferrous metals are zinc, nickel, aluminium , tin copper and these are regularly used in industries such as roofing and pipes, electrical equipment and others. Non-ferrous metals are often mined in the form of oxides and sulfides from which the metals are eventually extracted.


Types of Non-Ferrous Metals


Non-ferrous metals are divided into four categories based on their properties and distribution:

  • Rare metals: These are 55 metals with different chemical and physical properties. Most of them are very scarce in nature and do not form independent ores.

  • Precious metals: These are gold, silver and platinum which are often used for ornamental purpose.

  • Lightweight non-ferrous metals: These include magnesium, aluminum, titanium and others having a density of less than 4,500 kg/m3

  • Heavy non-ferrous metals: These are copper, lead, nickel, antimony, tin and others with a density of more than 4,500 kg/m3


Characteristics of Non-Ferrous Metals?


It is hard to characterize the general features of non-ferrous metals as there are several metals that come under the category of non-ferrous metals. Some are brittle and hard, while others are ductile and soft. Some are meant for cryogenic products, while others are made to endure exceedingly high temperatures. There are more disparities than resemblances among the various types of non-ferrous metals.


However, all non-ferrous metals do have one factor in common, they are resistant to corrosion. That is, they do not form the flaky substance on the metallic surface that is pervasive among fragments of steel and iron that are not shielded from corrosive settings. This is because rust is nothing but iron oxide and non-ferrous metals have no major iron content to form iron oxide, and consequently no rust formation occurs. Another attribute of non-ferrous metals is that they are not magnetic, making them a clear choice for several applications across different industries.


Non-ferrous metals have a vast variety of applications. Aluminum and copper are used in electrical equipment for their ability to conduct electricity and heat. Many non-ferrous metals make up the essential components of smartphones. Also, metals such as silver and gold have been used ornamentally for centuries.


Non-ferrous metals are malleable and lightweight, which makes them easy to shape into a finished product rapidly. As a result of this property, they are used in making certain aircraft parts and road signs.


A Global Overview of the Non-Ferrous Metal Industry:


On the international front, the non-ferrous metals sector is facing uncertain times due to several challenges such as a global economic slowdown, high raw material prices. China contributes half of the consumption of non-ferrous metals such as copper, lead, aluminium, zinc, and the fall in Chinese demand brutally impacted the industry in terms of utilization, prices, and profitability. Despite the slowdown in China, which has damaged the industry, the contribution from other emerging nations like India is likely to offer support to these metals in the future.


India’s Non-Ferrous Metal Industry


India is globally among the fastest growing economies. Robust domestic demand together with multiple reforms undertaken by the government promises to sustain the growth momentum going forward. With extensive application of non-ferrous metals across the economy, the solid GDP growth offers an incredible prospect for the advancement of the Indian non-ferrous metals industry and Metals Planet has opened new avenues to achieve this growth.


Among the various initiatives undertaken by the government, several sectors such as automotive, defence manufacturing, and power have been identified that have widespread applications of various non-ferrous metals, and consequently, can deliver a much-needed boost to the sector.


The major end-use sectors of these metals have expanded at an impressive pace in the past few years. India has massive raw material reserves, a large demand base and fairly low production cost that offers a solid push to the development of the industry. This has replicated in strong supply growth which is sufficient to fulfil local demand and has also led to considerable importance in the export market.


Certain metals are categorized by significance, particularly downstream products like aluminium foils, copper wire because of the comparatively young downstream industry, international competition, and quality.


Examples of Non-Ferrous Metals :

Some of the most commonly used non-ferrous metals are as follows:


Aluminium

Aluminium is a commonly used non-ferrous metal and in its unanodized structure, it has a silvery colour. Without its alloying elements, aluminium is more malleable and ductile. By adding alloying elements and through work hardening and heat treating, the metal can attain high strengths. Aluminium is lighter than steel and forms a shield of oxide layer that reduces the risk of corrosion. Aluminium is commonly used in marine equipment such as docks and boat lifts, construction material like rails and beams, certain types of cookware, and airplane body material.


Nickel

Nickel is another metal known for its durability, ability to endure low and high temperature environments, and resistance to corrosion. Nickel is not used in its pure form often and like aluminum, it is often alloyed with other metals to achieve improved mechanical and chemical properties. Nickel and nickel-based alloys are commonly used in hot-section aerospace equipment such as combustion chamber modules, marine equipment, and cryogenic equipment such as tanks.


Copper

Copper is a metal with a reddish-brown tinge. In the unalloyed state, it is soft, ductile, and not as sturdy as steel. However, like aluminium, copper can be alloyed with several metals to give it superior mechanical and chemical properties. Copper alloyed with tin forms bronze while copper alloyed with large amounts of zinc forms brass. Pure copper and its alloyed forms are used extensively in electrical components such as terminals, wires, and different kinds of connectors, currency coins as a coating, decorative work, pipes for plumbing and tooling.


Importance of Recycling in the Non-Ferrous Metals Industry:


Apart from growth in primary metals, India has seen robust growth in the recycling industry as well. An increasing importance given to sustainable development and environment conservation has moved the attention to recycling of metals. Over a period of time, the share of recycling in metal production has significantly increased.

However, bulk of the scrap used by the recycling industry in India is imported. With India also generating a large volume of scrap, there is a requirement to create a scrap recycling ecosystem with suitable laws to encourage organized scrap assortment and segregation in India. With the various reforms started by the government, the end-use sectors of non-ferrous metals are likely to witness strong growth trajectory. Additionally, these metals are seeing increasing applications in the current sectors and discovering several new applications.


Future Potential of the Non-Ferrous Metals Sector:


Key elements for the progress of the non-ferrous sector are robust demand, raw material availability, high innovative quotient, growth of the ancillary industry, technology, and more.


The pervasiveness of these elements in India, offers a solid and sustainable growth potential for the non-ferrous metals industry.


In terms of demand, India has shown promise considering the country is currently among the fastest growing large economies. Per capita utilization of non-ferrous metals in India is low in comparison to other economies, thus leading to incredible growth potential in the coming years. Moreover, the boost to the Indian industrial sector due to several government initiatives will spur non-ferrous metals consumption.


There are a few key sectors that contribute significantly to non-ferrous metals consumption. These sectors are transport (automotive), construction and electricals. These sectors have extensive application of non-ferrous metals and are key drivers of consumption led growth. Moreover, the steel industry utilizes the majority of zinc produced for the process of galvanization.


New Advancements in the Application of Non-ferrous Metals


The non-ferrous metals sector is witnessing a shift in the way metals are utilized. With constant growth in demand, manufacturers will move beyond conventional strengths in the automotive, building segments, and electricals and move to modern applications presented by defence & aerospace, hybrid & electric vehicles, railways, and others.

Railways


Growing industrial development in the country has led to an increase in freight traffic in the past decade which in turn has heightened the demand for railway wagons. During the period 2011-2016, the demand for railway wagons has grown at a CAGR of 18% and the freight traffic is likely to grow even more as a result of private sector participation and government investments, which would generate more demand for railway wagons in the future.

Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (HEVs)


The government introduced the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMPP) 2020 eight years back to encourage people to shift to hybrid and electric vehicles and work towards accomplishing fuel security. Such vehicles will require extensive use of non-ferrous metals and to achieve the sales target of 6-7 million units of hybrid and electric vehicles, the government has launched Faster Adoption & Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicle that focuses on developing indigenous technology and improves the R&D capability to develop and produce components, carry out pilot projects, create demand and enhance the vehicle charging infrastructure.


Defence & Aerospace


Aluminium is used widely in manufacturing several ammunition gears, components for missiles and missile batteries, machineries in aircrafts and satellites, and tanks. Due to its ability to endure high and low temperature, radiation, and vibration load, aluminium finds acceptance in the defence & aerospace sector.


A rising number of new applications in these sectors make non-ferrous metals the preferred choice in the future. Considering the robust economic prospects, a push towards manufacturing sector growth, the growth in key end-use segments and arrival of new application areas, the demand for non-ferrous metals is expected to see a huge spurt.




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