Pure copper by itself is soft and malleable, but with the addition of beryllium, exhibits good corrosion and oxidation resistance as well as high strength, without losing formability. It is very electrically conductive, but will not spark and is non magnetic.
Beryllium copper is expensive and weaker than alternatives like steel, but its non sparking property heightens its value. It can be safely used in hazardous environments like oil rigs or anywhere containing combustible or explosive gases and vapor. Tools like screwdrivers, pliers, spanners, chisels and hammers are made out of beryllium copper if they are to be used in explosive environments. Depending on the amount of beryllium alloyed with the copper, BeCu is divided into two categories-high strength and high conductivity.
High strength BeCu contains higher amounts of Be and is used to manufacture musical instruments, bullets and aerospace components. Conductive BeCu, with lower amounts of beryllium, is used to make electrical connectors, electrical equipment, control bearings, magnetic sensing device houses and plastic injection molds. Because they are so conductive, BeCu molds have a high production speed. Since they are so easily formable, they can carry out complex designs with fine detail. Other products include small springs, wire, load cells and battery parts.
Compared to other alloys of similar strengths and durability, beryllium copper is very easily formable. It can be welded, cast, cut, forged, drawn, extruded and rolled into many different shapes since BeCu is such a ductile metal alloy. It is often shaped into preforms or billets like rods, bars, tubes, plates and large blocks. During fabrication and machining, beryllium copper can be very toxic to workers.
In solid form, beryllium poses no threat and is safe to handle. When the metal is being worked, however, any dust released into the air, if inhaled, is very toxic and could cause serious lung damage. To prevent injury, workers should always wear face masks to keep from breathing in the dust. In order to enhance and improve the alloy’s strength, durability and electrical conductivity, it is commonly heat treated after fabrication. Age hardening and precipitation hardening, as well as tempering are all effective heat treatments.