Key Component in Vehicles since the Dawn of the Car Industry
Copper is a multi-purpose material whose properties have made it a key component in vehicles since the dawn of the car industry with the Model T Ford in 1916. Today, copper plays a critical role in cars for functionality, efficiency, comfort and safety. Even the most basic model contains some 1 km of wiring, mostly used to carry data, send control signals and supply electrical power. The total weight of copper in a vehicle ranges from 15 kilos for a small car to 28 kilos for a luxury car.
Electrical Distribution Systems
Motors, alternators, actuators and electrical chokes, and the wiring harness itself, all depend on reliable high conductivity. More copper will be needed as automotive electrical developments increase awareness, safety and automation. Electrified railways, trams and light railways are powered through overhead copper alloy contact wires. High quality brass has the long-life springiness and resistance to corrosion that makes it ideal for electrical connections.
Car designers and manufacturers are constantly developing electronic applications which rely on the electrical conductivity of copper:
Sensors (pressure, temperature, speed)
Sensors for the automotive industry make up around a third of the global sensor market. With a true sensory system for the car, the sensors allow, for example, dangers on the road to be detected, braking to be adapted, the temperature inside to be controlled, self-diagnosis tests to be run on the vehicle. They make use of copper - notably, in the coils and cables.
ABS or Antilock Braking System
This was one of the first 'smart' technologies, designed to make driving safer by adjusting the braking depending on the grip. Since then, a whole series of innovations have expanded the solutions available with regard to braking and road grip, including EBD (Electronic Brake-force Distribution) for improved distribution of the brake force or ESC (Electronic Stability Control) that enhances the stability of the car.
More than a mere speed regulator, the AICC (Autonomous Intelligent Cruise Control) allows a speed previously set by the driver to be maintained without having to keep the foot on the accelerator. A technology available on top of automatic transmission, the AICC monitors the speed of the vehicle in front and changes its own speed accordingly, while keeping a good safety distance.
The car is now much more than a pure means of transportation. It is designed to be comfortable and equipped with work and leisure spaces. Thanks to an ever increasing number of applications that exploit copper’s benefits, the seats are able to remember and automatically adjust to the passenger, thanks to an array of small motors. Automatic temperature controls keep the interior at a comfortable level and telecommunications are accessible from even the most modest cockpits (hands-free mobile phones, navigation assistance, security trackers, DVD players and even internet connectivity). Copper has opened up a new window onto the world.
In the future, it is likely we will have an autopilot system driven by accelerometers, combined with actuators that will control driving, speed and braking. 360° radar and cameras will keep a constant eye on traffic and the vehicle’s position. Connecting the myriad of connectors, sensors, mini-computers and advanced telecommunications systems, nestling under the bonnet of our smart cars, it will be copper wires that will carry the key power and data signals that will deliver all the above benefits.
Copper has an important role to play in systems designed to reduce petrol consumption and CO2
emissions. Direct injection systems allow a more precise control of the air to petrol ratio, thereby cutting fuel consumption and exhaust emissions. Traditional camshafts are also slowly being replaced with electronic valves that further improve engine efficiency.
Copper has a role to play in hybrid and fuel cell vehicles and researchers are actively looking at new propulsion systems. Firstly, hybrids which combine conventional combustion engines with electric motors can provide an interim solution. Conventional fuels are used for long journeys and the electric motor for the urban environment. Secondly, work is being done to develop fuel cell driven engines, a solution that creates almost no pollution. These two different systems, both with their powerful electric motors, can contain up to 12 kg of copper.
A new heat exchanger has been developed using CuproBraze® technology, a cost-effective, environmentally friendly process, low in investment cost. It produces strong, reliable brazed copper/brass radiators with performance and cost advantages over aluminum radiators. Given its high pressure resistance, plus its ability to resist both high and low temperatures, this technology is becoming increasingly chosen in market segments that demand absolute reliability in extreme conditions: long distance trucks, farm and construction equipment, generators and all terrain vehicles. When the usable lifetime of the radiators has expired, the copper in the radiators can be recycled to produce new radiators or other copper products.
The braking system in vehicles is a vital safety critical item. Brake systems depend on the transmission of either pneumatic or hydraulic pressure and brake tubing may be in a particularly vulnerable exposed position which requires good resistance to corrosion by salt, fatigue strength and impact resistance.
Volvo began the use of 90% copper 10% nickel tube in their 1976 model vehicles and are still using it as are Audi, Porsche and Aston Martin.
Trains, both surface and underground where the pneumatic brake pipes are subject to very severe working conditions often use a brass tube alloy Tungum for their primary brake lines.
Air and Oxygen Gas Lines
Copper and copper alloys are non sparking and can transmit air/oxygen safely. An example of this is shown in the Black Magic trainer aircraft where the brass alloy Tungum carries air oxygen to the pilot.
In contact with moving parts in the engine, copper alloys provide a surface which does not stick or wear easily whilst being strong enough to provide support. In this application it acts as a bearing. Copper alloy bearing materials are used for selector forks and heavy duty bearings.