conductor materials

Back to Basics: Conductor Materials

Posted on Wednesday, October 7, 2015 by Paige DiAntonio

Did you know that Americans are exposed to close to 11 hours of electronic media every day?  According to Nielsen’s Total Audience report, 11 out of the 16 to 18 hours we stay awake every day are dedicated to internet surfing on a PC or smartphone, watching television, playing videos games, and more.  This means we are continuously exposed to mass amounts of information and advertising every day, the majority of which we ignore.  It is the goal of every website to have the link that is valuable to their reader, so for our next set of blog posts Alpha Wire has decided to go back to the basics of wire and cable in order to provide readers with helpful information about the industry.

A good place to start with cable basics is to go over conductor materials, because wire and cable would be nonexistent without them.  A conductor can be defined as an un-insulated wire designed to carry an electrical current.  There are several types of conductor materials used in the wire and cable industry but the most common are copper and aluminum.  Copper is the most popular material because of its high electrical and thermal conductivity properties; meaning, copper is able to convey electricity and heat at a relatively low cost in comparison to metals such as a silver and gold, marrying low cost with best performance. 

Tinned copper is the most common conductor material today because it yields corrosion protection while improving solderability.  It is also the least expensive of the coated conductor materials and it is easily shaped or formed while remaining strong and flexible.  However, tinned copper has a limited operating temperature range of 120C to 150C; this is due to the fact that higher temperatures may cause tin to oxidize or melt.  Other variations of copper conductor materials include:

Heavy Tinned Copper- used for high frequency induction heaters

Overcoated Copper- Less flexible than tinned copper, popular in hand soldering

Top Coated Copper- Less flexible than tinned copper but more cost effective than overcoated copper

Prefused (Prebond) Copper- Specifically requested material, restricted to sizes 26 to 16 AWG

Silver Coated Copper- Able to operate continuously at temperatures as high as 200C, used in high frequency applications.

High Strength Copper Alloy (HSCA)- Used typically in the Aerospace industry, offers greater flex life

Nickel Coated Copper- less expensive than silver coated copper and can withstand prolonged operating temperatures from 200C to 260C

Copper Covered Steel- Usually found in coaxial cables. The steel strand in coaxial cables provides “messenger” abilities

Aluminum conductors are similar to copper; however, they are used in very specific applications such as service entrance cables.  The equivalent gauge size of an aluminum conductor to carry equal levels of currents as in a copper conductor is two sizes larger. 

Why is the type of conductor material important? Without a doubt, choosing the right conductor material is crucial to the overall functionality of your wire and cable as seen from the above materials.


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