For decades, certain essential parts in military fixed and rotary wing platforms have been made with copper-beryllium alloys. Beryllium is particularly useful for this purpose because it is both lightweight and strong, a rare combination not found in most other metals. Bushings, small round metal components used in helicopter rotors, for example, must be lightweight, but also strong enough to withstand a demanding operating environment. The problem is beryllium is a toxic material that can be harmful to workers who handle it during assembly and repair. Working with beryllium, which requires donning protective gear and taking extensive precautions, is costly and time-consuming.

A SERDP-funded project developed and validated a nanocrystalline copper electroplating process that produces an environmentally benign copper alloy that matches the desirable properties of copper-beryllium. This pulsed electroplating process, developed by Dr. Jonathan McCrea and Dr. Brandon Bouwhuis at Integran Technologies Inc., goes beyond merely coating a metal object. Rather, components that require little to no machining to achieve final dimensions are created by this pulsed-plating process, which alters the crystalline structure of the metal alloys as they are being formed. The study showed this innovative process also can be used successfully for large metal sheets and high conductivity wires, both of which are used in multiple military applications.

The development of these nanostructured copper alloys, which match the essential beryllium properties of being both lightweight and high-strength, without the toxicity, could result in substantial cost savings for DoD.

For this important work, Dr. McCrea and Dr. Bouwhuis received the 2013 SERDP Project-of-the-Year Award for Weapons Systems and Platforms. Project Summary