What are Non-Ferrous Metals? Ferrous vs Non-Ferrous Metals (PDF)

Engineering metals are classified into two broad groups; Ferrous and Non-ferrous. In ferrous metals, Iron is the main element. Whereas non-ferrous metals are metals whose main significant components are metals other than iron. Non-ferrous metals also find various applications in industry. Non-ferrous materials find application in a wide range of industrial, commercial, and residential sectors. In this article, we will learn about the basics of non-ferrous metals, their examples, properties, and applications.

What are Non-Ferrous Metals?

The metals whose composition does not show any significant amount of iron content are known as non-ferrous. The term ferrous is related to iron. So, non-ferrous is basically the absence of iron. But as almost all metals have traces of iron in their composition, the term significant is important. Various non-ferrous metals used in engineering practice are aluminum, copper, lead, tin, zinc, nickel, etc., and their alloys. All pure metals except iron are non-ferrous.

Properties of Non-Ferrous Metals

Non-ferrous metals constitute a major part of all useful metal sectors. In many applications, non-ferrous metals and alloys are preferred over ferrous materials because of their useful properties. The common properties of non-ferrous metals are:

  • Ease in machining & manufacturing
  • High corrosion resistivity
  • Having good electrical & thermal conductivity
  • Low density and thus lesser weight as compared to Ferrous metal
  • Non-magnetic
  • Colorful

Some non-ferrous metals are brittle and hard whereas some are ductile and soft. Some can withstand high temperatures while some other nonferrous metals can withstand cryogenic temperatures. The properties of different nonferrous metals vary significantly from one another. So, they can not be grouped into some common categories.

Examples of Non-Ferrous Metals

There is a long list of nonferrous metals that are widely used globally. The most common examples of non-ferrous materials (metals and alloys) are:

  • Aluminum
  • Copper
  • Zinc
  • Lead
  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Titanium
  • Brass
  • Platinum

Rare metals such as bismuth, cerium, cadmium, mercury, tungsten, beryllium, niobium, indium, gallium, germanium, tantalum, tellurium, vanadium, lithium, selenium, and zirconium are also non-ferrous. Most non-ferrous metals are generally refined using the electrolysis method.

Applications of Nonferrous Metals

As already mentioned that nonferrous metals have a range of commercial, residential, and industrial applications. This type of metal has had many uses throughout history. We can find the application of copper, tin, and bronze from pre-historic times. With new advancements and industrialization, the use of non-ferrous metals has increased manyfold. The common applications of nonferrous metals include

  • Construction,
  • Tool and machinery manufacturing
  • Electrical cables,
  • Vehicle engines,
  • Signage
  • Street signs
  • Home appliances
  • Roofing
  • Pipelines,
  • Containers,
  • Kitchen items
  • Aerospace and aviation
  • Communication industry
  • Batteries
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Electroplating
  • Food and Agriculture

Ferrous vs Nonferrous: Differences

There are a large number of differences between ferrous and nonferrous metals. Some of the major differences between nonferrous and ferrous metals are tabulated below:

Nonferrous MetalsFerrous Metals
The presence of iron is insignificant in nonferrous metals.Iron is a significant element in ferrous metals.
Nonferrous metals usually have lower mechanical strength.The strength of ferrous metals is much higher than nonferrous metals.
Nonferrous materials are non-magnetic.Ferrous materials are usually magnetic.
Non-ferrous metals do not rust.Rust is an important phenomenon for ferrous metals.
The density and weight of nonferrous metals are much lower than ferrous metals.Their density and weight are more.
Non-ferrous metals are usually costly.They are generally cheaper.
Nonferrous metals and usually soft.On the other hand, ferrous metals are hard and durable.
Easy recycling is one of the important aspects of nonferrous metals.Ferrous metals are also recyclable but need a detailed procedure.
Table 1: Ferrous vs Non-ferrous metals
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Anup Kumar Dey

A Mechanical Engineer with 19 years of working experience in various renowned MNCs.

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