SIC 3366

This industry consists of companies primarily engaged in manufacturing copper and copper-alloy castings, except die-castings. Establishments that produce copper castings and also are engaged in fabricating operations for a specific product are classified in the industry of the specific product. Therefore, some of the companies considered to be a part of the copper foundry industry are not included in this classification, although some of the statistics covering the copper foundry industry do include these "captive" foundry departments of manufacturers.

NAICS Code(s)

331525 (Copper Foundries)

Industry Snapshot

Copper processing actually has many divisions, including such diverse activities as mining, smelting, refining, and fabricating. Copper is mined and refined before alloys are added to it. Copper and copper alloys are sold to fabricators who create such products as forgings, rods, bars, and tubes that are used in the construction industry, telecommunications industry, and in various manufacturing industries.

Copper is renowned for its corrosion resistance, electrical and thermal conductivity, machinability, color, and ease of finishing. Foundries combined copper with several other elements to create alloys with a wide range of qualities. Copper-based castings are strong and corrosionresistant, making them essential as a basic tool in the building, plumbing, and automobile industries.

Foundries cast copper in many different ways. The most common of these are sand casting, centrifugal casting, continuous casting, investment casting, permanent mold casting, and shell mold casting. Sand casting, in which molten metal is poured into a sand mold, is the most widely used method of producing large quantities of copper and copper alloy castings. Because the cost of the sand mold patterns is usually reasonably low and sand is an incredibly reusable and then recyclable resource, this method of casting is ideal.

Centrifugal casting consists of pouring molten metal into a revolving or rotating mold, which in turn holds the molten metal against the wall by centrifugal force. This method is often utilized for casting bearings, gears, or machinery pieces. In a continuous casting system, molten copper alloy is fed through an open-ended mold to yield bar, tube, or other shaped cables.

Investment casting—also called precision casting—has an extensive history that predates the Egyptian pyramids. In the late twentieth century, it was still used to produce decorative copper applications and aircraft parts.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 312 establishments operated in this category in the late 1990s. Industry-wide employment totaled 9,126 workers receiving a payroll of more than $266 million in 2000. Within this workforce, 7,549 of these employees worked in production, putting in more than 15.6 million hours to earn wages of more than $189 million. Overall shipments for the industry were valued at more than $901 million in 2000.

Organization and Structure

Most U.S. foundries are small by the relative standards of U.S. industry. Forty percent of the copper foundries employed less than 100 people, and in 1994 there were 195 copper companies employing fewer than 20 people. The number of workers in the copper foundry industries remained relatively steady, dropping only slightly from 8,200 in 1987 to 8,100 in 1994. The number of hours worked per year per production worker in these foundries was 2,138 in 1994, as compared to the industry standard of 2,056. That same year, hourly pay, at $9.67 per hour, was considerably less than the hourly wage for all other manufacturing industries, at $12.09.

According to the "30th Census of World Casting Production" compiled by the trade magazine Modern Casting, there were approximately 2,100 foundries of nonferrous metal in the United States operating in 1995. These foundries produced 311,000 metric tons of copper and copper-alloys. Foundries in the United States produced more copper-based castings than anywhere else in the world.

U.S. foundries consumed 17,200 short tons of refined copper in 1995, which was less than the high of 19,000 short tons in 1994. The foundries consumed far less refined copper than both wire rod mills and brass mills. They consumed more, however, than ingot makers and powder plants. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the supply of copper content in wire mill products was 3.83 million short tons in 1995—a new high—while the supply of foundry products fell from 425,000 short tons in 1994 to 395,000 short tons in 1995. Approximately 25 to 30 percent of the castings output in the United States came from captive foundry producers—those within a vertically integrated operation—in the 1990s.

One of the mainstays of the U.S. copper industry is the Copper Development Association (CDA). Its members include the primary copper producers, miners, and smelters described in SIC 3331: Primary Smelting and Refining of Copper; manufacturers of mill products such as sheet, strip, rod, bar, tube, and pipe described in SIC 3351: Rolling, Drawing, and Extruding of Copper; as well as the copper foundries of this industry. CDA tracks market statistics and publishes handbooks, reports, and bulletins as part of its efforts to broaden copper markets in this country and abroad.

The American Foundrymen's Society (AFS) comprises the foundries of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. It is a professional, technical, and management association that works with government leadership to influence Congress on legislative issues, prepare educational programs, and perform research for its members and interested lay people. With almost 13,000 members in more than 47 countries, it is the leading metalcasting association in North America.

Background and Development

Copper-based castings have a long history. Copper artifacts have been dated back to 8700 B.C., and smelting was being performed as early as 5000 B.C. Casting, especially sand casting, is one of the oldest known methods of producing metal components. As agricultural equipment, shipping equipment, and plumbing developed, so did the need for advanced castings. Nonferrous castings, including copper-based castings, also became essential to the modern world with the proliferation of automobiles, televisions, airplanes, and telecommunications equipment.

In the 1950s and 1960s, induction furnaces were used in most foundries to melt brass and other copper alloys. Core, or channel, furnaces and coreless, or crucible, furnaces were both induction furnaces in which current was induced into the metal before it was melted. The temperature of the metal to be poured was carefully monitored by a pyrometer. Pyrometers became increasingly accurate and easier to read as the technology improved during the 1960s.

There were tremendous advances in technology and environmental science from the 1960s through the 1980s. As foundry practices began to adapt to these advances, the improvements saved money, increased efficiency, and assisted U.S. foundries in maintaining world leadership in the field, which was becoming an increasingly difficult task with the emergence of casting producers in foreign countries. Many of these foreign foundries boasted state-of-the-art facilities, low labor costs, and subsidized work. Having difficulty competing with these imports, U.S. foundries accused their foreign counterparts of dumping products below costs.

The metalcasting industry is a basic component of all industrial societies, but the economic upheavals in the 1970s and 1980s brought tremendous change to the industry. Many foundries had to close their doors, while many merged into larger companies.

Current Conditions

Copper foundries rely on the health of the U.S. economy and the success of their customers in the manufacturing industries in order to prosper. The business environment for copper-related industries has remained somewhat flat during the last decade of the twentieth century. The copper foundries have experienced a continual fight between the eroding plumbing fitting market by plastic substitution and increased commercial growth in industrial valves and fittings. The latter market has been aided by reduced imports as U.S producers become more competitive. Some foundries have survived by investing in new plants and equipment to accommodate changes in technology. Many have cut their labor forces to become more cost effective. The surviving foundries have also worked with users of their end products to customize castings.

Twice during the summer of 1999, copper prices jumped at the news of decreasing mining or production capacity. First, in early July, when Phelps Dodge Corp. announced its intention to cut output while the Highland Valley Copper Co. closed one of its copper mines, copper prices reacted by jumping 4.1 cents to reach 75.7 cents per pound before closing the day at the London Metal Exchange (LME) at 75.15 cents. Later, in early August, Phelps Dodge, Cyprus Amex Minerals Co. and Asarco Inc. hiked their premiums by 0.25 cents in reaction to limited rod manufacturing capacity and rising prices. At the same time, Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP) Co. Ltd. closed its 365,000 ton-a-year San Manuel, Arizona smelter, tightening supply throughout the industry.

The value of copper foundry industry shipments grew from $846 million in 1997 to $901 million in 2000, while the cost of materials increased from $339 million to $365 million. The total number of industry employees rose from 8,868 workers in 1999 to 9,126 workers in 2000. Production workers in 2000 totaled 7,549 and earned an average hourly wage of $12.05.

Industry Leaders

Federal-Mogul Corp. of Southfield, Michigan led the industry with 1998 sales of just under $44.7 billion created by 54,350 workers. Phoenix-based Phelps Dodge followed with 1998 sales of almost $3.1 billion. Olin Corporation's Brass Division of East Alton, Illinois rounded out the top three industry leaders with sales of $829 million for 1997, according to the most recent results available on Infotrac databases. Other industry leaders included Tucson-based BHP Copper North American Operations; JSJ Corp. of Grand Haven, Michigan; and Revere Copper Products Inc. of Rome, New York.

Further Reading

Copper Development Association Inc. "Annual Data: 1996: Copper Supply and Consumption, 1972-1995," New York, 1996.

——. "Copper in the USA: Bright Future—Colorful Past." New York, 1996.

Infotrac Company Profiles. Available at (visited 1/28/00).

United States Census Bureau. 1997 Economic Census—Manufacturing. Available at .

United States Census Bureau. "Statistics for Industries and Industry Groups: 2000." Annual Survey of Manufacturers. February 2002. Available from .

Yafie, Robert C. "Copper Prices Surge on Supply News." American Metal Market, 1 July 1999.

——. "Copper Rod Premiums Up." American Metal Market, 4 August 1999.

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