Choosing Between Common Metals and Exotic Metals in Product Design

When your business develops a new product or you found a new business, you need to readily source materials. If your product involves metalworking, you’ll need to choose between using common metals or exotic metals.

What’s the difference, you ask?

If you didn’t earn a degree in material science, we’re here with a simple explanation. Whether a metal qualifies as common or exotic comes down to its manufacturing process.

Common Metals

A common metal uses a well-known and easily replicated process to create an alloy of two or more substances. Examples of these common metals include aluminum, steel, stainless steel, and nickel. While many people think of an exotic metal as one that requires more than one ingredient in the recipe, it also refers to plentiful, yet tough to obtain metals.

Exotic Metals

When a process mixes a common metal with another metal, it can create an exotic metal. An example of this occurs when manufacturing Hastelloy, which combines nickel and molybdenum. Another example also uses nickel as its base metal, but austenitic nickel, mixing it with chrome to form the exotic metal Inconel. Sometimes, as we’ll see with aluminum, it mixes with a substance that the miner or manufacturer does not want, which requires a complex process to remove the unwanted material from the aluminum.

Abundancy Doesn’t Equal Common Metals

As one of the most abundant elements on or in the earth, nickel proves rather common. In the US, the US Mint has long used the metal in the process of making the five-cent piece, called the nickel. Due to the common availability of copper, the US Mint also used it in the printing of pennies, the one-cent piece. Copper, the 23rd most common earth element, and nickel, the 23rd most common earth element, both proved easy to mine and purify.

Aluminum, although rarely in its raw form, nearly tops the list, coming in as the third most common element, requiring more work to reach and more work to purify. That puts it in an odd category because, in some circumstances, it lands on the common metals list, in others on the exotic category list. Aluminum typically combines naturally with another substance, so when it’s extracted, instead of raw aluminum, the mining operation extracts aluminum oxide or potassium aluminum sulfate.

What This Means to You

When you create a new product or business, the design needs to determine whether to use common metals or exotic metals. In many cases, the product function requires an exotic metal, such as in the aerospace industry.

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