Posted January 29th 2016

An alloy is a mixture of two elements, one of which at least is always a metal. Because alloys often have different properties to the metals they contain they are considered more useful than the pure metal alone. For example, alloys are usually harder than the metals they contain will be on their own.

A common element used in alloys is Nickel – Nickel is a versatile element which can be alloyed with most metals and has made significant contributions to our society through its many uses. Nickel alloys can be found in a wide range of things including mobile phones, food preparation equipment, transport, buildings and medical equipment. Nickel alloys are particularly noted for their corrosion resistance, high temperature strength and magnetic and thermal expansion properties. The major types of alloys containing nickel include iron-nickel-chromium alloys, stainless steel, copper-nickel alloys, nickel-chromium alloys and magnetic alloys.

Nickel is a naturally occurring, silver-white metallic element and is the fifth most common on earth, occurring most extensively in the Earth’s crust. Nickels key characteristics include a high melting point of 1453ºC, strong resistance to corrosion and oxidation, ductile, magnetic at room temperature, catalytic properties and alloys readily.

There are approximately 3000 nickel containing alloys in everyday use, with around 90% of new nickel sold each year going into alloys. The majority of this is used to make stainless steel with the rest going to other steel and non-ferrous alloys, plating and other uses which can include coins, electronics and batteries.

Nickel use grows by about 4% each year with the largest growth seen in rapidly industrialising countries, particularly in Asia. This is because nickel containing materials are essential for infrastructure and industry.

Nickel containing products typically have a life of 25-35 years, although they can last longer than this. At the end of their life they can be collected and recycled for future use and Nickel is one of the most recycled materials globally with around half the stainless steel in use today coming from recycled sources.

Nickel and its compounds can be associated with toxicity, carcinogenicity and dermal sensitisation, with most of the risks seen in complex processes such as nickel production and refining. These risks are well known and suitably controlled by specific regulations in the workplace. The risks are not normally associated with the use of nickel or nickel containing alloys.

Will Rowland_061


Posted January 15th 2016

Believable human emotion is an integral part of a good film and what makes the cinematic experience so immersive and enjoyable for many of us. When we think about it though, some of cinemas best known and most beloved characters are not in fact human, but made entirely of metal. For a non-human character to still exhibit the range of human emotion it takes to captivate an audience is quite a feat. In the wake of this year’s Oscar nominations announcement we decided to take a look back at some of our favourite metal characters throughout the last few decades.


Made famous by the Star Wars franchise, this lovable humanoid robot character is currently undergoing a revival with the release of the latest instalment Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. First seen on screens in 1977, C-3PO is a protocol droid designed to aid and serve humans. He is most recognisable in his gold plated form but in the earlier episodes he is also seen as semi-finished with either a grey metal covering or no covering at all.

Optimus Prime

Part of the Transformers series, Optimus Prime is best known as the leader of the Autobots, an organisation of civilized Transformers sworn to protect the Allspark from Megatron, leader of the Decepticons. The Transformers film series has been incredibly popular since the release of the first film in 2007 with the fifth instalment set for release a decade later.


This character might not be instantly recognisable from their true name but if we were to say ‘I’ll be back!’ is one of their most memorable quotes you will probably know them instantly! The Terminator T-800 Model 101 is the assassin sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor, more commonly known as simply the Terminator. Played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Terminator is a machine that looks like a human and plays both hero and villain in this franchise.


WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth-class) is an immensely lovable, animated robot, who managed to capture the hearts of viewers in 2008 when WALL-E was released. Charged with the task of cleaning up an abandoned and waste covered Earth the display of emotions exhibited by this endearing character is truly touching and the scenes are remarkably emotional. The film itself has very little dialogue which leaves viewers to concentrate on the relationship between WALL-E and EVE, the other robot that WALL-E spends much of the film interacting with.



Posted January 10th 2016

Most of us will have a basic knowledge of what pyrotechnics are, and are sure to have seen some displays in recent weeks heralding in the New Year. The term itself comes from the Greek words pyro (‘fire’) and tekhnikos (‘made by art’) – literally, fire art. This of course refers largely to fireworks, but can also include items such as safety matches, oxygen candles, explosive bolts and fasteners, gunpowder, ejection charges, flares and sparklers.

The substance, or mixture of substances, used to produce pyrotechnics are known as a pyrotechnic composition. The effect is achieved by a combination of heat, light, sound and gas/smoke, as a result of non-detonative self-sustaining exothermic chemical reactions. Pyrotechnic compositions are mainly homogenised mixtures of oxidizers and fuels with typical fuels based on metal or metalloid powders. Common fuels include aluminium, magnesium, iron, steel, titanium, zinc, copper and tungsten. We also use metalloids such as silicon, boron and antimony.

One of the main features of fireworks are the bright colours, which are produced by heating metal salts that then emit characteristic colours. This happens when the atoms of each element absorb energy and release it as light of specific colours. Energy, when absorbed by an atom, rearranges its electrons from their lowest-energy state, or ground state, to a higher energy state known as an excited state. The excess energy is then released as light. Each element has a characteristic amount of energy to release which will determine the colour of the light emitted. For example, red light can be produced by lithium carbonate and strontium carbonate, but blue light will be produced by copper compounds and chlorine producer.

When making fireworks the metal salts are put into pyrotechnic stars, which have 5 main components – a fuel, an oxidiser, the colour producing chemicals, a binder to hold the pellet together and a chlorine donor which strengthens the colour of the flame. The appearance of a firework is determined by the stars which are made by hand and very carefully packed in cardboard compartments within the shell.