All About Electrically Conductive Materials

As most people are aware, metals serve as excellent conductors of electricity, while non-metals (such as plastics and rubbers) do not. Electrical conductivity—or lack thereof—make these two types of materials generally suited for different use cases in the industrial sector. When choosing a manufacturing material for an electrical or electronic device, it is important to consider its electrical properties, including its conductivity, to ensure the end product functions as intended.

The following blog post serves as a guide to electrically conductive materials, outlining what causes their key property, the types available, how they relate to manufacturing, and how to turn a typically non-conductive material into a conductive one.

What Causes Electrical Conductivity?

Manufacturing materials vary in the number (one to eight) of valence electrons present in the outer shell of their atoms. In general, the lower the number, the more conductive the material (usually a conductor) and, the higher the number, the less conductive the material (usually an insulator).

Most metals have between one to three valence electrons, which allows the electrically charged subatomic particles to dislodge and mobilize easily. The free movement of electrons results in the passing of a charge—i.e., the conduction of electricity. In contrast, rubber and plastic materials typically have few, if any, free electrons, making them poor electrical conductors but excellently suited for insulating applications.

Examples of Electrically Conductive Materials

Many of the most highly conductive materials are metals. The three metals with the highest electrical conductivity are:

  1. Silver
  2. Copper
  3. Gold

Each of these metals has one valence electron. Aluminum is the next most conductive metal, despite having three valence electrons. Although silver and gold offer greater conductivity than copper and aluminum, respectively, the latter materials are more commonly used due to their lower cost and broader availability.

The Impact of Electrical Conductivity on Manufacturing

The electrical properties of a material influence how it is used in electrical and electronic devices. For example:

  • Conductors—highly conductive materials (e.g., metals such as silver, gold, or copper)—are used for manufacturing electrical wires and cables
  • Insulators—materials with poor electrical conductivity (e.g., rubber or plastic)—are used for making insulation and other electrical protection products
  • Semiconductors—materials that are neither good nor bad conductors of electricity (e.g., silicon)—are widely used to make integrated circuits for computers, phones, TVs and many other electronic devices

How to Make Non-Conductive Materials Conductive

As an alternative to metals, product manufacturing companies may also use a typically non-conductive material, such as a fabric or elastomer, that has been altered to have enhanced electrical conductivity. Material manufacturers can convert a non-conductive substrate into an electric conductor by employing a specialized technique that integrates electrically conductive additives into the base material.

Electrically Conductive Products From RCF Technologies

At RCF Technologies, we leverage our proprietary material—Rishon®—to create a wide range of electrically conductive products, such as couplings and seals. Although Rishon is naturally non-conductive, we can incorporate minute quantities of additives that enhance its conductivity without increasing its weight. To learn more about our electrically conductive products, contact us today.