Tackling Titanium Costs
Titanium is expensive to procure, difficult to machine. While one company developed a process to use Ti far more efficiently, Boeing continues its quest with a joint research agreement in South Africa.
A number of companies concerned with aerostructures are moving forward in Titanium developments, either to secure supplies or use what they have more efficiently.
For example, Spirit AeroSystems and Norsk Titanium Components AS (NTiC) announced in a press release that NTiC has developed a direct-metal-deposition (DMD) technology to produce near-net-shape titanium components. The parts can be built up close to the final shape using titanium feedstock instead of a large titanium block. The process “reduces waste, uses less energy and is significantly faster,” according to the press release.
Since Ti is both expensive to procure and machine, creating shapes as close to final prior to machining, without wastage, is very attractive to companies like Spirit AeroSystems.
The press release went on to say that “The process transforms titanium feedstock into complex components that are up to 70–80% complete. Traditional titanium machining may utilize only 10% of the raw material, with 90% of it discarded as waste. In addition to significantly reducing the amount of raw material used, the process provides much shorter lead times, design flexibility, and reduces the overall cost to machine parts.” The companies believe qualifications for aerospace use will be complete in 2014.
Boeing in South Africa
In related news, a number of news outlets reported that Boeing and South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) signed joint research agreements, prompted by South Africa’s access to the world’s second-largest reserves of Titanium ore. This follows reports in December, 2012 that Boeing was forming alliances and joint ventures in Russia for access to Titanium supplies.
Aerospace Manufacturing and Design (6/12) reported “South Africa, which has the world’s second-largest reserves of titanium ore, has developed and patented technology to convert titanium ore to titanium powder. On June 7, the CSIR launched a titanium pilot plant to further advance titanium powder technology. Aligned with that objective, Boeing and CSIR signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on processes that could bring titanium powder-based products to commercial markets on an industrial scale and improve the efficiency of titanium manufacturing, officials from the company say.” More details are available from a Boeing press release dated June 11, 2013.
Creamer Media's Engineering News (6/11, Campbell) Reported “Currently, South Africa mostly exports titanium in the form of titanium tetrachloride slag, which fetches only about $0.79/kg on the international markets. Titanium sheet can fetch up to $45/kg. The prices of finished titanium products are much higher still – vastly higher in the case of titanium components for the aerospace and medical sector.” ’Titanium is critically important to Boeing – 15% of the 787 [airliner] is made of titanium,’ Boeing International VP: Africa Miguel Santos was quoted as saying. ‘Using titanium powder has the potential to make the same components but more efficiently, with less waste, more quickly and hopefully more cheaply.’