Titanium

Alcoa, Inc., recently opened a state-of-the-art, 3D printing metal powder production facility in its Pittsburgh area Alcoa Technology Center.

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The lightweight metals center will produce proprietary titanium, nickel and aluminum powders optimized for 3D printed aerospace parts. Alcoa has invested in a range of technologies to further develop additive manufacturing processes, product design and qualification.

Alcoa Technology Center

The Alcoa Technology Center near Pittsburgh has been expanded to accommodate new research into 3D printing technology. Source: Alcoa

“Alcoa is forging a leadership path in additive manufacturing with a sharp focus on the critical input material—metal powders,” said Alcoa Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Klaus Kleinfeld. “We are combining our expertise in metallurgy, manufacturing, design and product qualification to push beyond the possibilities of today’s 3D printing technologies for aerospace and other growth markets.”

Arconic Will Inherit 3D Printing Research

The facility will form part of the spin-off, value-added metals company Arconic following separation from Alcoa’s traditional commodity business in the second half of 2016. The plant is part of a $60 million investment in 3D printing materials and processes that builds on the Alcoa’ 3D printing capabilities in California, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas. Read more

Allegheny Technologies, Inc., reported in its first quarter earnings call this week that its high-performance materials and components segment sales were up. Sales were $493 million in the first quarter, up approximately 8% compared to the fourth quarter of 2015. 73% of segment sales were to the aerospace and defense market.

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Operating profit increased by nearly 40%, compared to the fourth-quarter 2015. Segment operating profit was 5.9% of sales.

New Generation of Jet Engine Parts

ATI’s product mix improved through increased sales of next-generation jet engine advanced materials. Sales of nickel-based alloys and specialty alloys increased by 8%, and sales of titanium and titanium alloys increased by 17%. Sales of ATI’s precision forgings increased 15%, driven nearly exclusively by growing demand for jet engine components and airframe forgings.

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ATI is very pleased with its sales of airframe and jet engine materials.

“Our differentiated products here include proprietary and unique alloys, as well as products that few others can make,” ATI CEO and President Richard Harshman said, “such as ATI 718+ alloy, Rene 65 alloy, ATI 720 alloy large billets, plasma arc-melted titanium alloys, powder metals, titanium aluminides, as well as hot-die forgings, isothermal forgings and titanium investment castings.”

PAM Power

ATI is currently the only qualified plasma arc melt producer of titanium alloys used for jet engine rotating parts.

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PAM is the preferred process for titanium alloys used in jet engine rotating parts for much of the industry.

“ATI has the most powerful open-die press forge in the industry, which enables fine-grained structure in complex nickel-based super alloy billet and the billetizing of powder alloys,” Harshman said. “ATI is one of only two independent and integrated qualified producers of nickel super-alloy powders and isothermal forged parts.”

Yorkshire UK-based 3D printing raw materials provider Metalysis recently reported a combined investment of  $29 million (£20 million) from Woodford Patient Capital Trust — managed by Neil Woodford, one of Britain’s most prominent fund managers — and Iluka Resources, an existing investor in Metalysis.

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Iluka has increased its interest in the Company to 28.8% as a result of this funding round. Other existing investors, such as BHP Billiton, are maintaining their stakes in the company.

Metalysis' oxide production process vs. the longer traditional one.

Metalysis’ oxide production process vs. the longer traditional one. Source: Metalysis.

Metalysis’ technology produces metal powders — primarily titanium, tantalum and bespoke alloys — at lower cost than traditional manufacturing processes and with reduced environmental impact. The increased use of metal powders in 3D printing is driving innovation in several sectors, including aerospace, automotive and biomedical engineering. This investment will support Metalysis’ growth and its commercial rollout, through strategic partnerships and licensing of its disruptive 3D printing powder technology.

DLMS Printing

Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) printing is a process optimized for 3D printing metals rather than plastics or other materials. Instead of melting plastics and binders, DMLS printers actually create tiny welds using powders such as Metalysis’. Last April, Metalysis’ Director of Business Development, Dr. Kartik Rao, discussed how the company wants to change manufacturing with my colleague, Stuart Burns.

Rather than break raw metals down into powders, The Metalysis process transforms metal oxides into then-sinterable powders. It’s a cleaner and less-costly process.

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Metalysis’ technology produces high-grade metal powders directly from oxides in fewer steps. The lower-cost powders suit a wide variety of 3D printing needs across a variety of high-tech, industrial and manufacturing sectors. Metalysis recently completed a program with TWI, a UK leader in materials technology innovation, which demonstrated the feasibility of its bespoke powders for 3D-printing orthopedic hip implants.

Can titanium be used as a cost-effective material to make bicycle frames for the average commuter? The superstrong metal has long been used for decades in the creation of high-end bikes that are used, mostly, by consumers willing to pay a premium for more costly materials and more difficult tooling.

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Could 3D printing technologies replace more costly manufacturing processes and take away tooling costs to create a sweet spot for titanium as a lifestyle bike?

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SOLID is a titanium-framed bicycle manufactured using DMLS 3D printing. Its production process could significantly reduce costs for specialty metal bicycle frames. Source: Industry.

Portland-based design consultancy Industry, and Ti Cycles founder, Dave Levy took a big step toward finding out when created they first 3D-printed, titanium-framed bicycle, known as SOLID, for the Oregon Manifesto bike design competition in 2014.

The Competition

The annual contest is an independent innovation platform for building the urban utility bike. In 2014, its organizers partnered high-level design firms with American bicycle craftsmen to collaboratively develop the next-wave urban bike. Five teams from five cycling-centric cities competed to concept, create and champion their unique vision of tomorrow’s bicycle for the everyday rider.

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Engineers have produced a new nickel, copper and titanium “memory” alloy that that springs back into shape even after it is bent more than 10 million times.

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The journal Science reported that the new shape memory alloy shatters previous records for bending and is so resilient it could be useful in artificial heart valves, aircraft components or a new generation of solid-state refrigerators.

SMA_550

Shape memory alloy photo courtesy of Rodrigo De Miranda/University of Kiel.

shape memory alloys (SMAs) are already used in surgical operations and other applications. A stent, for example, might be squashed into a small space and then spring into its designed shape to prop open a blood vessel.

When SMAs are bent or otherwise structurally deformed, the stress (in the form of heat or electrical current) causes the SMA to spring back to its original design.

Yet, as a technology, the alloys have never entirely fulfilled their promise and entered the world of “high-cycle fatigue” applications.

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An exciting development in the UK heralds more widespread adoption of additive layer manufacturing, or 3D printing, from titanium powder far beyond its current limited use in the aerospace industry.

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The UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) has agreed to invest £1.5 million ($2.3 million) in a collaborative R&D project, led by GKN Aerospace and Metalysis, the specialist metals technology company with partners Phoenix Scientific Industries Ltd. and The University of Leeds to develop the use of Metalysis’ high quality, low-cost titanium powder for use in aerospace additive manufacturing for the first time with a commercial partner.

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Titanium castings made from rutile. Image courtesy of GKN Aerospace.

In an interview with MetalMiner, Dr. Kartik Rao, Director of Business Development at Metalysis discussed the potential benefits for not just additive manufacturing as a technology but for the adoption of titanium 3D printed parts across a range of industries.

Reduction in Costs

The cost of the powder in 3D parts makes up roughly 50% of the final cost, Rao explained, so a significant reduction in powder costs could be a major spur to the adoption of such technology in more applications and in industries beyond aerospace and medical devices, such as automotive.

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You cannot accuse the folks at Alcoa of not understanding their market or of lacking a strategic plan.

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Investors would always like a better performance but in the midst of one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of the non-ferrous metals markets the firm has seen the writing on the wall and positioned themselves to take advantage of changes in their marketplace while minimizing the damage from market turmoil.

Titanium Maximum

Alcoa’s latest move, as reported earlier in MetalMiner, to acquire, Pittsburgh-based RTI International Metals Inc., in a $1.5 billion stock for stock deal is a logical and sound strategic move, building on the aluminum producer’s long-term plan to invest in downstream, value-added activities and gradually move away from the lower-return primary smelting business. Alcoa has invested heavily in new production facilities to meet an inexorable rise in demand for automotive sheet and to capitalize on it’s position as a major player in the equally buoyant aerospace sector.

The purchase of the  titanium specialist RTI Metals, with its focus on exactly the same markets but in the complimentary product area, will support Alcoa’s existing activities and allow it to grow its sales book with major automotive and aerospace firms.

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Indian Rare Earths Limited operates under India’s Department of Atomic Energy. When complete, the new $82 million titanium plant joint venture with India’s NALCO (National Aluminum Company) will make 100,000 tons (1 lakh ton) of titanium slag in the eastern state of Odisha. Some of it will also be used to make pig-iron. A feasibility study and technology selection on the project will soon be carried out.

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Rare-Earths_Chart_July-2014_FNLIncidentally, the MoU for formation of the joint-venture was signed between the two state-owned entities about three years ago but was revalidated last week. No explanation was forthcoming for the delay.

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India’s state-owned National Aluminum Co Ltd (NALCO) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with another public sector company, Indian Rare Earths Ltd (IREL), to jointly set up a titanium slag plant.

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That could be good news for India’s space program. Why? The project envisages adding value to Ilmenite, a titanium-iron oxide mineral, to produce the slag. Slag is an intermediate product for making titanium sponge and titanium pigments. Titanium sponge is a porous substance formed in the first stage of processing of the naturally available titanium. The latter is high strength but has low density properties, and is also corrosion-resistant. It’s widely used in the manufacture of aircraft, among other things. Titanium-alloy components are also used to make missiles and satellite launch vehicles.

Incidentally, just a few weeks ago, The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched five foreign satellites, marking an important milestone in its space program.

IREL operates under India’s Department of Atomic Energy. When complete, the plant will make 100,000 tons (1 lakh ton) of titanium slag in the eastern state of Odisha. Some of it will also be used to make pig-iron. A feasibility study and technology selection on the project will soon be carried out.

The plant is estimated to cost around $82 million (Rs 500 crore). The MoU for formation of the joint-venture had been signed between the two central public sector entities about three years ago but was revalidated last week. No explanation was given for the delay.

The author, Sohrab Darabshaw, contributes an Indian perspective on industrial metals markets to MetalMiner.

rusty iron chainlinksThe deadlock between Ukraine ­and Russia ­– particularly over Crimea, the current battleground where the US and the EU have joined the fray – got us thinking, “Man, there must be some massive supply chain implications here.”

And there definitely are – for pricing, availability, lead times across a broad range of commodities, parts, components and finished products, far beyond the immediate region itself.

It is our view that the political front is the one to watch, as impending sanctions on Russia imposed by the US/EU would be the main catalyst for supply chain upheaval. On the non-metal commodity front:

  • According to JPMorgan Commodities Research analysts, although Ukraine is neither a major oil producer nor oil consumer, it is the key “middleman” country for Russian energy exports. More than 70 percent of Russia’s gas and oil flows to Europe pass through its territory. In turn, Europe is the buyer for nearly 90 percent of Russia’s oil exports.
  • If tension escalates, namely if military action is undertaken, pipelines could potentially be cut off and actual delays or shortages could hamper western (EU) supply.

On the metals front, several key US manufacturers’ supply chains could feel reverberations due to their business in Russia (especially if US/EU sanctions directly affect them). For example:

  • Boeing Co. buys nearly a third of its titanium for its planes (translating into an $18 million total spend) from Russia, mostly from VSMPO-Avisma, which is the largest titanium producer in the world, according to the WSJ.
  • If the supply chain is impeded in any way, the perception of “slow availability” could drive titanium prices to rise, even though Boeing’s long-term contracts with VSMPO-Avisma lock in price.
  • VSMPO-Avisma also does business with Alcoa.

So what are five specific takeaways for a procurement organization? Jason Busch of Spend Matters dives deep on that frontclick here to read them right now.