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?


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.


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.


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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Alcoa Inc. said it would acquire Pittsburgh-based RTI International Metals Inc., one of the world’s biggest makers of fabricated titanium products for the aerospace and automotive industries, in a transaction with an enterprise value of $1.5 billion.

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For New York-based Alcoa, the world’s biggest aluminum producer by value, the stock-for-stock deal is part of its strategy to focus more on manufactured products for the aerospace and automotive industries.

Alcoa wants to become less reliant on its old-fashioned smelting business, which is suffering from weak prices for raw aluminum. Alcoa on Friday said it would look at closing up to 14% of raw smelting capacity. Since 2007, it has taken almost a third of its smelting capacity out of production.

RTI shareholders will receive 2.8315 Alcoa shares for each RTI share, representing a value of $41 per RTI share based on Alcoa’s closing price on Friday. RTI shares, which closed Friday at $27.28, jumped 28% to $35 in premarket trading Monday

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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.

From fake knees to models of the Sagrada Familia, 3D printing and additive manufacturing have seemingly taken the industrial world by storm.

Or at least that’s what the industry would like potential customers and users to think – which is what’s worried the industrial manufacturing sector the past couple years.

However, MetalMiner is happy to report that traditional machining and fabrication methods don’t seem like they’ll be going away anytime soon. Why?

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India has taken another step in the production of titanium sponge when the well-known public sector steel producer, the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), signed an agreement with the Kerala State Industrial Development Corp (KSIDC) and Kerala Minerals and Metals Ltd (KMML) to jointly set up an approximately US $458 million plant to produce titanium sponge and metals, according to the Times of India.

Titanium sponge is a porous substance formed in the first stage of the processing of the naturally available titanium.

Titanium is known for its excellent corrosion resistance, high strength and low-density properties, which make it widely used in the manufacture of civilian and military aircraft. Titanium-alloy components are also used in satellite launch vehicles, rockets and missiles.

(Ed. Note: It also happens to be a strategic/critical metal to the United States, as our friends at the American Resources Policy Network put it at the top of their Risk Pyramid.)

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