A consortium of manufacturers and two UK universities are to develop a low-cost titanium forging production process for the aerospace industry in a bid to reduce the price of titanium components by less than a third of current costs.
The Fast-forge project aims to enable the wider use of titanium on aerospace components, leading to lighter aircraft and reduced emissions.
The project will explore how to produce novel titanium alloy aerospace components in three steps from rutile sand - a mineral composed primarily of titanium dioxide (TiO2). Rutile, the most common natural form of TiO2, is found in plentiful quantities in Australia, South Africa and India.
It will then develop the raw material process, establish how it can be embodied in a new UK supply chain, develop cost effective manufacturing techniques and prove the capability in a landing gear application.
Aircraft landing gear manufacturer Safran Landing Systems will manage the project, provide the specifications for the component, test it and assess where else the process could be applied to their products. Meanwhile, specialist metals producer Metalysis will create the powder titanium alloy from the rutile sand.
The University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC), one of the seven centres that make up the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, and the University of Sheffield, will model the manufacturing process steps and optimise the preform and forging die designs to minimise the material used in the end product.
The AFRC will also model and optimise the forging parameters and forge the final component shape. Together with Sheffield, the centre will also analyse the material properties of the intermediate and finished components to ensure they meet the stringent requirements of the landing gear application.
It is hoped that the project will also enable the introduction or increased use of titanium in other industries such as rail, automotive, heavy duty construction and defence.
Michael Ward, chief technology officer at the AFRC, said: “The cost of titanium is an important issue in the aerospace industry. Cheaper titanium from the Fast-forge process will protect the UK’s position as the second-largest global aerospace manufacturer, with potential to grow our share of the market as the sector grows over the next 20 years. It will mean the supply chain staying and expanding in the UK with more high-value jobs as a result.”
Sam Evans from Safran Landing Systems said: “The Fast-forge process offers an exciting opportunity to reduce the costs and environmental impact of titanium production. This project has the potential to diversify the supply chain of titanium, allowing its use to continue in current products, as well as allowing its introduction into areas where it has not previously been feasible. This will provide a competitive advantage to the UK high value manufacturing and aerospace industry.”
Fast-forge is due to complete by mid-2018.