New process by ORNL group could ease titanium crunch.

Author:Alpern, Peter B.
Position:News & analysis

Whether it is for building airplanes, joints replacements, stopping cars or deflecting bullets, the demand for titanium has skyrocketed.

The emergence of a non-melt consolidation process being developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in conjunction with industry partners, could make the metal more readily available and far more affordable to a larger market.

The new processing technique reduces the amount of energy required for titanium processing by 50 percent, with a similar reduction in cost, ORNL reports.

By making titanium less expensive to produce and acquire, a wider range of manufacturers could turn out titanium parts from powder for alloys for brake rotors, artificial joint replacements, and, of particular interest now, armor for military vehicles.

Instead of traditional melting techniques for forming alloys, the new process uses powder metallurgy in which the material remains in a solid form throughout the processing, ORNL says.

Bill Peter, a researcher in the lab's Material Science and Technology Division, says the lab recently demonstrated a low-cost titanium-alloy door made for the Defense Department's next-generation combat vehicle known as the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.

By using the titanium alloy, manufacturer BAE Systems was able to reduce the weight of the vehicle while decreasing vulnerability to armor-piercing rounds, Peter says.

Besides saving energy, the powder-processing technique reduces the amount of scrap and allows for new composite materials to be fabricated, an ORNL spokesperson says.

While powder metallurgy has been used to produce components for many years, titanium products have not widely been fabricated using these methods because of the high cost of conventional titanium powders...

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