Researchers from the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD)’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) in Porton Down, Wiltshire, UK, and the University of Sheffield’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Sheffield, Yorkshire, UK, state that they have dramatically reduced the cost and difficulty of titanium part production by reducing the typically lengthy process down to just two steps.
Titanium’s high strength, light weight and corrosion resistance sees it widely used in the defence industry, such as in military aircraft and submarines, but the high production costs associated with the material have reportedly made it difficult to justify its use in all but the most essential areas. According to Dstl, the new reduced-step process has the potential to cut the cost of titanium parts by up to 50%.
Dstl states that it has invested almost £30,000 in the new research project at the University of Sheffield, which led to the development of the new ground-breaking manufacturing process, named FAST-forge. Working with Dstl and Kennametal Manufacturing (UK) Ltd, Sheffield’s researchers developed a hybrid manufacturing processing technology which consolidates titanium powder, including machined swarf, into a bulk material in two solid-state steps.
The powder can then be shaped close to the desired component without the need for numerous expensive and process-limiting thermomechanical steps. Dr Nick Weston, from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, explained, “FAST-forge is a disruptive technology that enables near-net shape components to be produced from powder or particulate in two simple processing steps.”
“Such components have mechanical properties equivalent to forged product. For titanium alloys, FAST-forge will provide a step change in the cost of components, allowing use in automotive applications such as powertrain and suspension systems.”
Gavin Williamson, the UK’s Defence Secretary, stated, “Our Armed Forces use titanium in everything from cutting-edge nuclear submarines and fighter jets through to life-changing replacement limbs – but production time and costs mean we haven’t always used it. This ground-breaking method is not only faster and cheaper but could see a huge expansion of titanium parts and equipment throughout the military.”
So far, small-scale trials of the new production process have been carried out, but a new large-scale fast furnace facility jointly funded by Dstl and Kennametal UK has been built and is expected to enable larger components to be produced for testing.
Matthew Lunt, Principal Scientist for Materials Science at Dstl, commented, “We’re really excited about this innovation, which could cut the production cost of titanium parts by up to 50%. With this reduction in cost, we could use titanium in submarines, where corrosion resistance would extend the life, or for light-weight requirements like armoured vehicles.”