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The BAE Systems Joint Light Tactical Vehicle  (Source: Courtesy of
Less costly manufacturing may put titanium in everyone's doors.

Titanium, since its discovery in the late 1700s, has been something of a wonder metal. A naturally occurring element, it has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any known metal, and while some steel alloys compare in strength, titanium is nearly half as heavy. Titanium is also highly corrosion resistant, making it ideal for use in many applications. Titanium is used in everything from pigments to aerospace materials to medical devices and has garnered a keen interest by the military since the 1950s.

Though the element is incredibly useful, the high cost of producing it has kept it out of general use. In 2006, DuPont and Materials and Electrochemical Research Corporation were awarded $5.7 million by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to engineer new processes to create titanium powder more efficiently.

Now, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has found a way to reduce the cost of creating useful titanium parts even further -- by up to 50%, states a press release at ORNL. Rather than employing a typical melt-type process, the ORNL technique, which is being jointly developed by ORNL, International Titanium Powders, Ametek and BAE Systems, leaves the powder in its solid form and employed roll compaction to produce sheets of metal. Once the sheets are made, extrusion and press and sinter processes can be used to create various forms and parts.

"We recently exhibited the new low-cost titanium alloy door made by ORNL for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, which is a next-generation combat vehicle. By using a titanium alloy for the door, BAE Systems was able to reduce the weight of its vehicle yet at the same time decrease the threat of armor-piercing rounds," explains Bill Peter, a researcher in ORNL's Materials Science and Technology Division.

Not only will ORNL's fabrication process enable safer and more durable vehicles for military use, medical science will benefit from the lower cost of producing things like joint replacements and dental implants. Vehicles based on titanium rather than steel could have stronger, safer frames while enabling greater fuel efficiency due to reduced weight. This could yield tremendous results when combined with evolving hybrid electric or fuel cell-powered consumer automobiles.

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RE: Bigger problem
By HVAC on 5/23/2008 11:00:39 AM , Rating: 2
Raw ore is about USD $0.35 per pound of resultant titanium. Processing is the big killer because it takes so much freaking energy to melt titanium, which is the normal method of making stuff out of it.

This process will be a big boon to all who use titanium in ways except cast from powder. The cost of that method is not helped by this breakthrough.

RE: Bigger problem
By HVAC on 5/23/2008 11:02:01 AM , Rating: 2
... make that "melt cast from powder" ...

RE: Bigger problem
By soxfan on 5/23/2008 9:22:46 PM , Rating: 2
A much better way to make titanium parts is to use the CHIP process (cold hot isostatic pressing) developed by Stan Abkowitz (the guy who invented the most commonly used Ti alloy nowadays, Ti-6AL-4V). The CHIP process allows for far cheaper production of near net shape products than melt casting. MOreover, it allows for work and directionality to be added after the formation of the final product, which means that many products formed from this process require significantly less post treatment (annealing) than products produced by casting Ti.

RE: Bigger problem
By JAB on 5/23/2008 11:34:39 AM , Rating: 2
Not so much. The problem is that you need to protect it from the air wile you melt it and as you work with it. It very quickly can become contaminated and brittle with contact to air during processing.

RE: Bigger problem
By 91TTZ on 5/23/2008 8:10:10 PM , Rating: 2
Raw ore is about USD $0.35 per pound of resultant titanium. Processing is the big killer because it takes so much freaking energy to melt titanium, which is the normal method of making stuff out of it.

It's not going to take much more energy to melt titanium than it takes to melt steel. Steel is heavier and has more thermal mass, and its melting point is almost as high.

RE: Bigger problem
By masher2 on 5/24/2008 12:09:09 AM , Rating: 2
> "It's not going to take much more energy to melt titanium than it takes to melt steel."

The difference is that titanium is (currently) made in a multi-step process, which requires it to be heated and melted several times.

Titanium is also more expensive because iron can be reduced (the opposite of oxidized) by cheap carbon, whereas expensive magnesium is used to reduce titanium.

RE: Bigger problem
By Calin on 5/24/2008 2:21:06 AM , Rating: 2
But steel can be cold-forged, and you don't need to heat it much to hot-forge it (it loses strength quickly with temperature). On the other hand, titanium mantains strength into much higher temperatures, so you need to heat it real high to work it

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