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AERO . . . while customers are caught in a commodities upspin


High nickel, fluctuating cobalt, rising aluminum and stabilizing titanium prices are factors that aerospace consumers are learning to live with, executives in the engine, airframe and parts supply industry say.

"Nickel is obviously the landscape that has changed dramatically," said Patrick Sample, general manager of rotating part sourcing at GE Aviation, Cincinnati, the aircraft engine manufacturing unit of General Electric Co.

Sample also oversees buying of titanium parts for GE and works with Robert Schafrik, general manager of materials and process engineering, on developing ways to control rising materials costs.

"It's creating tremendous cost pressures for us," Sample said. "The way the market has adjusted has been more dynamic than our ability to pass it on to our customers."

For titanium, Sample said that GE had entered a long-term contract with Alvac, a unit of Allegheny Technologies Inc., Pittsburgh, that he claimed had helped settle market fluctuations. "That's helping bring some consistency to that marketplace for us for that material at least," he said.

However, special titanium alloys that don't have large volumes still have long lead times, Schafrik said. The emphasis at GE is on ways to improve competitively, he said, and GE is looking at alternative materials such as titanium aluminide intermetallics, which recently have found their way into the parts of low-pressure turbines on GE's NX engine.

"That's competing with nickel, and we could push the nickel metallics up a little further into the engine if we need to," he said.

"We're also working on ceramic matrix-type composite programs, which have even better temperature capabilities than our nickel superalloys, to possibly put in the hot phases of the turbine."

In the end, though, GE expects to continue to be a major user of nickel, titanium and cobalt, the GE executives said.

Sample noted, though, that the company is looking at designs to see if the weight of material purchased to what flies can be reduced.

"We're trying to reduce that ratio so that we have less scrap," he said.

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