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Capacity increases to boost titanium marketshare

Keywords: Tags  Titanium Metals Corp., aerospace market, titanium powder, Allegheny Technologies Inc., RTI International Metals Inc.,

Titanium Metals Corp. (Timet) has commissioned a plasma cold-hearth melt furnace at its Morgantown, Pa., operations as it aims to boost its role in the aerospace market with new melting capacity, while also installing new titanium powder capabilities.

The addition of plasma-arc melting will increase Timet’s ability to meet a growing demand for "complex, high-temperature alloys" that will be used extensively in the newest generation of aircraft engines, Timet president and chief executive officer Bob O’Brien said.

Dallas-based Timet is already a major source of titanium produced by another cold-hearth technology—electron beam melting—via an existing furnace in Morgantown. The company said in documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year that 46 percent of its total annual global melting capacity of 68,450 tonnes (about 150 million pounds) used electron-beam technology, with more-conventional vacuum-arc remelting accounting for nearly all of the balance.

Most observers agree that an upturn in titanium demand that began in 2010 has been due largely to engine-related consumption rather than airframes.

At the same time, Timet has purchased "certain assets, intellectual property and know-how" that will allow it to produce value-added titanium and other specialty alloy "Prep" powders, the company said. The technology is believed to refer to the plasma rotating electrode process, although a Timet executive didn’t respond to a request for further comment.

Timet didn’t reveal who sold it the Prep assets, although the company said it has begun installing and upgrading equipment and expects the powder facility to be operational by the second half of this year. The new capability will allow Timet to "efficiently achieve near-net-shape manufacturing of complex parts," it said.

Timet isn’t the only producer adding to its cold-hearth melt capacity. Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI), believed to have the largest plasma-arc melting capacity of any U.S. titanium producer, noted recently that a fourth plasma-arc melting furnace is in the qualification stage at its ATI Allvac facility in Bakers, N.C. The furnace will support "growth in demand for high-value products in 2012," according to ATI, which also has electron-beam melting capacity in Richland, Wash.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh-based RTI International Metals Inc., looking to increase its profile in the aerospace engine market, is augmenting its existing plasma-arc melting capacity with a new electron-beam furnace that is due to be completed by the end of 2012 and be operational by 2013.

Last year, RTI—which in mid-2011 estimated that less than 20 percent of its aerospace business was on the engine side—signed its first long-term engine supply agreement in years with Germany’s MTU Aero Engines GmbH. The company has said that it expects to be melting 4 million to 5 million pounds per year for the engine market. Staff Report

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