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Aerospace titanium lead times shrink

Keywords: Tags  Titanium, aerospace, lead times, Boeing, Dreamliner, Airbus, Qantas, Frank Haflich

LOS ANGELES — Delivery lead times on aerospace titanium to service centers and other buyers have shrunk significantly in the midst of a flat market, and there is little indication of an imminent uptick.

Mill lead times to distributors for small bars of standard aerospace titanium alloy 6 aluminum/4 vanadium have contracted to about eight weeks from 12 to 14 weeks earlier this year, market sources said, while lead times for titanium 6/4 plate and sheet is eight to 10 weeks, down from 14 to 16 weeks at the start of 2012.

However, day-to-day prices for mill products have remained relatively flat, market sources said, although requirements for any significant amounts are likely to attract discounts.

Outside of mill products, standard 6/4 ingot has increasingly been changing hands at the low end of AMM’s current range of $10.50 to $11.50 per pound, according to industry reports.

One distributor source noted that his company was bringing inventory into its warehouses in the first quarter in anticipation of an uptick by the third quarter, spurred by growing airliner build rates at both Chicago-based Boeing Co. and Airbus SAS of Toulouse, France. "We’re still waiting for that uptick," he said, adding that he sees few signs it will arrive before year’s end.

There also have been slow sales into both the non-aerospace global industrial titanium market and military programs as the defense industry looks towards the possibility of budget sequestration next year.

"We’re bidding on some nice-size packages," a distributor source said of the defense market. "But then again, we’ve been bidding on some of these same packages for the past six months."

Most market sources agree that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which consumes an estimated 180,000 to 225,000 pounds of titanium buy weight per aircraft, is the key to any upturn.

"What we need is for Boeing to get to 10 of these planes per month," said a supplier to the program, referring to Boeing’s targeted build rate by late 2013 compared to the recently reported build rate of three per month.

While Boeing has orders for more than 800 Dreamliners, the supplier wasn’t encouraged by the move by Australia’s Qantas Airways Ltd. this past week to cancel orders for 35 Dreamliners, bringing this year’s total cancellations to nearly 75. A Boeing spokeswoman couldn’t be reached for comment.

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