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Boeing joins forces on titanium powder

Keywords: Tags  Boeing, South Africa, titanium, titanium powder, CSIR, Frank haflich

LOS ANGELES — Boeing Co. and South Africa are teaming up to develop titanium powder manufacturing technology.

Chicago-based Boeing and the state-sponsored Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria have signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on processes intended to bring titanium powder-based products to commercial markets, including aerospace, on an "industrial scale."

South Africa, which claims to have the world’s second-largest reserves of titanium ore, has developed and patented a technology to convert titanium ore to powder. Earlier this week, CSIR launched a pilot plant in Pretoria expected to be followed by a "semi commercial" plant in two to three years with a capacity of 500 tonnes per year. That will be replaced within a decade by a fully commercial operation able to produce 2,000 tonnes per year, according to local reports.

Willie du Preez, director of South Africa’s Titanium Centre of Competence, said in a statement that collaboration with Boeing will "hugely benefit" CSIR’s effort to commercialize titanium technologies.

The development of titanium powder applications has been one of the aerospace industry’s key areas of investigation for slashing the "buy-to-fly" ratios on the comparatively expensive metal. While these ratios can vary widely depending on the manufacturing process—from an estimated 3-to-1 in welding to 12-to-1 hogging out plate in an aircraft’s early manufacturing stages—powder metals are seen as a potentially attractive alternative because of the process’ net- or near-net-shape characteristics.

William Lyons, director of global research for the Boeing Research and Technology unit of the aircraft manufacturer, said in a statement that Boeing’s venture with CSIR will enable Boeing to use titanium powder for manufacturing "in ways that reduce energy consumption and waste."

South African mine production of ilmenite led the world last year at 1,030 tonnes while the nation was second in rutile output at 131 tonnes, according to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) data. Most of the world’s titanium ores find their way into pigment production rather than for higher-priced markets for titanium metal.

Last year, South Africa was the largest overseas supplier of titanium slag and rutile to the United States, according to the USGS.

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