Friday, April 17, 2015

News: Metalysis increasing titanium production with GKN

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Metalysis, the innovative Rotherham-based company is set to increase the production of its high quality, low-cost titanium powder for use in aerospace additive manufacturing after entering a partnership with GKN Aerospace.

Metalysis is an investor and grant-backed Cambridge University spin out and holds the worldwide exploitation rights to the FCC Cambridge process which sees specialist powder metals created in a simple, cost effective process with significant environmental benefits.

The Manvers company is in the process of commercialising the technology to produce titanium, tantalum, and related high value alloys. These are used increasingly by major worldwide industries such as aerospace, marine, medical, chemical, automotive and electronics.

Worcestershire-based GKN Aerospace, a leader in the manufacture of highly complex composite and metallic aerostructures and engine products, is leading on a new £3.1m research project, which has recently secured £1.5m from the UK's Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), to support the application of additive layer manufacturing in aerospace.

The use of titanium in the aerospace industry has previously been prohibitively expensive but the creation of cheaper metal powders by Metalysis is expected to enable its wider use and drive forward the adoption of 3D printing in specialist metal products.

The joint industry and ATI funded, collaborative R&D project is backed by the country's innovation agency, Innovate UK and has selected Metalysis as a partner, alongside Phoenix Scientific Industries Ltd and The University of Leeds, to increase the production of high quality low-cost titanium powder for additive layer manufacturing and develop the UK's skills and expertise in the sector.

TiPOW (Titanium Powder for Net-Shape Component Manufacture) will ensure UK competitiveness through developing additive layer manufacturing capabilities and raw material production in the form of low-cost titanium powder. The successful use of additive manufacture in the aerospace supply chain, using Metalysis' low-cost titanium powder, will also enable the expansion of its use in new applications across the medical, automotive, defence and energy sectors.

Today additive manufacturing uses alloys and powders that have not been developed for these processes and so are not optimised for this environment. Together the partners will investigate developing titanium alloys and powders with the characteristics that are specifically suited to additive manufacturing. They will then define the production methods that will produce materials to ensure cost is minimised whilst production quality, quantity and consistency all meet the rigorous standards required by aerospace. The TiPOW programme will also explore effective re-use and recycling of titanium material, and a study of potential applications for the recycled material.

Russ Dunn, senior vice president engineering & technology at GKN, said: "To date research into additive manufacturing has focused largely on evolving the processes we will require to enter full scale production but if these processes are to make a significant breakthrough, the quality, repeatability and cost of the material we use will be critical. Working with our industrial and academic partners in the TiPOW programme and leveraging expertise from across GKN, we will begin the process of addressing this issue."

Dion Vaughan, chief executive of Metalysis, added: "Titanium made by the Metalysis process could replace the current use of aluminium and steel in many products, bringing many performance advantages. This project will demonstrate its potential in the additive layer manufacturing of metal components, bringing down the cost of production, manufacturing and increasing environmental performance of aerospace and beyond."

Working for the first time with a commercial partner is part of Metalysis's expected significant expansion of its production capacity in the UK, in addition to exporting its technology internationally through licensing agreements and joint ventures.

The Metalysis electrochemical reduction process can transform metal oxides, such as ores, directly into metal powders in a single step. Currently focusing on titanium and tantalum, the process uses less energy than traditional processes as it does not require the melting of metals, and the salt used in producing the metals can be recycled.

The process also means that innovative alloys can be tailored to have the desired properties for specific applications – for example by making them lighter - and brings additional cost benefits by reducing the quantity of material required and the level of waste.

Metalysis website
GKN Aerospace website

Images: GKN

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