Titanium is a strong, lightweight material that has always been too expensive for most automotive applications. But, that could soon change, thanks to a new process being developed by engineers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Titanium is a strong, lightweight material that has always been too expensive for all but the most specialized automotive applications. That could change, however, with a nonmelt consolidation process being developed by engineers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL, Oak Ridge, TN).
The new processing technique could reduce the amount of energy required and the cost to make titanium components from powders by up to 50 percent, making it feasible to use titanium alloys for brake rotors, body panels and other types of mass-produced auto parts. Engineers in ORNL’s Material Science and Technology division recently created a low-cost titanium alloy door for use in next-generation combat vehicles.
“By using a titanium alloy for the door, BAE Systems Inc. (Rockville, MD) was able to reduce the weight of its vehicle, yet at the same time decrease the threat of armor-piercing rounds,” says Bill Peter, an ORNL researcher who worked on the project. “The lightweight titanium alloy also improves the operation of the door and increases mobility of the vehicle, making it even more useful to the military.”
Peter claims that the nonmelt approach, which includes roll compaction for directly fabricating sheets from powder, press and sinter techniques to produce net shape components and extrusion, offers many advantages over traditional melt processing.
“Instead of using conventional melt processing to produce products from titanium powder, with the new method the powders remain in their solid form during the entire procedure,” says Peter. “This saves a tremendous amount of energy required for processing, greatly reduces the amount of scrap, and allows for new alloys and engineered composites.”
While powder metallurgy has been used to produce components for many years, titanium products have not widely been fabricated with these methods because of the high cost of conventional titanium powders. However, low-cost titanium powders are now enabling engineers at ORNL and BAE Systems to develop these technologies for titanium.
In coming years, Peter expects corrosion-resistant titanium alloys to make their way into many other products, including automobiles, which will benefit from the decreased weight.