Titanium and the Aerospace Industry

  • June 28, 2013

Since the discovery of titanium in 1791, it has been an exceedingly coveted element in manufacturing. But it wasn’t until the start of the Cold War that it began its journey into both the military and commercial aerospace industries. Today, the aerospace industry is the number one customer for titanium alloy products. There are several properties of titanium that make it well suited for the aerospace industry: the high strength to weight ratio, its resistance to corrosion and its high temperature performance.

As the number one customer for titanium, the aerospace industry and the titanium industry are directly linked to each other economically. With the demand for newer, better planes on the increase; the demand for titanium is also on the rise. Countries that have considerably large military budgets, like the United States, have a high demand for titanium and consider the availability of titanium a matter of national security.

Commercial airplanes today, like the AirBusA380 and BoeingB787, use a great deal more titanium than previously engineered aircraft. However, the military aerospace industry consumes the largest amount of titanium. Military aircraft, such as the F-22, F/A-18, C-17, F-35 and the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, are among some of the military’s assets that use large quantities of titanium to produce.

With the rising costs of fuel and the recent decline of the economy, the need for more fuel-efficient aircraft has become a priority. Taking advantage of titanium’s weight-to-strength ratio, airplanes that are made from titanium parts are lighter than those that are not; and a lighter airplane consumes less fuel. Titanium has been replacing aluminum parts in aircraft manufacturing because of its ability to resist heat and corrosion when it comes in contact with carbon-fiber reinforced polymers (CFRPs). Titanium is now used in the fastening elements, airframe and landing gear of airplanes.

Not just aircraft parts and frames are made from titanium; aircraft engine manufacturers are also starting to use titanium. The high strength and low density of titanium gives aero-engine manufacturers the high levels of performance they desire. Jet engine and airframe parts need to withstand temperatures from subzero to 600 degrees Celsius, making titanium’s high temperature performance ideal. Engines parts manufactured from titanium include discs, blades, shafts and casings for the front fan to the rear end of the engine.

Powder metallurgy is another military application of titanium and is restricted to space and missile applications. The coating of powder metallurgy gives superior corrosion resistance paired with high strength and low density. Many of the vehicles constructed by NASA to travel into outer space have been manufactured from titanium.

Titanium has proven to be an invaluable element in many industries, especially the aerospace industry. The aerospace industry and the titanium industry are very dependent on each other. As the demand for more planes and more efficient air travel continues to increase, the outlook for the titanium market should hold steady in the future.