How The Aerospace Industry Relies on Titanium

How The Aerospace Industry Relies on Titanium

Nov 28th 2022

The utilization of titanium shook up the aerospace industry in 1971, at the time largely dominated by steel and aluminum. Since then, titanium alloys have become a staple for aerospace applications, whether that’s through traditional or additive manufacturing. Read on to find out what makes the industry so reliant on this material, and all the trade-offs involved.

What Makes Titanium So Great For Aerospace?

Strength-Weight Ratio

Airplane frames have to be durable while still being lightweight. This is doubly true for spacecraft that have to go through much more stressful environmental conditions while carrying a massive amount of fuel. The materials involved in the construction of these aircraft need to strike that difficult balance between weight and strength.

A big reason for the popularity of titanium in aerospace manufacturing and other markets is its impressive high strength-to-weight ratio. This mechanical property allows manufacturers to bring down the overall weight of aircraft while still maintaining structural stability and physical resistance.

It’s also worth mentioning that this high strength-to-weight ratio of titanium alloy for aerospace applications has as big of an impact on military aircraft as it does on commercial aircraft. Titanium has helped the aviation industry cope with higher operating costs by offering a way to manufacture more fuel-efficient airplanes. 

a space shuttle in a warehouse

Larger aircrafts like 787s require a significant amount of titanium parts to maintain a lighter weight, while also using up less fuel. Similarly, military aircraft rely on titanium components for more durable bodies that can stay in the air for extended durations without having to refuel. This is partly achieved with improved aerodynamic designs that can squeeze every bit of mileage out of the fuel tank while holding up against extreme G-force.

High Resistance

Other materials like aluminum are also well-known for their low weight. What gives titanium an edge in the aerospace industry is its remarkable resistance to corrosion, both chemical and physical. Aircraft frames need to be secured against many different types of chemical corrosion, such as through exposure to pure oxygen in the upper atmosphere. Titanium is naturally resistant to this and even forms an oxide layer that gradually gets thicker with treatment. This layer will further protect the frame from oxidation. 

Another reason for the dominance of titanium alloy for aerospace applications is its durability in extreme temperatures. Metals like steel tend to expand under extended thermal duress. A special property of titanium is that it expands at a much slower rate compared to many other metals. This property allows the aerospace industry to use titanium to create aircraft frames and other components that can last a lot longer compared to the competition. 

Additive Manufacturing With Titanium

Additive manufacturing is a relatively easier entry point for businesses that want to use titanium but don’t have the scale to invest in a traditional manufacturing process. This is particularly useful for smaller aerospace businesses working with titanium on a smaller scale, such as creating a prototype as a proof of concept. 

These factors determine how effective titanium alloy can be for aerospace applications when it comes to 3D printing services:

  • Sphericity: Spherical metal powders can easily be packed together during 3D printing. Packing density, in turn, determines how structurally stable the final print is going to be. This is an important consideration when working with titanium for aerospace manufacturing, as even the smallest components need to be stable for use in the field.

  • Flowability: This property determines how well a 3D printer can process a given metal powder. The higher the flowability of a material, the smoother the process will be. Working with flowable powders reduces the overall chances of running into errors and ensures faster prints. Creating complex titanium prints can take longer than your average polymer product, so prioritizing high-flowability powders will help speed up that process.

Whether it’s an aircraft turbine or a smaller component, aerospace manufacturers should consider titanium 3D printing as a viable option.

a titanium airplane turbine

What Are The Cons?

Experts who have worked with titanium alloy for aerospace applications will know that it is notoriously difficult to work. For example, casting titanium is much more difficult than aluminum or steel due to its superior strength. Additionally, even though prices for titanium components have gone down as advanced manufacturing techniques improve, titanium is still a more expensive input material than others.

Build Better With Titanium

Despite how difficult it may be to work with, titanium is considered a must-have in the aerospace industry because of the stability that it brings to the table. Use titanium for your next print with KBM, a distributor that helps businesses shift to additive manufacturing with a robust digital marketplace. Create an account and shop the metal powders your business needs today.

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