FASTForge to deliver cheaper aerospace titanium

L to R: Titanium powder obtained from rutile sand, Field Assist Sintered double cone preform, then pancake forging - image courtesy of FastForge.
L to R: Titanium powder obtained from rutile sand, Field Assist Sintered double cone preform, then pancake forging - image courtesy of FastForge.

A consortium comprising the world’s leader in aircraft landing gear, a leading specialist metals producer and two of the UK’s leading universities is working on FastForge, a project aimed at the production of aerospace-grade titanium at a third of the current price.

The partners working on the FASTForge project include Safran Landing Systems (formerly Messier-Bugatti-Dowty); Metalysis; the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC), and the University of Sheffield.

Through FASTForge, the consortium is aiming to produce novel titanium alloy aerospace components in three steps from rutile sand – a mineral composed primarily of titanium dioxide, found in plentiful quantities in Australia, South Africa and India.

The aim is to develop a novel low-cost titanium forging production process, unique to the UK, which could become a key enabler for the introduction of more titanium on aerospace components – leading to lighter aircraft and reduced emissions.

It will also enable the introduction or increased use of titanium, a light and non-corrosive material, in other industries such as rail, automotive, heavy duty construction and defence.

FASTForge will seek to develop the raw material process; establish how it can be embodied in a new UK supply chain; develop cost effective manufacturing techniques, and prove the capability in a landing gear application.

The FASTForge partners have tightly defined roles:

  • Safran Landing Systems will manage the project, provide the specifications for the component, test it and assess where else the process could be applied to their products.
  • Metalysis will create the powder titanium alloy from the rutile sand.
  • The AFRC, one of the seven elite centres which make up the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, and the University of Sheffield will model the manufacturing process steps and optimise the preform and forging die designs to minimise the material used in the end product.
  • The AFRC will also model and optimise the forging parameters and forge the final component shape. Together with Sheffield, the centre will also analyse the material properties of the intermediate and finished components to ensure they meet the stringent requirements of the landing gear application.

Michael Ward, CTO at the AFRC, explained: “The cost of titanium is an important issue in the aerospace industry.

“Cheaper titanium from the FASTForge process will protect the UK’s position as the second-largest global aerospace manufacturer, with potential to grow our share of the market as the sector grows over the next 20 years. It will mean the supply chain staying and expanding in the UK with more high-value jobs as a result.”

Sam Evans from Safran Landing Systems said: “The FASTForge process offers an exciting opportunity to reduce the costs and environmental impact of titanium production.

“This project has the potential to diversify the supply chain of titanium, allowing its use to continue in current products, as well as allowing its introduction into areas where it has not previously been feasible. This will provide a competitive advantage to the UK high value manufacturing and aerospace industry.”

FASTForge is due to complete by mid-2018.