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Titanium Foundry Takes Off

April 24, 2017
Europe’s largest production center for aerospace castings is now operational Large-scale titanium engine, structural parts Three interchangeable crucibles Exploring near-net shape casting

Following last year’s start-up of a new investment casting foundry, Britain’s AMRC Castings Group is now ready and able to produce titanium castings sized according to the emerging design objectives for the global aerospace industry. The new melt shop is in operation at AMRC Castings, a program operating within the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing at the University of Sheffield.

The titanium foundry was announced last year and described then as a venture capable of producing some of the world’s largest castings for aerospace programs.  Construction of the titanium furnace was completed last year and hot commissioning tests were completed successfully during the first quarter of 2017.

The new furnace is part of a significant investment and research program initiated to prepare U.K. companies to compete effectively in global markets for large-scale titanium aerospace engine and structural components. It is supported by the U.K.’s Aerospace Technology Institute, Innovate UK, and High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

The 1-metric ton copper crucible and melting chamber door of AMRC Castings centrifugal casting installation for titanium aerospace engine and structural components.

According to AMRC Castings, the furnace will be ready for industrial access this summer.

The new furnace has three interchangeable crucibles sized to melt 250 kg, 500 kg, and 1,000 kg of metal: this flexible set-up gives AMRC Castings the versatility to produce components with a finished weight ranging upwards from 60 kg.

As explained by AMRC, a volume of molten titanium in excess of 1,000 kg is required to make a 500 kg titanium casting, and there are only a handful of furnaces in operation anywhere in the world that are capable of casting near-net-shape aerospace components of that size. In short, the flexibility and scale of the manufacturing system is a critical factor in its potential for success.

AMRC claims that various aerospace OEMs and tier manufacturing companies are “already lining up to collaborate on research,” and that AMRC Castings is conducting initial paper and pilot studies to explicitly identify the risks and value streams associated with casting large-scale near-net shape components in titanium.

This research aims to refine and enhance the casting process, to reassure the design engineers that casting can create lower buy-to-fly ratios for large-scale aerospace components — meanwhile maintaining performance expectations as compared to comparable forged parts.

“AMRC Castings has over 15 years of experience in casting titanium and we are now aiming to assist companies considering a transfer of manufacturing from forged to cast for the production of large-scale near-net shape components,” according to R&D manager Mark D’Souza-Mathew.

“The cost savings with near-net shape castings are huge, with efficiencies in wastage and time-savings on the machining and finishing processes. Buy-to-fly ratios are improved from 5:1 with typical forged components down to 1.5:1 via the casting route,” D’Souza-Mathew added.

Casting can produce superior material properties to both forging and machining. In particular, the new furnace built at AMRC Castings allows enhanced cooling, to control better the final material microstructure.

“We are reviewing the alternative manufacturing technologies to focus on our strengths,” the R&D manager commented, “delivering to the end-users improved part complexity and ‘light-weighting’, realizing reductions in manufacturing costs and operational emissions.”

He continued: “We are working with the Aerospace Technology Institute and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult to define a program of work and explore the boundaries of large-scale near-net shape castings. This will include retrofitting the workshop floor with sensors to extract process related information, with a view to developing manufacturing intelligence and supporting simulation software.

“In addition to simulating the melting and pouring stages, we also aim to apply finite element analysis to the shell development stage. The aims are to improve process consistency and achieve manufacturing excellence, providing end-users with an increased level of confidence when manufacturing high integrity parts.”

Noting the objective of competing in the global aerospace market, the larger purpose for AMRC is to establish Britain’s technology and manufacturing base as a first-rank supplier of leading-edge industrial technology. The goal is to extend the insights and discoveries of AMRC to the participating supply chain, thereby strengthening existing operations, developing stronger business models for new operations (e.g., high-volume foundries), and concentrating the intellectual property, technical skill levels, and job-creation opportunities in the U.K.

About the Author

Robert Brooks | Content Director

Robert Brooks has been a business-to-business reporter, writer, editor, and columnist for more than 20 years, specializing in the primary metal and basic manufacturing industries. His work has covered a wide range of topics, including process technology, resource development, material selection, product design, workforce development, and industrial market strategies, among others. Currently, he specializes in subjects related to metal component and product design, development, and manufacturing — including castings, forgings, machined parts, and fabrications.

Brooks is a graduate of Kenyon College (B.A. English, Political Science) and Emory University (M.A. English.)