With today’s advances in science, it’s not surprising that materials once thought to be solely for high-tech or industrial uses ultimately find their way into the everyday lives of people. Titanium is an excellent case in point.
It has been known for well over 200 years but has only been used industrially for about the last 60 years. Like most new discoveries, though, once the genie was out of the bottle, new uses were quickly developed that ranged from the sublime to extravagant.
Titanium was first discovered by British clergyman William Gregor in 1791, but remained little more than curiosity for geologist until the 1950s. It was at this time the former Soviet Union began using titanium in an industrial setting. They discovered the high strength to weight ratio and resistance to corrosion in salt water made titanium alloys the perfect material for drive shafts and other key parts of submarines (Alfa Class and Mike Class).
The United States military and industrial worlds quickly expanded the uses of titanium alloys to other fields, like the aircraft industry. The high tensile strength, fatigue resistance, heat tolerance and resistance to cracking under stress made titanium alloys the perfect material for the demanding environment inside jet engines and air frames.
From these auspicious beginnings, the uses of titanium alloys have spread and include applications you might not suspect.
Almost 95 percent of titanium ore is destined to be refined into titanium dioxide. This is a very pure and brilliant white, permanent pigment used in applications ranging from paint, to plastics, to — most surprisingly — toothpaste. Yes, the whiteness of your pearly whites is greatly dependent on titanium. Titanium dioxide is also a major strengthening agent in graphite products like fishing rods, golf clubs, tennis rackets and automobile body parts.
The special properties of titanium alloys and their ability to perform in demanding environments have led to their use in some unexpected applications:
- Surgical Implants and Instruments – Titanium is nonmagnetic, biocompatible, and easily bonds with bone, which makes it a perfect choice for dental implants and joint replacement surgeries. A titanium alloy hip replacement can last up to 20 years, and MRIs can still be done on the patient due to the nonmagnetic quality of the titanium.
- Nuclear Waste Storage – This is the epitome of a demanding environment. Extremely corrosion resistant titanium containers have been studied for this use. It is believed that with modern manufacturing techniques, titanium storage containers could last for 100,000 years.
- Jewelry – Titanium alloys are widely used today in jewelry because it is hypoallergenic. But you may not realize it is added to 24 carat gold to make it harder and more resistant. Up to 1% titanium can be added without it affecting the purity test of the gold.
- Architectural – The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, Cerritos Millennium Library in California, Frederic C. Hamilton Building in Denver, Colorado, and Monument to the Conquerors of Space in Moscow are all sheathed in titanium alloys.
- Aerospace – The use of titanium has continued to grow since the 1960’s where it had its beginnings in military programs and ultimately moved into commercial aircraft. In Airframe, Titanium alloys effectively compete with aluminum, nickel and ferrous alloys in both commercial and military airframes. Due to the strength to weight ratio, reliability and corrosion resistance of titanium, the use for it in structural airframe applications including wing structures, landing gear components, critical fasteners, springs, and hydraulic tubing will continue to expand.
Titanium alloys resist wear in the most demanding environments and have proven themselves superior to many other materials. Stronger by weight, very heat resistant, and less prone to warping make titanium alloys the ultimate in tool steels.
At Kennametal, we offer a number of tooling solutions for machining titanium.
Our new KCSM30 is a High Performance milling grade specifically engineered for machining titanium. If you’re drilling holes, consider our TF™ drills that are designed specifically for high metal removal rates in titanium applications. If your application is milling or turning, consider the long-life advantages of our Beyond BLAST™ tools that can increase tool life up to 100% in titanium machining.
If you would like more information on the Versatility of Titanium, or have a question about any of our products, click HERE to speak with a Kennametal Expert.