By: Dan Thisdell at FlightGlobal
Many aerospace companies are trying to make a big noise in titanium these days, but workers at Alcoa’s parts fabrication plant at Samara, in southeastern Russia, had best tighten up their ear protectors. From 2016, their 75,000-ton forging press – until recently the world’s biggest – will be going to work on material supplied by Russia’s VSMPO-AVISMA, the world′s largest manufacturer of titanium ingots and forged products.
- But while the Samara plant – which dates back to 1960 – and this “beautiful piece of equipment” have been focussed on aluminium, Roegner notes that a forge is “material agnostic”.
- In VSMPO, Alcoa has a very mature partner, whose operations span from the mines to finished products. It has been strategic partner to Boeing since 1997, and through a Russian joint venture that will draw some $27 million in Boeing investment over 30 years supplies the 787 and other Boeing programmes with rough-machined titanium parts for finishing in the USA.
- At the MAKS airshow in Moscow this summer, VSMPO and Airbus renewed a 20-year relationship, signing what the companies called an “end-to-end strategic collaboration” covering development, processing and recycling of titanium material for all Airbus programmes. VSMPO is also a key organiser of Russia’s so-called “Titanium Valley” project, a government-industry initiative to build a cluster of expertise in the Urals region.
- Alcoa is of course best-known for aluminium. Roegner is probably not exaggerating when he says no Western aircraft programme has ever flown without some Alcoa content; even the Wright Flyer’s engine block and crankcase were cast from Alcoa aluminium.
- Today, fasteners, investment castings and structural materials such as sheet, plate, forgings or extrusions each account for about a third of Alcoa’s $3.8 billion annual aerospace business. But what shouldn’t be overlooked is that the company has long been a multi-material supplier, working in titanium, nickel, steel and magnesium. Alcoa has produced structural castings in titanium since 1917, and titanium figures significantly in fasteners and castings like hot-section engine blades.