How aerospace manufacturing can outmaneuver the titanium shortage

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Due to international tensions, titanium ore costs have risen by 20% and inventory is so low it's hard to find adequate supplies. PHOTO courtesy Airbus.

by Dean Richmond, Global Director of Aerospace, Master Fluid Solutions

Just as the aerospace manufacturing sector began recovering from the pandemic, another disruption handicapped the market: geopolitical tensions. In addition to sanctions barring sales and trade, International conflict has also created a global titanium shortage. Eastern Europe is among the largest titanium suppliers for U.S. manufacturers, accounting for an annual average of 37% of titanium bars and rods.

Navigating the Titanium Shortage

Due to international tensions, titanium ore costs have risen by 20%. Even when manufacturers can afford these high prices, inventory is so low they may not be able to find a supplier. As a result, some airlines are even cutting flights due to a parts shortage caused by a lack of titanium. Now, aerospace manufacturing is suffering from longer lead times and unprecedented levels of machine downtime. Is there a way to outmaneuver these supply chain limitations?

Given the scarcity of titanium ore in the market, aerospace manufacturing faces pressure to make the most of their available supply. That means taking extreme measures to reduce scrap rates, ensuring every bit of material in their inventory is put to use. Here are four strategies to conserve this valuable resource:

  1. Upgrade machines and tooling

Modern machines and cutting tools offer much higher accuracy, stability, and efficiency than older equipment, dramatically reducing  the chance of machining errors and material waste during operation. In addition, new capabilities, such as automated inspection, can detect material defects early in the production process and help operators minimize waste.

Previously, manufacturers may have been able to justify putting off major capital investments in new machinery, but now they may be unavoidable. A high scrap rate won’t just increase material costs — it may force a production shutdown if no replacement titanium is available.

2. Invest in training machine operators

In a time of such unprecedented material shortages, it’s worthwhile to increase pay and benefits to attract more experienced workers or invest in training to improve machining ability. Machine operators with more experience and better training are better equipped to handle production issues that can cause part defects.

Ongoing training reinforces employee knowledge of production processes and best practices, as well as the importance of quality control. Not only does this protect material inventory, but it can also lead to a general lift in productivity and product quality — which will be valuable even after the titanium shortage is resolved.

3. Redesign production processes

Another way to reduce scrap rates is to revamp the approach to production. Manufacturers should consider investing in simulation software to minimize waste and find more cost-effective processes.

Simulation software can help optimize variables like cutting speed, tool path, and feed rate to make machining as efficient as possible without putting titanium at risk of defects or scrapping from production errors. Refining processes also has the added benefit of reducing energy consumption, further improving manufacturers’ sustainability profiles.

4. Invest in higher quality cutting fluids

One of the simplest but most effective ways to control scrap rate and increase production consistency is by switching to more advanced cutting fluid. Titanium is a tough material requiring great lubricity and heat dispersion to machine effectively. Cutting fluids that utilize the latest micro-emulsion technology provide the necessary balance between cooling and boundary lubrication. The high heat generated when cutting titanium can cause premature cutting tool wear to reduce cutting accuracy and surface finishes, potentially impacting the part’s geometry as well. The more rework required on a part, the higher chance there is of waste.

The titanium shortage is a significant challenge for the aerospace manufacturing sector to overcome, particularly while they’re still recovering from the pandemic downturn. Making efforts to minimize material waste can optimize operations and make the most of what titanium is available. Solutions implemented now can have a long-term impact on efficiency and profitability for operations after the temporary titanium shortage ends. Reducing scrap rates can help weather the current shortage and position your company as a sustainability leader moving forward.

Dean Richmond is the Global Director of Aerospace for Master Fluid Solutions

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