Getting a grip on titanium

Getting a grip on titanium

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AMRC and Boeing logoRapid titanium machining with low tool attrition, or damage, is a ‘Holy Grail’ for aerospace engineers. Titanium alloys are a popular material for aircraft parts thanks to their high strength to density ratio and corrosion resistance but they’re not easy to machine quickly and the process frequently causes high rates of tool damage.  

The TiTan X-Treme project  has designed  a combined cutting tool and tool holder that increases the speed that titanium alloys can be cut – thanks to help from the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in Rotherham – part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult network supported by funding from Innovate UK.

Technicut, an AMRC partner, designs tools for specific metal-forming applications. With a big client base in aero space it had developed the TiTan tool for quick machining titanium, but found that existing tool holders didn’t work under the extreme pressures required to successfully cut titanium – tools regularly slipped and jumped.

Mark Kirby, technical director of Technicut, discussed the technical issues with local toolholding supplier Nikken UK – a subsidiary of the Japanese company – and jointly developed the X-Treme chuck to hold the TiTan cutting tool.

How it works

The new tool holder design was based on Nikken’s established Multi-Lock range but incorporated several important enhancements.

“X-Treme features a completely redesigned and sealed nose ring assembly, and a tool shank security system that not only guarantees the exact positioning of the tool shank but also eliminates movement and pulling during cutting,” Steve Eckersall, group engineering manager for Nikken UK commented.

The system was tested using the AMRC’s five-axis milling centre as well as a horizontal boring machine hosted at the Nuclear AMRC – the only machine of its type in a UK research facility.

Silence is golden

The combined solution – the TiTan tool and X-Treme Multi-Lock – met all expectations, cutting aerospace grade titanium alloy at super-fast rates and removing metal at up to 267 cubic centimetres per minute.

“The performance difference is audible; the stability of the holder’s grip on the titanium-cutting end mill is such that cuts in titanium are quiet, even at high metal removal rates,” Steve commented.

“Being able to test our new tooling systems on AMRC’s large-scale machining centres helped us really demonstrate their value to the most demanding clients,” Mark Kirby commented.

What next?

TiTan-X-Treme has already been adopted in several major aero-engine and airframe titanium machining facilities as the primary heavy duty roughing solution. It’s now being introduced into Japan and the USA – where trials are being successfully conducted.

“We’re currently focused on exploiting titanium machining worldwide in the areas (like aerospace) where our main focus lies, but we’re mindful of other market opportunities. Our membership of AMRC has benefited us enormously. We’ve won new business and grown our workforce as a result of the collaborative research and networking opportunities here,” said Mark.

“The collaborative and networking ethos of AMRC is every bit as important as our physical resources. It encourages members to connect not just with us but with each other to combine their knowledge and come up with new and innovative concepts which we can help them develop, prove and demonstrate. The TiTan X-Treme project is a really exciting example of collaboration in action,” Sam Turner, Head of AMRC’s Process Technology Group, concluded.

The company

Cutting tool maker and supplier Technicut and toolholding specialist Nikken UK worked together on a special tooling solution for machining titanium, a hard and difficult-to-machine metal, rapidly and quietly.

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