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Roger Weller, geology instructor
by Thomas Ralls
Figure 1: http://imgarcade.com/1/william-gregor-founder-of-ti/
The Element of Surprise
In general titanium has been around for about two centuries but it has only been a little over a hundred years since its production in metallic form. 1910 was the year to be exact. It would be another thirty years before it would be used for commercial use. In raw form titanium comes from a lot of different natural ores. Its primary ores would be ilmenite, leucoxene, and rutile. There are a few more sources before it goes into the manufacturing process.
The manufacturing process does take more than a few steps. This process is known
as the Kroll process. The main stages are extraction, purification, production
of the sponge, alloy creation and finally there is formation and shaping.
First we start with the manufacturer getting the ore or titanium concentrates
from the mining companies. The iron is then removed from the concentrate. The
material has to get to about 85% titanium dioxide. Then itís heated to very high
temperatures and reduced to impure titanium tetrachloride and carbon monoxide.
Second the reacted metal is sent to distillation tanks and heated to roughly
1,652 F. At this process the impurities are separated and removes metal
Third step of the process takes the purified product and is transferred as a
liquid to a stainless reactor vessel. Magnesium is then added before it is
heated again. This time to about 2,012 F. Argon gas has to be pumped in now.
Argon is very important as it removes all the air to prevent contamination. By
the end we are left with a pure titanium solid. The solid is treated with water
and hydrochloric acid. What we have now is what is called the sponge.
Figure 3: http://gsttrade.com/raw-material/sponge/titanium-sponge.html
Fourth we have the alloy creation part. The sponge is taken with alloys and scrap metal and mixed together. The mass that is created is then pressed and welded together. Now we have what is called a sponge electrode. That gets melted down to create an ingot. The ingot is usually re-melted a few more times to produce a product that is more commercially acceptable.
Figure 3 (Left): http://www.osaka-ti.co.jp/e/e_product/titan/sponge.html
Figure 4 (Right): http://v2cl.com/ingots.html
After all this is done the finished product can be sent out to the manufacturers where it can be used to make useful products. These days the use for titanium is becoming endless. One of the first and most well-known would be its use in aircrafts. Since it can withstand severe pressures and is lighter than steel, it is used on the exterior and also used to make interior parts as well. Besides being used for aircrafts, machines and tools there are tons of other uses. Titanium jewelry is becoming very popular. It is as light as aluminum and is great for people with sensitive skin because it is hypoallergenic. In fact itís the most hypoallergenic metal known. Which is why it is also used for surgical tools as well. The list of products can just go on. Products like bicycles, eyeglass frames, and golf clubs.
Figure 5 (Left): http://www.jewelryshopus.com/69-titanium-diamond-rings
Figure 6 (Right): http://www.pacificgolfclubs.com/golf-club-head-components/golf-driver-heads/
One of the most interesting things is fabricating titanium. Welding can be fun
but also requires a great deal of skill. Most important thing when it comes to
the welding process is preparation. Material must be cleaned from oils, grease,
oxides or any other contaminants. Simple oils from holding the material with
your bare hands can cause contamination. One of the most effective and finest
ways of welding titanium is done through gas tungsten arc welding. Which is
welding with the inert gas argon, and using an electrical torch with the arc
coming off the tungsten rod inside. The gas shields all air contaminants but
removing the air surrounding the weld, protecting it. The welding process does
require a great deal skill as you are holding a torch in one hand and the
titanium filler metal in the other hand. You are also using either your foot or
thumb to control the amount of heat you will be using. You must use steady hands
and be consistent when running your weld across. The welds do look beautiful
when done correctly and will be very strong.
Figure 7 (Left): http://www.millerwelds.com/resources/articles/TIG-gtaw-titanium-welding
Figure 8 (Right): http://www.arcmachines.com/industries-served/shipbuilding/orbital-welding-titanium-pipe
Titanium is the metal of the future seeing as its strong, light, and corrosion resistant. It is actual 45% lighter than steel. We already know that it has many uses but one things we didnít discuss is its future in electronics. Now being used in things like our cell phones and computers. Titanium is being mixed with other elements to create new uses. Barium titanate is like a ceramic used as an electrical insulator. Can be used for things like microphones and transducers. Also Lithium titanate is another compound. Which is used a rechargeable battery. These are the batteries found in electric vehicles. They do have an advantage of being to recharge very quickly.
Figure 9: http://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/Deep-cycle-Lithium-Titanate-battery-45Ah_1607695585.html
All this progress has been happening over a relatively short period of time. We already know it can be used for many things and we are seeing new ways of it being utilized. Combining titanium with other elements has its part in making electronics advancements and making its way to improve already existing products like e-readers. We live in exciting times of technology. We are making things bigger and better or smaller and better. Iím very curious to see where things go from here and what uses are still to come. Titanium is a gift the earth has given us. I am truly amazed seeing everything that has been produced and waiting to see what will be coming next. It really is the element of surprise.
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