British companies will soon be able to offer some of the largest aerospace components made from cast titanium following the completion of a new furnace in South Yorkshire.
The new plant, which will be capable of producing some of the biggest titanium aerospace castings in the world, is nearing completion at AMRC Castings’ facilities on the outskirts of Sheffield.
Two large-scale power supply units are said to have been installed to deliver the energy required by AMRC’s new Retech Consumable Electrode Casting Furnace.
The furnace will be capable of melting the 1000kg of titanium required to make a 500kg casting and has three interchangeable bodies, which will allow it to produce components with a finished weight ranging upwards from 60kg.
Closed loop cooling systems that prevent the furnace bodies themselves from melting are being installed, plus hydraulic and pneumatic systems that carry out a number of functions, including removing air from the furnace and casting chambers.
The systems are also used to rotate the furnace body to pour molten titanium into a ceramic mould in the casting chamber below, which incorporates a turntable that can spin the mould at up to 300 revolutions a minute to create a centrifugal casting.
A new plant is being installed to make ceramic mould shells up to 2m in diameter and 2.5m long which could weigh more than 2.5 tonnes and will be large enough to produce the largest variants of aero engine intercases up to 500kg, and other structural aerospace components.
Furnace construction is due to finish in time for training and cold commissioning to start during November and will be followed by hot commissioning and the first test melts in December.
AMRC Castings, part of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), has expertise in manufacturing smaller titanium castings and its technology has been used to produce titanium castings with a poured weight in excess of 300kg.
Initial casts will be poured into a static metal mould before trials begin using static ceramic moulds from the new shelling plant. Staff will then start building up the experience needed to operate the centrifugal casting system at full speed.
AMRC Castings’ new furnace is part of a major investment and R&D programme, designed to enable UK companies to break into global markets for large-scale titanium aerospace engine and structural components.
The programme is backed by the UK’s Aerospace Technology Initiative (ATI); Innovate UK; and High Value Manufacturing Catapult funding.
Formerly, only the United States is believed to have had the capability to cast near net shape aerospace components weighing up to 500kg.
“We plan to create a world class titanium casting capability in the UK developing the skills base necessary to enable companies to reap the rewards of carrying out a process that is very, very challenging,” says AMRC Castings’ Richard Gould.