Monday | 30 April, 2012 | 1:18 pm

A knack for perfection

By Julie Sammarco

Grinding helps a titanium toll processor and its customers prosper

April 2012- In September 2011, Boeing announced plans to produce 10 additional 787s per month through 2013. The company was expected to grow 6 percent in 2011 and maintain that growth over the next few years, indicating positive growth for manufacturers and fabricators in the titanium industry.

“When the market fell apart in June 2008 and with the delay of the Boeing 787, it choked the aerospace and titanium industries and slowed our business and the businesses of many others,” says Mike Miniea, president of Specialty Metals Processing Inc., a toll processor of special nonferrous flat-rolled material in Stow, Ohio. “It was a scary time for a lot of people, but business is starting to ramp up again.”

Like many others who were looking to restructure and keep business afloat in a changing economy, Miniea revamped business practices and made his company more efficient. He chose to get into the niche of grinding.

Grinding allows materials to be processed and refined to strict and specific standards. It provides a close-tolerance material and a smoother surface than traditional processing, which is attractive to the flourishing aerospace and medical industries. Miniea now owns two gantry grinders and says his success with grinding largely is because of growth in the aerospace industry and the increased popularity of titanium.

“The [aerospace] industry has found more uses for titanium,” he says. “As aerospace uses more and more titanium, you have to have more capacity in the marketplace to produce it. And we’re just at the beginning of it.”

According to Miniea, Boeing’s forecast is to make 14 planes per month by 2014. And that’s just for the Boeing 787, which is the most titanium-intense airplane ever produced. Boeing uses roughly 500,000 pounds of titanium per airplane, all of which require strict tolerances. The Airbus A380 is another aircraft that uses a large amount of titanium. According to the 2010-2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Career Guide to Industries, the demand for new aircraft in both the civil and military segments of the industry also should lead to a substantial increase in production.

“We’re very excited about the future of the industry,” says Miniea. “It seems very promising for us and for the companies and industries involved.”

Power industries
“The advantage to grinding is that the customer gets a better product,” says Charlie Cutro, inventory purchasing manager for Ti Industries Inc., Rockaway, N.J. “It saves users machining costs and offers a better surface finish. It’s also more aesthetic, and there’s a cost advantage to doing it this way.”

Ti Industries is a global manufacturing distributor of titanium, nickel-based products and other high-performance metals. It uses Specialty Metals Processing to cut, level, slit and grind flat-rolled products. Ti Industries serves the aerospace, medical, industrial and consumer products markets. Thus, the company deals with many customers that require processed materials that are more refined.

Cutro also notes grinding is a niche process that many companies don’t offer, so finding a company that can do it well is uncommon.

“We use their grinding for special finishes or for a customer request for a non-standard thickness,” says James Ellis, vice president of operations at Vulcanium Metals Inc., Northbrook, Ill. “The titanium industry is a niche industry anyway, so grinding isn’t as common as other processes. You need to have a specialty person for that, and those people are few and far between.”

“Specialty has made some substantial advances that are advantageous for the types of products we sell,” says Cutro. “They have more modern equipment and a lot of it is designed around the materials we offer and the industries we serve.”

With the use of high-performance metals growing in industries such as aerospace and medical equipment, the need for grinding services only will increase, according to Cutro. “That’s when companies like Specialty Metals Processing will stand out even more, and they’re already ahead of the game now,” he says.

It is expected that titanium use within the biomedical industry will continue to grow in the coming years, which will help create an uptick for the titanium market, according to the BLS Career Guide to Industries. With the aging baby boomer demographic and the health industry pushing for people to live more active lives, the medical industry likely will continue researching new and innovative uses for titanium. And because health care reform is a major issue, titanium’s long life adds appeal to those looking to cut health care costs.

For high-performance metal-consuming industries, “perfection is key,” says Cutro. “Bone plates, maxillofacial applications and the surgeries to acquire these replacements are becoming more and more common every day.”

“The collective knowledge is that the demographics are such that aerospace, along with other big-hitting industries, are becoming a bigger piece of our industry. The move to composite technology has helped move that along, too,” says Ellis.

Proximity, reliability
Ultimately, choosing a company for grinding titanium materials is much like choosing any other company for services. Finding a reliable company that is close to home often results in shorter lead times and a stronger professional relationship.

“We chose Specialty because it was here in the Midwest. They were a good, reliable company, and they’re closer to deal with than many other places,” says Ellis. “They are a valuable resource and they provide value-added services.”

Specialty Metals Processing is close in proximity for Ti Industries, as well. “They’re right in the middle of our North American service center network, which cuts down on transit time and costs,” says Cutro. “Their delivery has been prompt, and their customer service is good. Plus, we were looking for a company that was growing to support the increase in demand we were seeing in the longer term and that was geared to grow themselves.”

Although Specialty Metals Processing offers toll processing of flat-rolled, nonferrous metals, stainless, titanium, aluminum, red metals and high-temperature alloys, it offers slitting and cut-to-length as well, a common service among toll processors. However, the company is unique because it offers finishing, buffering, coil-to-coil polishing and grinding for industries where those qualities matter.

The future looks bright for all parties involved, according to Miniea. “I eventually see us in the area of having six grinders running. We are very confident in our growth in the industry, particularly with our grinding abilities within the industry.” MM

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