Monday | 17 December, 2018 | 9:25 am

Growth in superalloys development and output help meet strengthening demand

Written by By Corinna Petry

Above: Northrop Grumman’s high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system, Global Hawk, deployed by the U.S. Air Force and NATO members.

December 2018 - Citing the 2019 defense appropriation bill, which passed the Senate 97-3, Wesley G. Bush, CEO of Northrop Grumman Corp., told investors Oct. 24 he welcomed the vote as a signal that Congress and the administration are aggressively addressing emerging security threats and increasing the nation’s pace of modernization and investment.

The defense contractor expects to deliver 116 F-35 center fuselages this year, 25 percent more than in 2017. Among other projects, the company is developing its latest OmegA rocket, a space launch vehicle for which certification flights will begin in 2021. OmegA will launch payloads of up to 22,266 pounds into orbit.

Jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney reported that its geared turbofan (GTF) engines helped boost sales in the commercial aerospace business, while its defense sales grew 15 percent during third quarter. “Military programs continue to ramp up,” Greg Hayes—chairman and CEO of parent company United Technologies Corp.—told shareholders Oct. 23. “Pratt & Whitney remains on track to meet its full-year customer delivery commitments and to approximately double GTF production from 2017.” The volume of production is slated to grow an additional 50 percent in 2019.

The company has “good visibility into the supply chain” two years ahead, he said. “Of 8,000 parts of the engine, 1,100 of them are highly engineered. Of those highly engineered parts, there are really no hiccups in the supply chain.” He credited suppliers with being able to keep up with that pace of growth.

General Electric’s Aviation division reported that equipment orders rose 82 percent, driven by strong momentum of its LEAP engine program. “Year to date, we’ve shipped 739 engines [and] we remain committed to delivering 1,100 to 1,200 units,” Jamie Miller, GE senior vice president and CFO, told investors Oct. 30.

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Superalloys are used in such end markets as aerospace, oil and gas, industrial and gas turbine. Applications include combustion chambers, shafts, blades of aircraft gas turbine; turbocharger and exhaust valve of reciprocating engines; bolts, fans and pumps of chemical and petrochemical industries; rocket engine parts of space vehicles; and bolts, blades of steam turbine power plants. They are also widely used in automotive components that must retain strength at high temperatures.

Photo, above: A Japanese vehicle delivers supplies to the International Space Station. Photo, right: Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan commercial engine.

Test flight

The Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engine successfully powered the Airbus A330-800neo into the skies Nov. 6 for its first test flight. Rolls-Royce says the Trent 7000’s high-pressure turbine operates at 1,700 degrees Celsius (3,092° F), nearly half the temperature of the sun’s surface.

Four North American based producers of specialty metals and superalloys echoed these customers, saying their backlogs and lead times are extended but they are making every effort to match higher airframe and engine production rates across the globe.

“Based on the strength of our commercial aerospace business, the ongoing recovery in the oil and gas markets, and the operational performance of our assets, we expect revenue and operating profit growth in the years to come,” Richard Harshman, chairman, president and CEO of Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI), Pittsburgh, said during an Oct. 23 earnings call.

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Star One satellite being built by Northrop Grumman.

Next-gen engines

John Sims, executive vice president for ATI’s High Performance Materials & Components Segment, said the company is experiencing “robust demand for next-generation jet engine products, particularly our differentiated nickel alloys and complex components. We work diligently [toward] on-time delivery, ensuring that our customers can produce more engines and airplanes.”

Sales of next-generation products were 48 percent of total jet engine product sales in the third quarter. “This growth was led by our specialty nickel mill products and forgings.”

Third-quarter commercial airframe sales grew 21 percent from a year earlier, “led by strong demand for titanium billets from OEM customers. Demand for military jet engine and rotorcraft products [also] increased,” Sims said.

Consumption of high-performance materials by construction and mining markets grew by over 35 percent, driven by ATI customers’ demand for large mining trucks. Sales to the oil and gas market increased by 25 percent year over year.

“Strong backlogs exist at both Boeing and Airbus and then, obviously, that exists at all the jet engine OEMs. The long-term trend is intact,” Harshman said.

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Rolls-Royce’s Advanced Demonstrator Engine.

Backlogs, lead times

Carpenter Technology Corp., Philadelphia, reported 38 percent year-over-year growth in its backlog of orders during an Oct. 24 earnings call. President and CEO Tony R. Thene noted that aerospace and defense sales rose 11 percent, driven primarily by continued strong demand for material that goes into engines.

“Market demand remains robust given the new platform ramp. We also continue to fulfill expedited orders for our OEM partners, given engine build rates and industry lead times.” Carpenter’s lead time for engine material is now out to nine months. In response, “we have increased the productivity of our [forging] press units, as well as our melting furnaces.”

On the energy side, Thene said the North American directional and horizontal rig count has largely stabilized in the range of 1,100 rigs. “We see further opportunities, particularly in the Permian Basin, where drilling activity by our customers remains at healthy levels.”

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Haynes International Inc., a producer based in Kokomo, Indiana, has seen adoption rates rise for its new and existing alloys. “One of our newest alloys, Haynes 282, has gained significant traction in the marketplace. This alloy provides an excellent combination of high-temperature strength, formability and weldability for aircraft and industrial gas turbine assemblies,” president and CEO Michael Shor said. Another new alloy, Haynes 244, was specified into a new major commercial aircraft engine program.

“This alloy [244] has an unmatched combination of low coefficient of thermal expansion and high-temperature strength. We see continued strength in shipments into the aerospace market and the continued recovery of shipments into the chemical processing market.” As of the end of Haynes’ fiscal third quarter ended June 30, chemical processing volume had risen 21 percent.

Promising trend

“While we’ve all heard the specific risks associated with jet engine OEMs potentially not hitting expected higher production rates on new platforms, volumes are healthy,” Shor said. He cited Haynes’ cold-finished flat-rolled, nickel-based superalloys, which are consumed by aerospace customers. “We can tell there’s not much inventory in the supply chain because as our lead times go out, we really get our customers’ attention on that. There’s not a lot of buffer in the supply chain.”

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Denny Oates, chairman, president and CEO of Universal Stainless & Alloy Products Inc., Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, agrees with his fellow producers about the reliability of end market demand. “Commercial new-build activity remains robust. The aftermarket remains strong and there is a growing defense market.” He cites the International Air Transport Association’s reports that “air traffic demand [is] ahead of expectations and that global load factors in August were the highest since they began keeping records.”

Oates told shareholders Oct. 24 that this activity translates into high backlogs at Universal Stainless, “including record backlog in our premium melted products. We have not experienced any pushback or delays from our aerospace customers; quite the contrary, customers are demanding more—as evident in our bookings and backlog. We see this trend continuing well into 2019.” MM



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Several companies are developing powder metallurgy capabilities in order to convert superalloys into a form that can be printed through additive manufacturing.

Germany’s Aperam and Sherbrook, Quebec-based Tekna signed a memorandum of understanding Nov. 7 that will have them cooperate in spherical powder manufacturing of nickel superalloys and steels to meet the growing needs of additive manufacturing and metal injection molding in all industrial segments. Tekna has been conducting research, development and manufacturing of plasma induction systems and metal powders for more than 25 years.

Aperam CEO Timoteo Di Maulo says the agreement with Tekna “is part of our strategy to address next-generation needs of our customers through new technologies.”

NioCorp Developments Ltd. and IBC Advanced Alloys partnered with Ames National Laboratory, Ames, Iowa, to produce an aluminum-scandium master alloy. The sister companies intend to use the master alloy from this program to try to develop specialty scandium-containing alloys and/or prototype products for potential commercial applications.

Mark A. Smith, CEO and executive chair of NioCorp and chairman of IBC, said Oct. 8, “This is the first aluminum-scandium master alloy made in the United States in years. We look forward to the possibilities presented by the establishment of domestic U.S. production capacity for aluminum-scandium master alloys that utilize scandium mined and purified in the U.S.” Niocorp is seeking approvals to mine scandium in Nebraska.

Meanwhile, Carpenter Technology just purchased LPW Technology, Cheshire, England, which develops and distributes metal powder solutions for additive manufacturing.

Carpenter acquired titanium powder producer Puris in February 2017, and a year later, purchased CalRAM, which specializes in powder bed fusion additive manufacturing/metal printing services.

Carpenter has since opened an Emerging Technology Center in Athens, Alabama, to boost AM technical capabilities and scale, and mobilized over 30 engineers, scientists, operators and technicians who specialize in AM technology.

“Having this expertise from feedstock through design and component production positions Carpenter as an irreplaceable technical partner with our customers,” President and CEO Tony R. Thene told investors Oct. 24.

Already, Carpenter is working “with one of the major U.S. oilfield service providers to develop a unique 3D design and printed in-hole tool for the drill string. Collaborations like this are steadily increasing, as a growing number of customers are engaging with [us] because of our end-to-end additive manufacturing solutions.”


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