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Metal Casting Technologies : June 2008
LIGHT METALS R&D FEATURE The CSIRO is developing two processes for producing titanium metal: TiRO is currently targeted at CP titanium and another process can make alloys of tailorable composition – both produce powder. “We are very conscious of the need to secure industry partners to get a new industry in Australia,” said Dr Kevin Rogers. “We are in late stage negotiations with an Australian resource processing company aimed at a pilot plant for metal production and have an agreement with a leading titanium user company for joint research covering powder production and consolidation technologies.” ABARE produced a report for CSIRO with an assessment of the TiRO project which suggested that the direct net economic benefits of a pilot plant project were expected to be positive. It said, “Australia’s participation in the TiRO project increases the probability that the international research effort will be successful in discovering a major new technology that reduces production costs in the titanium metal industry. “Should the government decide to invest in the TiRO pilot plant project this is likely to enhance prospects for the development of a titanium metal industry in Australia.” The plant is likely to be located in Western Australia in close proximity to major resource deposits and related processing facilities. OPPORTUNITIES FOR INDUSTRY Steve Groat, managing director of Alloy Technologies International told MCT magazine, “There are opportunities in specialist aluminium casting, that’s where we position ourselves, but can also take on higher volume technical products like cylinder heads and other complex castings. Our main lines are for automotive, first and second tier products for automotive…we don’t see the market expanding in the next five years.” Alloy Technologies specialises in permanent mould and hard sand precision castings of high quality in both aluminium and magnesium alloys. Groat said his company was becoming more interested in selling technology as opposed to castings. The company recently went into partnership to test the CSIRO’s T-Mag technology, which purports to provide a significantly higher yield rate than current methods of gravity casting magnesium. Richard Colebatch, of T-Mag Casting Technology, said that if the T-Mag process becomes commercially available there would not be significant domestic demand. The company sees its main markets, for the technology licences and equipment it will be marketing, in North America and Europe. Groat sees that Australian production of magnesium metal could be viable given a low-cost production method and believes there could be demand for the metal and downstream processing here within five years. Groat said, “There are some good advantages for Australia 30 www.metals.rala.com.au supplying magnesium to the world for companies that act quickly…because of the free-trade agreement with the US and anti-dumping laws, there is an opportunity there to supply product to the US.” It has also been suggested that the European Union will begin taxing imports in terms of how they are produced and their impact on the environment and greenhouse gas emissions, which could disadvantage Chinese producers. A major focus of the CSIRO’s work with light metals is to improve energy efficiency of production. Carbothermic reduction, being investigated by the CSIRO, has the potential to produce magnesium more efficiently and more cost effectively than the other methods which are currently used such as the Pidgeon Process (used in China). What’s needed in order to establish a downstream processing industry for light metals may be as simple as a change in philosophy and direction. “I cannot see a major obstacle to it really,” said Professor Barry Muddle, “I think if the industry were geared in the right fashion with higher levels of automation…we need to reverse recent trends which have been to get out of downstream manufacturing, including decisions of the large multi-national companies.” He said the value add increases the further you go down the production chain and that “properly structured” companies would be able to compete in this territory. In terms of the market for automotive components, David St John said there has been a shift in the last twelve months that could signal greater demand domestically and internationally. A major car manufacturer in Australia has indicated its interest in trialling a light weight vehicle using aluminium and magnesium, including the front end design. “Materials will play an important part,” said St John, “if you want to remove a few hundred kilos the only way you can do that is with light metals.” He said there is also a growing market in suspension components using aluminium. The automotive industry is also moving far quicker than it has in the past, leading to shorter lead times in production of new gear boxes and engines. This has been partly in response to greater awareness of environmental issues and the fact that oil prices are rising. According to reports, US and European manufacturers are looking to reduce vehicle weights by as much as 40 per cent over the next five to ten years to achieve fuel economies and meet environmental concerns. Use of aluminium and magnesium in particular will be critical to production of vehicle bodies and parts to achieve weight reductions. In relation to automotive applications, the International Aluminium Institute estimates that one kilogram of aluminium would replace two kilograms of steel and thus save 20 kilograms of carbon dioxide over the life of the vehicle by reducing the vehicle’s weight and fuel consumption. ?