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Monday, January 10, 2011

Metals' Capacity Races to Meet Aircraft Demand

Suppliers warn of supply chain challenges as Boeing, Airbus predict booming production.
Doug Smock, Contributing Editor, Materials & Assembly -- Design News,
Strong aircraft demand in coming years could outstrip suppliers' capabilities.

Boeing forecasts 30,900 new airplanes over the next 20 years, valued at $3.6 trillion. Airbus projects that almost 26,000 new passenger jetliners and freighters will be needed-representing a market value of $3.2 trillion and an increase over the company's previous forecast by 900 aircrafts.

Growth is being propelled by demand in fast-rising economies in China and India as well as replacement of fuel-draining aircrafts with efficient new planes such as the Boeing Dreamliner 787.

The Dreamliner is already more than three years behind schedule in part because of fastener shortages and other supply chain problems.

The next supply chain issue could affect engines. Complex, highly efficient next-generation engines consume large amounts of special metal alloys. Specialty alloys made of titanium, nickel and other metals represent 95 percent of the weight of a jet engine.

The number of jet engines required in 2013 is projected at 2,502,566 more than were required in 2010. That's a 23 percent surge for a metals' industry coming off a recession.

"Expect supply chain challenges as aerospace customers increase capacity and ramp production rates," Pat Hassey, CEO of Allegheny Technology Industries (ATI) said last month at the Credit Suisse 2010 Aerospace & Defense Conference.

Major specialty metals' producers such as ATI and Carpenter Technology have been boosting capacity to meet projected demand.

ATI has also been adding capacity for titanium and superalloys, as well as forward integrating in the supply chain. One big move is the $778 million acquisition of Ladish of Cudahy, WI.

"ATI's unique industry-leading product portfolio combined with Ladish's technologically advanced forging, investment casting and machining capabilities creates a more integrated, stable and sustainable supply chain for the aerospace, defense and industrial markets," said Hassey when the acquisition was announced two months ago.

Carpenter Technology Corp. is investing $5 million to expand capacity to produce aerospace fasteners and recently brought on line a $115 million premium vacuum melt facility in Wyomissing, PA. Additional investments in hot working capacity are being evaluated.

Aircraft applications targeted by Carpenter Technology for its specialty metals fit in three categories: fasteners (airframe and pylon); structural (landing gear, avionics, flaptrack/slat track components) and engine components. The slat track is located in the leading edge mechanism and is normally produced in high alloy steel. Specialty metals used for engine components include chromium-nickel-iron-based superalloys.

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Construction of Airbus A380

Eclipse Aviation Manufacturing Process

Titanium Manufacturing Process

Making seamless tubes


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