Taking flight with titanium

By supplying the aerospace industry with materials that are so light and strong that they can literally be described as out of this world, Sandvik is helping humanity explore the edges of the planet and makes air travel more sustainable.

Sandvik contributes to the aerospace industry through its core business of machining and tooling solutions. Sandvik helps manufacturers produce various aircraft body and engine parts to the highest specifications and tolerances. The company is also helping to transform the aerospace industry by providing lighter and stronger materials that help aircraft fly more sustainably.

Specifically, Sandvik is developing advanced stainless steel and titanium alloys that are used in the pipes and tubes that make up aircraft hydraulic systems.

By using materials that are lighter, aircraft weigh less and need less fuel to fly.

Hydraulic systems are used in aircraft for various purposes, including the operation of wheel brakes, retractable landing gear, flight control surfaces, wing flaps and doors. Larger types of planes are typically equipped with more than 1,000 meters of hydraulic tubing.

“If you are flying on an aircraft today, there is an extremely high chance that you are flying with Sandvik material,” says Christofer Hedvall, Head of Business Unit Specialized Products at Sandvik. “We sell the tubes that are used in some aircraft engines to move the fuel from A to B and the tubes that are used in most aircraft hydraulic systems.”

Coping with pressure

The tubes that Sandvik supplies to the industry are made from titanium and special grades of stainless steel. “The key advantage of titanium is that it is much, much lighter,” says Hedvall. “But you have to make sure that it can withstand the same pressures. And for us, it is equally important to make sure that we develop the stainless side as well, because there will be parts that are not suited to titanium.”

By using materials that are lighter, aircraft weigh less and therefore need less fuel to fly. And by being able to cope with higher pressures and temperatures, engines can also run more efficiently. “This is a key area for us to further develop,” says Hedvall. “The engine producers are continually promising airlines that they will make sure the engines are more efficient. And they need more and more complicated material for that.”

Leave the planet

Sandvik’s work in this area, however, goes beyond the airline industry. It also supplies tubes for space applications. “This is very interesting from a material development point of view,” says Hedvall. “For these materials to leave the planet they need to be even stronger and lighter and also cleaner and more precise. The good thing for us is that if you are good in aerospace, you will be good in other segments too, because when it comes to developing stronger and lighter materials, this is the highest class. This is where the materials need to be the best.”

The aircraft industry presents one of the biggest sustainability challenges to humanity that there is. Hedvall says he is proud that Sandvik is helping make it more efficient. “It has a filter-down effect too,” he says. “What you see in aircraft today, you will see in cars tomorrow, so our work in developing more efficient materials for the aerospace industry will also help make land transportation more efficient in the future.”

Examples of how Sandvik contributes to the aerospace industry:

  • Sandvik contributes to the manufacture of various aircraft parts, including landing gear beams, central wing boxes, wing ribs and vertical tails.
  • Leading airplane manufacturers use Sandvik’s broad range of aerospace tubular products for fuel lines, hydraulic lines, instrumentation systems and pressure gauging.
  • Sandvik provides top-end stainless steel tubing for the trailing edge of helicopter rotor blades.
  • Sandvik supplies the highest-grade stainless alloy and titanium tubing material for some of the world’s leading space programs.
  • Sandvik Coromant is a member of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in the UK. Through working with the Center's partners, Boeing, Rolls-Royce and the University of Sheffield, Sandvik shares research and support in areas of assembly, composite materials, structural testing and advanced machining for the aerospace industry.