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UK firms claim new titanium recycling technique

Specialized equipment from Germany-based Schuler Group GmbH is part of a process forging titanium scrap to make new components. Sheffield, United Kingdom-based Footprint Tools has been engaged with regional researchers on a project it says could spark a recycling revolution in industrial forging that “unlocks a step change in the manufacture of safety critical components for the aerospace, defense and energy sectors using machining [scrap] and state-of-the-art linear hammer technology.” The 12-employee hand tool maker is part of an R&D partnership with two U.K. research institutions – the Henry Royce Institute in Manchester and the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC), which is part of the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland Group. The Sheffield tool company traces its roots back to the 1760s but says it “has always had its eyes firmly focused on the future.” Most recently, it has deployed a $1.75 million linear forge made by Germany-based Schuler Group GmbH, which Footprint calls the only one of its kind in the U.K. and one of only three in Europe. Royce Professor Martin Jackson says the deployment of the Schuler forging hammer at Footprint Tools “raises forging technology to a completely new level. Our job at Royce and the AFRC is to take the knowledge we unlock from this R&D collaboration and roll it out to forging companies across the country, especially in the use of recycled machining [scrap] such as titanium.” Continues Jackson, “Sheffield has more titanium [scrap] than anywhere in the U.K., yet we put it into ferro-titanium as an alloy addition. It is too good of a material to do that. That’s why Sheffield is leading the way in a forging revolution around recycling, putting us at the forefront of rapid near-net shaping from recycled materials. We are well ahead of China and the United States, and this should enable us to extend that lead. “Within a two-mile radius of where we are standing today, we can take [scrap] material, rapidly consolidate it and forge it into near net shape parts that are not only made from recycled material but have properties far superior to other primary materials. Sheffield should be proud of that.” Comments Dr. Alastair Conway, head of operations at the AFRC, “The accuracy of the linear hammer could help us create a step-change in the production of safety critical components in aerospace and related industries that have previously been nervous of hammer technology and the ‘black arts’ often associated with its use.” Richard Jewitt, a director at Footprint Tools, says, “For firms like us in the region, this is an opportunity to develop more accurate and consistent processes, which could lead to more manufacturing reshoring and open new product export markets. There is a real sense of pride and excitement on the shop floor that we are the home of this incredible venture.” Says Conway, “People mistakenly think of forging as a technology of the past. It’s not: it’s a technology of the future. To generate the key properties in aero-structural and air engine material you need to forge. This is a huge opportunity for Sheffield to strike a hammer blow for the use of recycled materials in some of the biggest markets on the planet that need decarbonizing.”

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Daisie Hobson

Daisie Hobson is a Director at the Reshoring Institute and an engineer with many years of experience in manufacturing and project management.

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