A combination of factors is bringing renewed interest to metals, expanding their applications in industries as diverse as automotive and architectural. Part of it can be attributed to higher oil prices, which increases the cost of the petrochemicals used in plastics. In a turn-about that would have been hard to imagine until recently, metals are becoming cost-effective alternatives to plastics in some instances.
Another factor concerns the technological advances in new alloys coming out of the manufacturing industry and universities around the globe. They are lighter and stronger to better meet today’s needs. A third factor is the increasing interest in the environment that is transforming the perception of a smokestack industry into a green alternative to materials that are harder to recycle.
Advances in Automotive Applications
Price-conscious automobile buyers want less expensive vehicles that are safe. And they want fuel efficiencies in an era of $3-a-gallon gasoline, never mind the mileage requirements that Congress recently stiffened. That means lighter materials that are strong enough to keep passengers safe in the event of a collision. To meet the demand, automakers have turned to light alloys and high-strength steels to reduce weight and to produce more efficient engines.
Titanium has always offered high strength at low weight, though at a higher cost than other metals. Titanium also offers high corrosion resistance and is suitable for use at high temperatures. These properties have led to this metal being widely used in chemical processing and aerospace applications. Once considered too be too expensive for many applications, it is now being used in automotive springs and for motorcycle parts to reduce weight. For example, Nippon Steel, is testing titanium for use in other transportation applications, including exhaust systems and intake valves.