Titanium, and titanium alloy powders, are a relatively new product and a means for New Zealand companies to get in on the ground floor of a new industry according to Ian Macrae.
The Tauranga businessman, director of Ti powder maker Titanox and chairman of the Titanium Industry Development Association’s (TiDA) research and development centre at Bay of Plenty Polytechnic’s Windemere campus, says there’s the potential to grow a billion dollar Ti industry in 10 years.
Macrae has been involved in Titanium research for the past 12 years from an initial 12 week project, much of the R&D centred on Waikato University. To date the government has stumped up about $8m in Ti research.
The intellectual property that Titanox has under its wing is both the knowledge of how to break the very strong bond that oxygen has with Titanium in TiO2 (both a paint pigment and sunscreen in its own right), as well as the ability to make a range of Ti alloys in a variety of powder sizes. Titanox uses a solid state process instead of gas atomisation, which has been the main way the powder has been created up until recently.
“The idea is to grow demand,” says Macrae. “There’s been enough initial interest to start off TiDA, and it provides an opportunity for learning. The ability that people have to do rapid prototypes from drawings is brilliant.”
TiDA’s installation of a laser sintering machine is significant, it being only the 10th machine in the world capable of handling titanium powders he says.
“In 10 years time we have the potential to grow quite a big industry if enough people get into it and it catches on,” Macrae says. “Titanium’s a high value product; here goes a way for companies to see if they can be part of it.”