Aerospace | Refractory Metals

Key Refractory Metals in Aerospace Markets

As aerospace engineers continue to reach outwards in terms of how far we can travel and how quickly we can reach destinations, the materials used in air and space markets continue to come under scrutiny. Critical aspects of safe and reliable flight to space or at hypersonic speeds are optimally answered by refractory metals.

All great periods of progress in aircraft design and manufacture have been underpinned by concurrent breakthroughs in materials science and engineering. Composites yielded the first functional heavier-than-air aircraft, while the production line provided the means to establish a lucrative new industry. This spirit of innovation is alive today, with major manufacturers shifting towards advanced composites and alloys in airframes, fuselages, engine environments, and electronic subsystems. Some of the frontrunning materials from a performance perspective include the refractory metals molybdenum (Mo), niobium (Nb), tungsten (W), and tantalum (Ta).

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In this article, we will explore some of the critical challenges facing aerospace engineers today, as well as highlighting the roles that select refractory metal alloys can perform for next-generation air and spacecraft.

How Refractory Metals Resolve Aerospace Challenges

Despite some volatility, the aviation market has always been characterized by long-term growth fuelled by the increasingly interconnected global economy and the tourism sector. Many aerospace institutions around the world have envisaged this affecting space flight in the coming decades, leading to entirely new forms of orbital and sub-orbital travel. Yet tapping into these potentially valuable markets requires careful consideration of numerous competing KPIs, namely: efficiency, safety, performance, and cost.

Refractory metals are renowned for their outstanding heat-resistant capabilities, offering numerous benefits to end-users in the aerospace industry. At H.C. Starck Solutions, we have many years of experience developing refractory metal parts and alloys for customers in aerospace and defence markets.

Tungsten: Refractory Metal Balance Weights

In our recent post, we described tungsten as one of the go-to refractory metal for aerospace and defence applications, primarily due to its combined high-temperature resistance and density. Tungsten heavy alloy (WHA) offers the benefits of high  density, machinability and excellent mechanical properties that make it an excellent choice for specific aerospace applications. We offer a wide range of WHA vibration dampeners and balance weights for fixed and rotary wing aircraft, helping engineers and OEMs develop tomorrow’s high-performance aerospace designs.


Niobium Refractory Metals: Propulsion Components

A transition metal with an optimal combination of low density and a high melting point, niobium can be used to form exceptionally strong alloys which are inextricably linked to recent, explosive growth in the aerospace market. These are widely used to generate parts such as gas turbines after burner flaps shields and rocket nozzles.

C-103 is a niobium-hafnium-titanium refractory metal alloy for air and space propulsion systems that retains its outstanding strength at peak temperatures of up to 1482°C (2700°F). This superb temperature-stability also extends to cryogenic conditions, enabling C-103 to withstand high-frequency vibrations typical in satellite applications.

Molybdenum Refractory Alloys: Forging Dies

While pure molybdenum offers exceptional chemical integrity in demanding conditions, few refractory metal alloys match titanium-zirconium-molybdenum (TZM) when it comes to long-lasting performance in demanding isothermal forging dies. H.C. Starck Solutions’ world-leading isothermal forging products offer an unparalleled combination of mechanical properties to manufacturers of aircraft turbine engine disc and fan blade forging.

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Refractory Metals from H.C. Starck Solutions

H.C. Starck Solutions is founded on 100 years of excellence in the field of refractory metals engineering for demanding areas of application. If you would like to know more about any of the products we have discussed in this article, simply contact a member of the team today.

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Coldwater Plant’s Historic Extrusion Press

During our 100 years of refractory metals celebration, we are putting the spotlight on our various sites and key application areas that have helped H.C. Starck Solutions forge a trusted, global reputation. A key technology that makes H.C. Starck Solutions a global market leader in the processing of refractory and special metals is the extensive extrusion capability at our plant in Coldwater, Michigan. This article will explore the history of Coldwater’s storied extrusion press, its superb capabilities today, and its applications both as a key internal processing step as well as a service offered for tolling to our global customers. 

History of Coldwater’s Extrusion Press

Loewy-Hydropress Inc. was the original manufacturer of the extrusion press that currently produces extruded refractory parts at Coldwater. Built-in 1942, this 5500 ton Loewy press was initially engineered for aluminum extrusion and was leveraged by the U.S. Department of Defense as part of the war effort. At that time, the extrusion press was located in Canton, Ohio where it was used to produce extruded parts for aircraft throughout WW2. After the war, Canton Drop Forge – then owners of the press – expanded into extrusion for the oil and gas sector.

The Loewy extrusion press was not relocated to the Coldwater facility until 1973. Significant refurbishment was required to enable the extrusion of refractory metals like molybdenum (Mo); a key driver behind the machine’s relocation. Previously, molybdenum feedstocks had to be shipped to Ohio for extrusion which could require turnaround times of up to 10 weeks. The new capabilities of the Coldwater extrusion press more than halved this manufacturing bottleneck. Today, we can produce extruded molybdenum parts with less than two week’s lead-time.

About Our Extrusion Press

The Loewy extrusion press at Coldwater exerts a force of 11 million pounds on an extrusion billet, using water pressures of 4250 pounds-per-square-inch (psi) on a five-foot diameter ram. Incoming billet sizes of 6 – 18″ in diameter and up to 40″ long are heated and then extruded into rods, tubes, shapes, or coils with diameters ranging from 0.510 – 11.75″.

Various extrusion processes can be conducted using a choice of pre-heating furnaces (combustion, electric, induction, etc.) with operating temperatures of 204 – 1482°C (400 – 2700°F). The extrusions can then be quenched via a range of techniques, including water quenching in a 4000-gallon batch tank, slowly cooled in a 160ft3 insulated bin, in-process water quenched and coiled, or simply air-cooled on cooling racks.

We have modernized the Coldwater extrusion press with the latest high speed computerized controls and precision-controlled hydraulics to ensure it is among the most versatile extrusion instruments worldwide. Current extrusion processing speeds range from 0.01 – 12″/second. This unparalleled level of control has helped numerous customers domestically and internationally, with over 10,000 completed pushes in 2019 alone and over USD$6 million in external sales. These pushes have comprised a broad range of materials and products, including:

  • Molybdenum bars, rectangles, and tubes as feedstock for further processing
  • Wire for superconductor magnets used in medical equipment and particle accelerators
  • Deep oil wells (>20,000ft) and sour gas well tubing
  • Structural shapes for military and commercial aircrafts
  • Components for nuclear and defense applications
  • Superalloy structural materials
  • Special energy-efficient water-cooled furnace rails
  • Spot welding electrodes for automotive welding robots
  • Prostheses for artificial knee and hip joints
  • Saltwater and hydraulic system tubing for nuclear submarines
  • Back-extrusion and billet compacting

In the coming months, we will explore the history of the Coldwater plant in greater depth. Check back on our 100 Years of Refractory Metals Expertise page to read more about the history of H.C. Starck Solutions. Or, contact a member of the team today if you have any questions about our extrusion capabilities.

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History of the Newton Plant Our Refractory Metals Headquarters

As part of the H.C. Starck Solutions 100 years of refractory metals celebration, we are reflecting on the history of local plants and facilities that helped build our global prestige. Chief among these is our award-winning headquarters based in Newton, Massachusetts. From a small vacuum processing company based in Cambridge, MA to the HQ of one of the largest refractory metals suppliers in the world, this blog post will share the story of the Newton facility from its humble beginnings.

A Brief History of the Newton Plant

The Newton plant traces its success back to 1940 when Richard Morse and William Coolidge founded the National Research Corporation (NRC) in Cambridge, MA. NRC offered a portfolio unlike the refractory metals and powders offered by H.C. Starck at the time.

NRC focussed on vacuum processes for various applications such as lens coatings, frozen orange juice concentrate, and holiday instant coffee, alongside vacuum equipment manufacturing. It was not until 1957 that NRC entered the refractory metals market by offering tantalum powder, subsequently earning a patent for the process.

During the early 1960s, NRC’s refractory metals division experienced dramatic growth which enabled them to purchase the Newton site. These achievements brought NRC to the attention of Norton Company, who purchased NRC in 1963 before floating on the New York Stock Exchange shortly afterward as a public company. Norton Company went on to buy a portfolio of semiconductor companies to diversify its refractory metals portfolio – which comprised tantalum and niobium (Nb) at that point.

After a decade of success, Norton Company began to divest various divisions. In 1975, H.C. Starck acquired 50% of Norton’s refractory metals division. It took eleven years and the purchase of H.C. Starck by Bayer AG before the remaining 50% was acquired. NRC’s prestigious refractory metals division was folded into a new fabricated product division; today known as H.C. Starck Solutions.

Our Newton Plant’s Recent Successes

By 1990, H.C. Starck Solutions’ Newton plant produced powder, wire, and various refractory metals products. These metallurgical goods were typically flat products like foils, plates, sheets, and fabricated parts like hot zones. Our capabilities expanded again at the turn of the century when we began to develop tantalum for semiconductor applications. A selection of these include:

  • NRC00: Our first semiconductor-focused flat product which is still available today
  • NRC04/04: Enhanced flat product introduced in 2004 for greater texture control
  • LX: A proprietary metallurgical-grade powder and plates made therefrom
  • NRC08: Innovative texture controlled product introduced in 2008
  • NRC016: H.C. Starck Solutions’ most uniformly textured, commercially available, Ta product to-date
  • NRC20: Aimed toward sub 10nm node sizes and due to release in 2020

Today, the Newton plant manufactures a variety of tantalum and niobium products for industries such as aerospace and defense, chemical processing, electronics, semiconductors, superconductors, and more. With advanced melting/refining capabilities and a suite of metalworking equipment, we are confident in the specification of our goods, even for demanding market segments.

H.C. Starck Solutions’ Newton plant was recognized for our efficiency and quality production processes in 2010, following a concerted effort to adopt lean manufacturing processes. By reorganizing our refractory metals manufacturing chain, we reduced waste throughout the product flow. As a result, we were awarded the 2014 “Best Plant” award from Industry Week. We continue to strive for excellence at the Newton plant as we move into a new century for the business at large. If you have any questions about our 100 Years of Refractory Metals Expertise celebration, or would like to speak to a sales representative about any of the information covered in this post, simply contact a member of the H.C. Starck Solutions team today.

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H.C. Starck Solutions Exhibits at MIM 2020

MIM is the foremost conference on injection molding of metals, ceramics, and carbides. Run annually by the prestigious Metal Powder Industries Federation (MPIF), MIM exhibitors collectively champion excellence and innovation in the powder injection molding (PIM) industry. This fast-moving market is currently valued in the region of USD $2 billion, due to diligent research and development into novel manufacturing techniques and material advances.

MIM 2020 is the primary conference for experts in PIM spaces to discuss the very latest technology transfer and developments. H.C. Starck Solutions is happy to announce that we will be attending MIM 2020 this March.

MIM 2020: PIM Development & Innovation

Taking place over the first weekend of March (2nd – 4th March), MIM 2020 will provide a forum for manufacturers and developers working with PIM ceramics and metals to share their own insights from a growing industry. Professionals from every point in the manufacturing chain, from designers and engineers to end-users will find something of value from the conference and the optional powder injection molding tutorial.

At H.C. Starck Solutions, we have accrued significant expertise in tantalum, molybdenum, tungsten, and niobium based powders as well as highly engineered furnace hardware. With a suite of manufacturing tools available to us, we routinely develop unique product solutions to cover an extremely wide range of high temperature injection molding applications.

If you have registered for MIM 2020 and would like to speak to a member of the H.C. Starck Solutions team, please contact us to book a time. We would love to hear your perspective on the PIM industry and to share our expertise.

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Additive Manufacturing Staff R&D Engineer – Coldwater, MI

Position Summary

We are currently sourcing candidates for an Additive Manufacturing (AM) Staff R&D Engineer in our Coldwater, Michigan facility. The Staff R&D Engineer will help with developing processes and parameters for additive manufacturing of refractory metals. H.C. Starck Solutions has an active research program in additive manufacturing of refractory metals. The candidate will lead research projects supporting customer applications including, but not limited to, aerospace, defense, industrial, electronics, and medical markets. 

Essential Functions & Responsibilities

  • Collects, analyzes, and prepares data for internal and external Marketing Communications campaigns
  • Principle investigator in process development and optimization of metallic additive manufacturing processes. 
  • Responsible for operating and maintaining on-site AM equipment, as well as supporting operation of other off-site AM equipment as needed. 
  • Develop and write operating procedures for AM equipment and necessary peripherals. 
  • May be required to train and supervise technician(s) on operation of AM equipment and peripherals. 
  • Lead test experiments designing, collecting and analyzing material property data for in-house and vendor produced Additively Manufactured metallic materials. 
  • Work closely with supervisor, the rest of R&D, and Market teams to develop print parameters for materials and parts in support of H.C. Starck Solutions’ AM business. 
  • Support Sales and Marketing Teams, and H.C. Starck Solutions’ AM customers in determining how to best support their AM development work, as well as how to best address potential performance issues. 
  • Optimize, control, and support transition of AM processes into production. 
  • Support Operations involved in additive manufacturing of parts and market teams to resolve production quality issues by providing analytical and characterization data. 
  • Interact with all other internal functions of H.C. Starck Solutions, external vendors and suppliers to conduct AM related R&D projects and to provide AM related support, as necessary. 
  • Develop and coordinate relationships with AM centers at universities, national labs, etc. to augment our AM capability offering to customers and to collaborate on development efforts. 
  • Travel to vendors, customers, suppliers, conferences, and H.C. Starck Solutions production facilities in support of growing business sectors. 
  • Pursue and protect intellectual property rights as appropriate. 

Required Experience & Qualifications

  • Bachelor’s degree 
  • 5+ years of industry experience 
  • Proficient in the use of Microsoft Office products 
  • Good analytical skills 
  • Good interpersonal and communication skills 
  • Ability to communicate proficiently both orally and in writing using the English language 
  • This position may require the applicant to be licensed under certain United States laws and regulations 
  • Competencies include: analytical thinking; customer orientation; effective communication; relationship building; team leadership; results orientation 

Note: This position will involve access to export-controlled technical data and/or technology and the position requires either U.S. Person status or the ability to obtain an export license from the appropriate government agency for Non-U.S. Persons.

To Apply for this Position

H.C. Starck Solutions offers a highly competitive compensation along with excellent benefits, including Medical, Dental, Vision, 401(k) with company match. Please email your resume with your salary expectations to

H.C. Starck Solutions is an Equal Opportunity Employer supporting diversity in all our business practices.

Download the full job specification here

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Medical Imaging and Radiation Management

Medical imaging represents the cutting-edge in healthcare and medical research sectors. It provides the means to catch conditions at the earliest possible stage, reducing the need for invasive investigative procedures which can improve recovery times and reduce hospital expenditure.

There is no denying the intrinsic value of medical imaging but there is a debate surrounding the risk-to-benefit ratio regarding the use of ionizing radiation in clinical and diagnostic settings. Although the minimal risk of exposure is far outweighed by the benefits of radiological imaging, with the number of high radiation dose tests on the rise worldwide, medical practitioners and manufacturers of advanced imaging equipment have repeatedly called for greater alignment of radiation management protocols.

Radiation management in medical imaging is a challenge that can only be tackled with an intersectional consensus. Frontline clinicians should be responsible for tailoring radiation doses on a holistic basis to ensure patient wellbeing, for example. Medical device manufacturers, meanwhile, must implement appropriate engineering solutions to mitigate the dangers of primary, secondary, and scattered radiation in high dose medical imaging.

In this blog post, H.C. Starck Solutions will explore some of the components and materials that are supporting the innovative drive in today’s medical imaging and radiotherapy applications.

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Which Medical Imaging Techniques Need Radiation Shielding?

Many different modalities exist within the fields of biological imaging and radiology today. Those that use radiation will require some form of shielding or radiation management system to ensure safe and optimal operation. X-ray machines, for example, have long used beam collimators to focus radiation into a manageable projection field that can be directed onto a specific area of interest. X-ray beam collimators historically used lead (Pb) shutters to manage both the direction of X-rays and the radiation dose.

Tungsten (W) and tungsten alloys have rapidly outstripped Pb in X-ray beam collimation due to their superior density of approximately > 17g/cm3. Density is a critical property in radiation management for medical imaging as the types of radiation used are highly penetrating (X-rays, gamma, etc.). Both gamma and X-ray radiation are short wavelength and high energy, which enables them to ionize atoms and principally poses a carcinogenic risk. Consequently, any medical imaging technology that employs ionizing radiation with energies of approximately 100 electron volts (eV) or greater will require some form of high-density shielding.

Learn more about the radiation shielding parts on offer from H.C. Starck Solutions

While standard X-ray scans do deal with radiation on these orders of magnitude – typically up to a maximum of 100 kiloelectronvolts (keV) – the average effective dose of medical imaging based on X-ray radiation rarely exceeds 1.5 millisieverts (mSv). This is half the effective dose that an average U.S. citizen receives from background radiation in a single year. It is also minuscule compared to high dose techniques such as computed tomography (CT) or nuclear imaging.

Radiation shielding parts and anti-scatter grids based on high-density technical metals have proven essential to the safe and precise implementation of a new generation of medical imaging technologies based on higher radiation dosages. Tungsten and tungsten heavy alloy (WHA) are chief among the materials usually integrated into CT scanners and nuclear imaging technologies, helping to mitigate the risk factors of using pioneering imaging technologies in clinical, diagnostic, or research settings. Some CT protocols and nuclear cardiological imaging are associated with radiation doses of more than 20 mSv – comparable to more than five years of accumulated background radiation. The introduction of H.C. Starck Solutions 3D printed anti-scatter grids could result in a reduction in radiation dose with no decrease in image clarity.

Medical Imaging Solutions from H.C. Starck Solutions

H.C. Starck Solutions offers proprietary collimators, anti-scatter grids, and radiation shielding parts for advanced medical imaging applications. We have extensive experience in the delivery of components intended for use in applications characterized by intense electromagnetic radiation on the order of X-ray and gamma radiation. Alongside a catalogue of solutions based on tungsten, we offer the following materials for radiation management applications:

  • Tantalum (Ta)
  • Titanium-zirconium-molybdenum (TZM) alloy
  • Niobium

If you would like more information about our materials or our expertise in the medical technology sector, simply contact a member of the H.C. Starck Solutions team today.


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