Founded on an unparalleled period of innovation, the aerospace and defense (A&D) markets are now among the largest and most lucrative industries worldwide. It is difficult to value the net worth of the global market with any accuracy, but the US aerospace and defense sectors recently logged a record yearly revenue of US $760 billion. This is largely attributed to continued digital transformation and innovation despite mounting geopolitical uncertainties and tensions. Refractory metals are central to these key growth drivers, providing the solutions for low-risk innovations in flight control systems and ballistics.
In this blog post, H.C. Starck Solutions explores the use of refractory metals in aerospace and defense.
Aerospace & Defense: Added-Value with Refractory Metals
Refractory metals are a critical class of materials in high-performance industrial and manufacturing spaces. They comprise a core group of five elements: niobium (Nb), molybdenum (Mo), rhenium (Re), tantalum (Ta), and tungsten (W). While the definition as to what qualifies as a refractory metal varies – with some areas of materials science and metallurgy considering a wider specification than others – these five elements are the definitive refractories.
What unites these materials is their exceptional resistance to extreme temperatures and unique physical and chemical properties. Of the five refractory metals, niobium has the lowest melting point (2750°C) while tantalum has the lowest Vickers hardness rating (873 MPa). These are already extraordinary properties that only improve throughout the refractory metals family, spanning up to a melting point of 3422°C and a maximum Vickers hardness of 4000 MPa.
Tungsten is the go-to refractory metal for aerospace and defense solutions, exhibiting the highest melting point of any metal known to man: 3422°C (6192°F). Combined with its high density (19.3 g/cm3) and extreme hardness, it is routinely used to fabricate critical products that assist in-flight stability or provide powerful penetration for advanced ordinance. Molybdenum and tantalum are also utilized in similarly demanding military and civil aviation applications.
For more information on the materials utilized in aerospace and defense, browse our Products by Industry.
Tantalum is essential in the generation of explosively-formed penetrators (EFP), while molybdenum heating elements and hot zones are used in a range of heat treatment processes designed to elevate the physical properties of components intended for use in aerospace and defense. Niobium is another critical refractory that is taking aerospace to new heights, providing a novel material solution for rocket nozzles and flame shielding applications.
Many financial analysts argue that defense spending and growth in commercial aviation are counter-cyclical, which means the sector often thrives despite economic downturns or recessions. Others believe that there is no such thing as a perceptible periodicity in the sector’s market value. A consistent fact, however, is that innovation in aerospace and defense is often accommodated by new material solutions. Composites were instrumental to the earliest successes of the aviation industry; now refractory metals are providing similar innovations to meet growing global demand.
Among the many innovations in aerospace has been the onset of additive manufacturing (AM) for generating high-performance components. If you would like to learn more about how AM is increasingly utilized in aerospace applications, read the article Additive Manufacturing for Space Applications.
Refractory Metals from H.C. Starck Solutions
H.C. Starck Solutions specializes in the generation of high purity refractories and alloys for challenging areas of application. We offer a broad range of tried-and-tested products for aerospace and defense, helping manufacturers meet the ongoing demand for high-performance solutions. Our product line includes:
- WHA Balance Weights for Airplanes and Helicopters
- Nb C-103 Sheet & Nozzles for propulsion
- TZM forging dies for engine blade production
- WHA shielding components for spacecraft
- Mo, Ta and WHA missile components