Titanium technology an exciting prospect

MARTIN MOORE
Last updated 05:00 26/11/2013

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Kiwi innovators hope their world-leading advancements in titanium will create a new high value export industry for New Zealand.

Government innovation agency Callaghan Innovation has partnered with other research agencies as part of the Titanium Technologies Platform to develop new forms of the material.

The group has found ways of turning powdered titanium into porous materials with useful applications for industries ranging from biomedicals to aerospace and marine engineering.

Callaghan hopes to develop a pan-industry manufacturing base for export products.

"The success so far suggests that it's going to be a real high value, fast growth area over the next four to six years, and I'm quite looking forward to being part of it," programme director Ian Brown said.

"Our researchers have made major advances in the creation of titanium alloy structures possessing unique properties."

The new production techniques allow researchers to create materials with similar structure to human bones, to the point that bone and tissue will grow into it over time.

New forms of titanium are also increasingly being used in the marine industry, particularly at the high value end, Brown said.

"Organisations like Team New Zealand are using titanium alloys in a lot of their fittings and I think you'll see that sort of leadership move onto the rest of the marine industry pretty damn quick," he said.

One product that gained attention during the America's Cup this year was a rescue knife produced by GNS Science for Team New Zealand sailors to cut free of entanglements.

Produced with 3D printing technology, the knives weighed only 31 grams yet their ion-hardened blades were sharp enough to cut through the boat's hull.

The $2.5 million programme funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has been running for less than a year, yet Brown said there had been "a lot of progress in a really short time".

Powdered metal technology is undergoing rapid development around the world, and Brown said New Zealand researchers had taken a strong lead in developing titanium specifically.

"Techniques like 3D printing applied to titanium metal powders give you the opportunity to make shapes that are probably inaccessible by any other route. So that's a big growth area," he said.

The technology will be showcased by Callaghan Innovation researchers at an international conference in Hamilton next week.

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