Monday, September 28, 2015

A Stiff, Castable and Advanced Beryllium Alloy for Electronics, Aerospace and Space Applications

          By Chuck Black

A small, publicly traded Canadian corporation has grabbed the attention of the international aerospace community with unique manufacturing technology, which utilizes lightweight, rare metals and specialty alloys to create parts with improved tolerance to temperature extremes and excellent vibration characteristics.

IBC CEO Anthony Dutton outlining the advantages of Beralcast® on the September 17th, 2014 Business News Network (BNN) Commodities program. Applications include the manufacture of lightweight components for electronics, industrial, and air and space flight requiring rigidity and high-stiffness across a wide range of environmental conditions, but which have traditionally been manufactured using lower performance and/or higher cost materials such as cast aluminum, magnesium, titanium, metal matrix composites, nonmetallic composites, pure beryllium and/or powder metallurgy beryllium-aluminum. The IBC Beralcast® alloy will be used in the azimuth gimbal of the F-35 Lighting II electrical optical targeting system (EOTS) because of its extreme stiffness, which increases the targeting efficiency of the EOTS, and lowers the cost of manufacture. Screenshot c/o BNN. 

Last week's announcement that an "unnamed Asian precision manufacturing customer" had placed two orders totaling over $1.2Mln CDN with Vancouver, BC based IBC Advanced Alloys (IBC) for components made out of the IBC Beralcast® castable beryllium-aluminum alloy came on the heels of a September 9th, 2015 order from aerospace giant Lockheed Martin (LM) for F-35 strike fighter components made out of the same material, the third LM order since June 2015.

As outlined in the September 21st, 2015 Stockhouse post, "IBC Advanced Alloys (V.IB) locks down two new orders worth more than $1.2 million," the company expects to begin delivery of the finished cast components for this new order in the first quarter of 2016 and expects additional follow-on business once its ability to fulfill orders on time and on budget is verified.

According to Chris Huskamp, the president of IBC’s engineered materials division, the company plans to focus initially on the defence market before approaching other industry verticals. He feels the company should be able to ramp up production quickly to fulfill new orders, because of its existing facilities in Franklin, Indiana and Wilmington, Massachusetts. "We have identified a wide range of new opportunities and are engaged with several groups," he said, during a recent interview. 

Of course, the real secret to IBC's recent success isn't just the marketing plan. It's the technology. 

Military applications aren't the only applications which use beryllium and could benefit from new technologies focused around the use of lower cost and higher performing beryllium alloys and casting. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), seen above, has 18 hexagonal gold plated beryllium sections for its mirrors. The optical systems of the Spitzer Space Telescope are also entirely built of beryllium metal, which holds its shape well in the wide variety of temperatures expected in the highly variable environment of outer space. As outlined in the company sales literature, IBC has built parts, using the Beralcast® family of alloys, for both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). Photo c/o Wikipedia

Beralcast® is essentially an alloy of beryllium, aluminum and certain other trace elements which retains the useful properties of beryllium, but can also be cast into complex shapes, unlike beryllium alone, which is brittle and requires substantial machining in order to be formed into anything useful. 

Machined parts normally cost far more to manufacture and use more raw materials, much of which usually ends up as scrap. According to Huskamp, the casting process for Beralcast® normally uses 98% of the raw materials, which approximately quadruples the efficiency of materials usage compared to machining. In addition, the casting process does not require any post-machined chemical milling.

Parts can also be created in weeks, rather than months. "It's not quite 3D printing, but it's almost as good," said Huskamp in a recent interview. "Beryllium aluminum castings have have dramatically altered the cost structure for companies which traditionally used berylium for its excellent thermal conductivity, stiffness, high melting point and lightness."

The alloy is even weldable, for defect repair. 

Current applications include disk drive armatures (the light weight, high stiffness and good heat transfer capabilities of the material allow disk drives to retrieve more electronic data), advanced electro-optic electronic components (like the F-35 EOTS) and virtually any commercial and military application requiring lightweight, and/or high stiffness parts. 

Chuck Black
It will be interesting to see what the company client list looks like in six months.

IBC was founded in 2007 to take advantage of the rapidly growing market for advanced and specialty materials. It trades on the TSX Venture Exchange ("IB") and on the OTCQX ("IAALF").

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more. Superior performance characteristics and reliability are the primary reasons that makes beryllium alloy so important in different industries.


Support our Patreon Page