IBC successfully casts Beryllium alloy parts
By Sohail Kamal, EP&T West Coast CorrespondentProduction / Materials Engineering
Wins second contract from Lockheed Martin
As an integrated manufacturer and distributor of the rare metal beryllium and produces beryllium based alloys and related products, IBC Advanced Alloys specializes in serving a variety of industries including nuclear energy, automotive, aerospace, telecommunications and a range of industrial applications.
Head-quartered in Vancouver, IBC has 80 employees and operates production facilities in Indiana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Missouri. Last September, IBC Advanced Alloys picked up a contract to supply Lockheed Martin with ‘critical cast components for the Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) on the F-35 Lightning II.’ In July of this year, IBC supplied the casted parts made of a beryllium-aluminium alloy.
West Tech Report recently had the opportunity to speak with IBC’s president and CEO, Anthony Dutton, about the benefits of beryllium-aluminium alloys, how casting the alloy will open new markets to the rare-earth material and what it took to overcome the challenges over the past five years.
Q: What makes Beryllium so important?
A. “Beryllium aluminium (Beralcast) alloys are lightweight, have a low coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE), and for these reasons, they have been used a long time,” explains Dutton. “Beralcast gives aerospace companies much greater design flexibility and improved options when designing advanced systems where weight and stiffness are critical performance factors.” Beryllium aluminum alloy parts had previously only been fabricated through machining. As a result, components were expensive, time-consuming to produce, and had high scrap rates, all of which limited use of the alloy.
Q: Why is the ability to cast beryllium aluminium so difficult and valuable?
A. Casting a beryllium aluminum alloy is difficult because it is a two-phase material, with a 627°C (1,160°F) difference in melt and solid-phase temperatures. It took four years, but IBC has found a way to compensate for this and make beryllium aluminum a castable alloy, producing near net-shape parts that are then machined and finished. “With over 600-degrees difference in melting point between the two different metals, when you put them into a cast, one would harden before the other, so it was no longer an alloy,” explains Dutton.
Beralcast allows for significantly less expensive parts with virtually no waste and with improved lead times. And for engineers in other industries, this castable alloy, with its superior materials performance, will open opportunities for its use where previously the costs of machined beryllium alloy components were a barrier to entry.
Q: Can you share a challenge that IBC has had to overcome, and how other tech companies can avoid similar pitfalls in the future?
A. “Our basic hallmark was to never give up,” says Dutton. “[As a trailblazer] this is an important trait, and over the last few years, we’ve had a few dark moments, development protocols that didn’t go as planned. But, if you believe in your product, in your market and have the tenacity to never give up, you should be ok.” Also, it helped to have a large partner believe in the product: “Lockheed Martin has been important as they never lost faith in us,” Says Dutton. “It can’t be overstated how much we appreciate the totally committed team at Lockheed. An organization the size of Lockheed standing beside us, [helping us] get the technology across the finish line, has been incredibly helpful.”
On September 1st, IBC announced a second order from Lockheed Martin that has a minimum contract value of more than $2-million. More information about IBC and beryllium alloys can be found at www.ibcadvancedalloys.com.