Titanium was used in bicycle and wheelchair frames in the mid-1980s. Titanium applications are growing rapidly, but just as these small markets are starting to heat up, they are slowing down worldwide.
In the past few years, due to defense cuts and fluctuating aircraft industry, three American companies producing Ti-3Al-2.5V tubes have moved to the bicycle industry. However, the world produces a 3AI-2.5V bike frame that is less than the titanium (130t) used in three Boeing 747s. Currently, nearly 50 companies produce titanium bicycles.
The United States has long been the largest producer and consumer of titanium bicycles. 2015 is likely to be the year with the highest sales of the titanium frame, with approximately l17,000 pairs of titanium frame produced and a total weight of about 82 tons of materials, including all titanium tubes, titanium rods and titanium plates. While more cyclists are beginning to understand the benefits of titanium, they are feeling the pinch. The Ti-3Al-2.5V frame, made from aviation-quality tubes, costs between $1,600 and $3,500 per pair, and the entire bike ranges from $2,400 to $6,000. Over the past four years, industrial pure titanium tubes and non-aviation penalty Ti-3Al-2.5V (sports grade) titanium alloy frames have become popular, and some sports-grade titanium frames start at retail prices of as little as $1,000 a pair, while whole bikes start at as little as $1,700.
The Frame and Parts of a Wheelchair
The wheelchair market is different from the bicycle market in many aspects. The most important difference is that currently there is only a small amount of titanium wheelchair frame production, most of which are made of pure titanium tubes with cracks in the industry. The total titanium purchasing power of the wheelchair is about 55t. At present, only a few companies in the United States have enough research and development funds to develop titanium wheelchairs or buy materials. Titanium wheelchairs have few advantages over cheaper aluminum ones. In addition to titanium screws and bolts, titanium wheelchair parts industry has not yet formed, and there are a small market and only a small number of consumer parts.
Compact, rigid and lightweight are common requirements for driving specifications for bicycles and wheelchairs. Titanium is often not the best material, while forged and cast aluminum are more popular. If the price of titanium matrix composites (MMCs) comes down, it could be a viable alternative to some of the current aluminum applications on the market.
The material requirement of the bicycle frame is very simple, but the driving characteristic is particularly key, which complicates the material selection in some aspects. Most vehicles, structural elements, and their operating elements are separated from the internal facilities. At present, there is no titanium alloy specially designed for bicycles, only some materials have been modified for bicycles. Most people think about cost reduction, and the main problem with accepting titanium parts is rigidity rather than cost.
Research and Development
Since the bicycle and wheelchair industries, like sailing, are less technologically sophisticated than the aviation industry, most companies spend less on development and research than they do on sales. The wheelchair and bicycle industries have been made of steel for 100 years, and there is very little that needs to be improved, so very few engineers do research. In general, steel bike tube mills know much more than frame makers about how to make a durable bike frame.
Most research on the applicability of titanium alloys to specific applications has been carried out by aerospace manufacturers, but the bicycle industry is unable and unwilling to invest in research. So titanium manufacturers must support the design process of consumer products if they want to increase market share. It is important for companies selling materials to bicycle and wheelchair companies to realize that long-term growth will come from education.
Please visit http://www.samaterials.com for more information.