Kobe Steel Ltd. has an estimated $91-million plan to increase its capacity for titanium products, including forged products in titanium alloys for aerospace manufacturing and products in primary titanium for general industrial applications. The new investments are reported to total ¥7.5 billion, of which ¥1.5 billion (est. $18 million) is allocated for the Japan Aeroforge Ltd. joint venture, a 50,000-metric ton press that will start production in 2014.

Kobe Steel pointed to mid-range and long-range forecasts of rising demand for titanium, from civilian aircraft and infrastructure sectors (power generation, desalination plants.) The manufacturer said that its new investments will allow it to increase and improve its production capability for ring products, large forgings, and welded tubes, and it noted that the additional capacity will allow it to serve a growing global demand for the material.

The new investments include a new ring-rolling mill and new heat-treatment and inspection equipment for large forged products at Kobe’s Takasago Works in western Japan.

A titanium welded tube line has already been completed by the group’s Kobe Special Tube Co. Ltd. subsidiary at Shimonoseki, also in western Japan.

The new ring-rolling mill will replace an aging production line at Takasago with high-precision rolling equipment. Kobe Steel said the new mill would produce near-net-shape rings and achieve a considerable reduction in forging weight, reducing production costs and increasing the group’s capability for rings used in jet engines. Kobe Steel stated its ring-rolling capacity is anticipated to double once the new mill is installed, and the existing ring-rolling mill will be shut down after the new mill achieves certification. The project is scheduled to start-up in November.

The second development will be installing heat-treatment and inspection equipment for large forgings at Takasago Works. The Works will be the source of titanium billets used by Japan Aeroforge for its operation, and the semi-finished forgings will be returned to Takasago for heat-treatment and inspection prior to delivery to customers. This project will start-up in April 2013.

Kobe Steel stated this investment would allow it to increase its sales of large titanium forgings to domestic customers. And, as Japan Aeroforge intends to supply forgings to global aircraft OEMs, Kobe Steel’s heat-treatment and inspection equipment will be developed to meet processing capacity, as well as aircraft manufacturers specifications. The Works’ capacity for these processes will be tripled.

The new welded-tube capacity at Kobe Special Tube in Shimonoseki is supplying increasing demand for these products, notably from power plants in emerging countries and desalination plants in the Middle East. Kobe Steel indicated the new line increases its capacity for titanium welded tubes by 25-30%, giving it greater availability to win larger orders. And, it stated that integrated production (ingot melting through to welded tube manufacturing) enables the Kobe Steel Group to deliver higher quality titanium welded tube. Kobe Steel pioneered titanium production in Japan, and is the country’s only integrated manufacturer of the light metal.

In December 2010, Kobe Steel increased its vacuum annealing capacity for titanium sheet at Kakogawa Works, which provides the base material for the new welded tube line.