Working Stainless Steel, Inconel® Alloys, Magnesium and Titanium

Working Stainless Steel

Corrosion-resistant-steel (CRES) sheet is used on some parts of the aircraft when high strength is required. CRES causes magnesium, aluminum, or cadmium to corrode when it touches these metals. To isolate CRES from magnesium and aluminum, apply a finish that gives protection between their mating surfaces. It is important to use a bend radius that is larger than the recommended minimum bend radius to prevent cracking of the material in the bend area.

When working with stainless steel, make sure that the metal does not become unduly scratched or marred. Also, take special precautions when shearing, punching, or drilling this metal. It takes about twice as much pressure to shear or punch stainless steel as it does mild steel. Keep the shear or punch and die adjusted very closely. Too much clearance permits the metal to be drawn over the edge of the die and causes it to become work hardened, resulting in excessive strain on the machine. When drilling stainless steel, use an HSS drill bit ground to an included angle of 135°. Keep the drill speed about one-half that required for drilling mild steel, but never exceed 750 rpm. Keep a uniform pressure on the drill so the feed is constant at all times. Drill the material on a backing plate, such as cast iron, which is hard enough to permit the drill bit to cut completely through the stock without pushing the metal away from the drill point. Spot the drill bit before turning on the power and also make sure that pressure is exerted when the power is turned on.

Working Inconel® Alloys 625 and 718

Inconel® refers to a family of nickel-chromium-iron super alloys typically used in high-temperature applications. Corrosion resistance and the ability to stay strong in high temperatures led to the frequent use of these Inconel® alloys in aircraft powerplant structures. Inconel® alloys 625 and 718 can be cold formed by standard procedures used for steel and stainless steel.

Normal drilling into Inconel® alloys can break drill bits sooner and cause damage to the edge of the hole when the drill bit goes through the metal. If a hand drill is used to drill Inconel® alloys 625 and 718, select a 135° cobalt drill bit. When hand drilling, push hard on the drill, but stay at a constant chip rate. For example, with a No. 30 hole, push the drill with approximately 50 pounds of force. Use the maximum drill rpm as illustrated in Figure 1. A cutting fluid is not necessary when hand drilling.

Aircraft sheet metal layout and forming
Figure 1. Drill size and speed for drilling Inconel

The following drilling procedures are recommended:
  • Drill pilot holes in loose repair parts with power feed equipment before preassembling them.
  • Preassemble the repair parts and drill the pilot holes in the mating structure.
  • Enlarge the pilot holes to their completed hole dimension.

When drilling Inconel®, autofeed-type drilling equipment is preferred.

Working Magnesium

Warning: Keep magnesium particles away from sources of ignition. Small particles of magnesium burn very easily. In sufficient concentration, these small particles can cause an explosion. If water touches molten magnesium, a steam explosion could occur. Extinguish magnesium fires with dry talc, calcium carbonate, sand, or graphite. Apply the powder on the burning metal to a depth of 1⁄2-inch or more. Do not use foam, water, carbon tetrachloride, or carbon dioxide. Magnesium alloys must not touch methyl alcohol.

Magnesium is the world’s lightest structural metal. Like many other metals, this silvery-white element is not used in its pure state for stressed application. Instead, magnesium is alloyed with certain other metals (aluminum, zinc, zirconium, manganese, thorium, and rare earth metals) to obtain the strong, lightweight alloys needed for structural uses. When alloyed with these other metals, magnesium, yields alloys with excellent properties and high strength-to-weight ratios. Proper combination of these alloying constituents provide alloys suitable for sand, permanent mold and die castings, forging, extrusions, rolled sheet, and plate with good properties at room temperature, as well as atelevated temperatures.

Lightweight is the best known characteristic of magnesium, an important factor in aircraft design. In comparison, aluminum weighs one and one half times more, iron and steel weigh four times more, and copper and nickel alloys weigh five times more. Magnesium alloys can be cut, drilled, and reamed with the same tools that are used on steel or brass, but the cutting edges of the tool must be sharp. Type B rivets (5056-F aluminum alloy) are used when riveting magnesium alloy parts. Magnesium parts are often repaired with clad 2024-T3 aluminum alloy.

While magnesium alloys can usually be fabricated by methods similar to those used on other metals, remember that many of the details of shop practice cannot be applied. Magnesium alloys are difficult to fabricate at room temperature; therefore, most operations must be performed at high temperatures. This requires preheating of the metal or dies, or both. Magnesium alloy sheets may be cut by blade shears, blanking dies, routers, or saws. Hand or circular saws are usually used for cutting extrusions to length. Conventional shears and nibblers should never be used for cutting magnesium alloy sheet because they produce a rough, cracked edge.

Shearing and blanking of magnesium alloys require close tool tolerances. A maximum clearance of 3 to 5 percent of the sheet thickness is recommended. The top blade of the shears should be ground with an included angle of 45° to 60º. The shear angle on a punch should be from 2° to 3°, with a 1° clearance angle on the die. For blanking, the shear angle on the die should be from 2° to 3° with a 1° clearance angle on the punch. Hold-down pressures should be used when possible. Cold shearing should not be accomplished on a hard-rolled sheet thicker than 0.064-inch or annealed sheet thicker than 1⁄8-inch. Shaving is used to smooth the rough, flaky edges of a magnesium sheet that has been sheared. This operation consists of removing approximately 1⁄32-inch by a second shearing.

Hot shearing is sometimes used to obtain an improved sheared edge. This is necessary for heavy sheet and plate stock. Annealed sheet may be heated to 600 °F, but hard-rolled sheet must be held under 400 °F, depending on the alloy used. Thermal expansion makes it necessary to allow for shrinkage after cooling, which entails adding a small amount of material to the cold metal dimensions before fabrication.

Sawing is the only method used in cutting plate stock more than 1⁄2-inch thick. Bandsaw raker-set blades of 4- to 6-tooth pitch are recommended for cutting plate stock or heavy extrusions. Small and medium extrusions are more easily cut on a circular cutoff saw having six teeth per inch. Sheet stock can be cut on handsaws having raker-set or straight-set teeth with an 8-tooth pitch. Bandsaws should be equipped with nonsparking blade guides to eliminate the danger of sparks igniting the magnesium alloy filings.

Cold working most magnesium alloys at room temperature is very limited, because they work harden rapidly and do not lend themselves to any severe cold forming. Some simple bending operations may be performed on sheet material, but the radius of bend must be at least 7 times the thickness of the sheet for soft material and 12 times the thickness of the sheet for hard material. A radius of 2 or 3 times the thickness of the sheet can be used if the material is heated for the forming operation.

Since wrought magnesium alloys tend to crack after they are cold-worked, the best results are obtained if the metal is heated to 450 °F before any forming operations are attempted. Parts formed at the lower temperature range are stronger because the higher temperature range has an annealing effect on the metal.

The disadvantages of hot working magnesium are:
  1. Heating the dies and the material is expensive and troublesome.
  2. There are problems in lubricating and handling materials at these temperatures.

The advantages to hot working magnesium are:
  1. It is more easily formed when hot than are other metals.
  2. Spring-back is reduced, resulting in greater dimensional accuracy.

When heating magnesium and its alloys, watch the temperature carefully as the metal is easily burned. Overheating also causes small molten pools to form within the metal. In either case, the metal is ruined. To prevent burning, magnesium must be protected with a sulfur dioxide atmosphere while being heated.

Proper bending around a short radius requires the removal of sharp corners and burrs near the bend line. Layouts should be made with a carpenter’s soft pencil because any marring of the surface may result in fatigue cracks.

Press brakes can be used for making bends with short radii. Die and rubber methods should be used where bends are to be made at right angles, which complicate the use of a brake. Roll forming may be accomplished cold on equipment designed for forming aluminum. The most common method of forming and shallow drawing of magnesium is to use a rubber pad as the female die. This rubber pad is held in an inverted steel pan that is lowered by a hydraulic press ram. The press exerts pressure on the metal and bends it to the shape of the male die.

The machining characteristics of magnesium alloys are excellent, making possible the use of maximum speeds of the machine tools with heavy cuts and high feed rates. Power requirements for machining magnesium alloys are about one-sixth of those for mild steel.

Filings, shavings, and chips from machining operations should be kept in covered metal containers because of the danger of combustion. Do not use magnesium alloys in liquid deicing and water injection systems or in the integral fuel tank areas.

Working Titanium

Keep titanium particles away from sources of ignition. Small particles of titanium burn very easily. In sufficient concentration, these small particles can cause an explosion. If water touches molten titanium, a steam explosion could occur. Extinguish titanium fires with dry talc, calcium carbonate, sand, or graphite. Apply the powder on the burning metal to a depth of 1⁄2-inch or more. Do not use foam, water, carbon tetrachloride, or carbon dioxide.

Description of Titanium

Titanium in its mineral state, is the fourth most abundant structural metal in the earth’s crust. It is lightweight, nonmagnetic, strong, corrosion resistant, and ductile. Titanium lies between the aluminum alloys and stainless steel in modulus, density, and strength at intermediate temperatures. Titanium is 30 percent stronger than steel, but is nearly 50 percent lighter. It is 60 percent heavier than aluminum, but twice as strong.

Titanium and its alloys are used chiefly for parts that require good corrosion resistance, moderate strength up to 600 °F (315 °C), and lightweight. Commercially pure titanium sheet may be formed by hydropress, stretch press, brake roll forming, drop hammer, or other similar operations. It is more difficult to form than annealed stainless steel. Titanium can also be worked by grinding, drilling, sawing, and the types of working used on other metals. Titanium must be isolated from magnesium, aluminum, or alloy steel because galvanic corrosion or oxidation of the other metals occurs upon contact.

Monel® rivets or standard close-tolerance steel fasteners should be used when installing titanium parts. The alloy sheet can be formed, to a limited extent, at room temperature. The forming of titanium alloys is divided into three classes:
  • Cold forming with no stress relief
  • Cold forming with stress relief
  • Elevated temperature forming (built-in stress relief)

Over 5 percent of all titanium in the United States is produced in the form of the alloy Ti 6Al-4V, which is known as the workhorse of the titanium industry. Used in aircraft turbine engine components and aircraft structural components, Ti 6Al-4V is approximately 3 times stronger than pure titanium. The most widely used titanium alloy, it is hard to form.

The following are procedures for cold forming titanium 6Al-4V annealed with stress relief (room temperature forming):
It is important to use a minimum radius chart when forming titanium because an excessively small radius introduces excess stress to the bend area.
Stress relieves the part as follows: heat the part to a temperature above 1,250 °F (677 °C), but below 1,450 °F (788 °C). Keep the part at this temperature for more than 30 minutes but less than 10 hours.
A powerful press brake is required to form titanium parts. Regular hand-operated box and pan brakes cannot form titanium sheet material.
A power slip roller is often used if the repair patch needs to be curved to fit the contour of the aircraft.

Titanium can be difficult to drill, but standard high-speed drill bits may be used if the bits are sharp, if sufficient force is applied, and if a low-speed drill motor is used. If the drill bit is dull, or if it is allowed to ride in a partially drilled hole, an overheated condition is created, making further drilling extremely difficult. Therefore, keep holes as shallow as possible; use short, sharp drill bits of approved design; and flood the area with large amounts of cutting fluid to facilitate drilling or reaming.

When working titanium, it is recommended that you use carbide or 8 percent cobalt drill bits, reamers, and countersinks. Ensure the drill or reamer is rotating to prevent scoring the side of the hole when removing either of them from a hole. Use a hand drill only when positive-power-feed drills are not available.

The following guidelines are used for drilling titanium:
  • The largest diameter hole that can be drilled in a single step is 0.1563-inch because a large force is required. Larger diameter drill bits do not cut satisfactorily when much force is used. Drill bits that do not cut satisfactorily cause damage to the hole.
  • Holes with a diameter of 0.1875-inch and larger can be hand drilled if the operator:
    • Starts with a hole with a diameter of 0.1563-inch.
    • Increases the diameter of the hole in 0.0313-inch or 0.0625-inch increments.
  • Cobalt vanadium drill bits last much longer than HSS bits.
  • The recommended drill motor rpm settings for hand drilling titanium are listed in Figure 2.

Aircraft sheet metal layout and forming
Figure 2. Hole size and drill speed for drilling titanium

  • The life of a drill bit is shorter when drilling titanium than when drilling steel. Do not use a blunt drill bit or let a drill bit rub the surface of the metal and not cut it. If one of these conditions occurs, the titanium surface becomes work hardened, and it is very difficult to start the drill again.
  • When hand drilling two or more titanium parts at the same time, clamp them together tightly. To clamp them together, use temporary bolts, Cleco clamps, or tooling clamps. Put the clamps around the area to drill and as near the area as possible.
  • When hand drilling thin or flexible parts, put a support (such as a block of wood) behind the part.
  • Titanium has a low thermal conductivity. When it becomes hot, other metals become easily attached to it. Particles of titanium often become welded to the sharp edges of the drill bit if the drill speed is too high. When drilling large plates or extrusions, use a water soluble coolant or sulphurized oil.

NOTE: The intimate metal-to-metal contact in the metal working process creates heat and friction that must be reduced or the tools and the sheet metal used in the process are quickly damaged and/or destroyed. Coolants, also called cutting fluids, are used to reduce the friction at the interface of the tool and sheet metal by transferring heat away from the tool and sheet metal. Thus, the use of cutting fluids increases productivity, extends tool life, and results in a higher quality of workmanship.

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