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Timet pitches bats in search of home run

Titanium┬áMetals Corp (Timet) hopes that the new titanium ‘Tiphoon’ software bat being marketed by James D. Easton Inc. will showcase titanium as a material to consumer goods manufacturers. Finding new markets for titanium is critical to Timet since its primary market, the aviation industry, is in a slump. Titanium as a consumer goods material lost favor to composites in the 1980s, but Timet is promoting titanium as a more durable alternative to composites in consumer goods. Timet supplies the titanium tubes for the Tiphoon bat fabricated by Easton, a sporting goods company that accounts for half of the bats sold in the word.

Titanium Metals Corp. (Timet) looks for a new softball bat to score a hit as it seeks to attract more fans of titanium in the consumer and industrial markets.

Jas. D. Easton Inc., which is said to be the world’s largest bat manufacturer, recently introduced its “Tiphoon” model and hopes to begin taking orders sometime this summer after receiving approval from organized softball authorities. This could mean a berth in official tournaments for the asa slow pitch softball bats, which weigh from 24 to 38 ounces. Easton says that, judging by the features that help to make a topnotch piece of baseball “lumber,” they stack up pretty well against other materials.

“It comes down to feel, balance and width of the sweet spot, which is a measure of how forgiving the bat is,” according to Larry Carlson, general manager of new business development for Easton. The privately held Van Nuys, Calif., sporting goods manufacturer estimates it makes around 50 percent of the bats sold in the world.

“We are seeding the market with top players on no-cost basis to get feedback,” Carlson pointed out. “And some people say it hits farther, although we haven’t confirmed that.”

Easton, which manufactures a variety of sports equipment from aluminum as well as from advanced composites, has been developing the titanium bat in conjunction with Denver-based Timet for the past 18 months (AMM, Feb. 8).

“It’s been a difficult one,” Carlson said about the project. “I’ve had my best people on it. Titanium, compared with aluminum, is hard to work.”

Despite the fact that major league baseball doesn’t allow metal bats, they nevertheless dominate other areas of baseball and softball. Carlson reckons they account for all but 1 or 2 percent of the world market.

A Timet executive in Denver noted that only a few titanium bats have been tried before the Tiphoon and were reportedly made from an older alloy that was quite difficult to fabricate and gave inconsistent results. Carlson said, however, that the use of Timetal 15-3 (an alloy of titanium containing vanadium, chromium, aluminum and tin) “helped us work it into a bat.”

Timet supplies Easton with 2-1/4-inch welded tubing from strip that has been rolled at room temperature. Easton “rocks,” or cold reduces, the tubing, which later is heat-treated to double its strength.

The Timet exeuctive said 15-3, one of the beta alloys, gave titanium a chance to score on the baseball diamond primarily because it is in a “solution-treated”–or annealed–condition when worked. This allows it to be cold-rolled, welded and cold-reduced prior to heat treating.

It was developed in the mid-1970s in Timet’s Henderson, Nev., laboratories for the U.S. Air Force, which wanted a strip-rollable alloy. By contrast, titanium 6-4, the workhorse aircraft alloy that accounts for the bulk of the aerospace sheet produced, must be made “one sheet at a time.”

Not surprisingly, softball bats don’t represent 15-3’s largest likely application. That will be the new Boeing 777 airliner. The beta alloy’s biggest successes have come in applications that demand a lot of forming and high strength, such as jet engine brackets and bottle-type containers on rockets.

The Tiphoon isn’t going to come cheap and will occupy the high end of Easton’s lineup. Carlson figures it will cost in the neighborhood of $400 per copy at retail.

Most of Easton’s aluminum bats, made from aerospace alloy 7046, are priced from $30 to $50. Its top-of-the-line aluminum softball edition, manufactured of a proprietary alloy developed in conjunction with Aluminum Co. of America (Alcoa), goes for about $120 at retail. Still another bat, featuring a carbon graphite core inside aluminum tubing, goes for about $150.

As things stand now, Carlson doesn’t think even the eventual success of the Tiphoon will drive down its price tag because processing costs, as well as the cost of the metal itself, are just too great.

“This bat is strictly for the serious player willing to invest in top performance,” Carlson said about the Tiphoon.

Timet itself isn’t necessarily looking for the bats alone to chew up countless tons of titanium. Rather, the industry’s largest producer hopes success in such high-profile markets as baseball will help recapture the high-tech “sex appeal” that titanium once enjoyed in consumer goods but lost to non-metallic composites during the 1980s.

This happened with golf club shafts. The slump in aerospace, which accounts for most of the titanium market, has made it all the more pressing for titanium to regain its cachet in consumer goods–and the attention of the public.

Compared with titanium, the Timet executive argued, composites actually wear out a lot sooner, a benefit he expects to become more evident as time goes on. As for Timet, in addition to sporting goods, it is targeting automotive and architectural markets as it looks to build the metal’s visibility.

“We have a zillion of these applications coming along,” the executive promised.

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