Mining Titanium Dioxide

3D Printers Could Give Miners a New Dimension


The mining industry is set to change thanks to the need for mineral sands in 3D printing. 

Over the years, miners have profited from digging up these mineral sands and then shipping them to countries, such as China, to be used for whitening tiles or in paints.

Now though, miners from companies including Rio Tinto PLC and Iluka Resources Ltd. are hoping to be at the forefront of change by supplying the same materials for use in 3D printing.

Their plan is to work on ways to cut the cost of producing titanium dioxide, the compound commonly produced from mineral sands, and investing in technologies that will make it more attractive for the 3D printing industry.

Titanium Oxide: Turbocharger for Business

Titanium can be made fron Titanium oxide, which is a common material on earth. (image: Wikipedia)

“It is potentially a turbocharger over time on demand for titanium dioxide,” said David Robb, Iluka Resources’s managing director to The Wall Street Journal.

Industrial 3D printing offers great potential to diversify the market for mineral sands as manufacturers are looking for stronger, more lightweight materials that don’t cost more than the ones that they currently use.

Boeing Co., which already makes several hundred types of aircraft parts using 3D printing, including air duct components, has been investigating a process called electron-beam melting, as it works well with titanium.

To 3D print designs with titanium, the powder is melted layer by layer with a laser to create the item after slicing a digital image of an object.

However, they say that titanium powder is currently much more expensive than aluminum and steel, so there needs to be a strong business case for it to replace those materials.

The size of the market for 3D printing powder is set to increase at a compound rate of 24% each year through 2020 to be worth US$500 million, according to MicroMarket Monitor, an India-based research company.

It foresees 3D printing being increasingly adopted in the manufacturing of some components used in the automobile and aerospace industries.

However, although this sounds promising 3D printing does not account for much of the titanium-dioxide market and miners say it may be years before it contributes to their profits in a big way!