Iluka Resources Ltd., which supplies about 10 percent of global titanium dioxide, is betting a projected boom in 3-D printers to create car parts will boost demand for the commodity.
“The reality is that this could be game-changing,” Chief Executive Officer David Robb said today in a phone interview from Perth. “The big applications will be alloys, automotive, sheet metal and things that can now be printed in 3-D. We’ll provide the powder that goes to those 3-D printers.”
3-D printers create metal objects by adding layer upon layer of metallic powders together and using a laser to fuse the material to create a finished product. General Electric Co. plans to use the technique to print at least 85,000 fuel nozzles for its newest jet engine, it said in November.
The 3-D printing industry may have a market size of as much as $550 billion a year by 2025, McKinsey Global Institute said in May. Iluka said today it had agreed to pay 12 million pounds ($20 million) for an 18.3 percent stake in U.K.-based Metalysis Ltd., which has produced titanium powder from the Australian producer’s rutile stocks and last year created the first 3-D printed titanium car parts.
About 2.5 tons of rutile is required by Metalysis to produce 1 ton of titanium powder, Perth-based Iluka said today. “There is a limited amount of rutile available in the world that’s not in our hands,” Robb said.
Iluka rose 1.6 percent to close at A$9.37 in Sydney.
As many as 12 industrial groups are in talks with companies able to create metal products using 3-D printers and the sector may grow faster than the wider 3-D printing industry in the next few years, according to Jefferies LLC analyst Peter Misek. Airbus Group NV and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG are among companies which may place orders with 3-D printing companies this year, Misek said this month.
Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in October used the printing technology to create titanium shoes for a race horse.
Demand for titanium dioxide has been falling since 2011 among pigment producers, which traditionally use it in paint, paper and plastics, though began a recovery last year on a stronger U.S. housing market, Iluka said today in a presentation.
The market for titanium metals, used in joint replacements to tank armor, is currently worth about $5 billion and will grow as new processes lower the metal’s cost and allow the material to be used in more applications, according to Robb.
The process used by Metalysis to produce titanium from rutile could reduce the metal’s price by as much as 75 percent and provide an alternative to aluminum and steel in some products, according to the British company’s website.
Iluka said net income in the 12 months to December fell 95 percent to A$18.5 million ($16.7 million) from A$363.2 million a year earlier on lower zircon prices and asset writedowns.