Titanium and steel are two of the most used metals across several industries due to their unique properties. Both metals have advantages and disadvantages and excel in different applications.
In this article, we will provide an in-depth comparison of these two metals, outlining their different properties, advantages, disadvantages, as well as how to choose the right metal for your project.
What are titanium alloys?
Titanium is an elemental earth metal (the fourth most abundant metal) that, due to its high cost and demanding processing requirements, is found in high-performance industries. Titanium is alloyed with other metals such as iron and aluminum since its high melting point makes it difficult to machine or process in its pure, elemental form alone.
These alloys are a must-have for aircraft, automobile engines, marine equipment, industrial machinery and consumer goods. They offer high corrosion resistance, impact absorption, exceptional strength-to-weight ratio and a variety of other qualities, making them a great choice for outstanding performance in most cases – especially if cost is not a deciding factor.
Steel is an iron-carbon alloy that may be mixed with other metals to enhance its mechanical properties. It is popular in almost every industry due to its strength, temperature resistance, tensile strength, excellent machinability and other outstanding physical properties.
Its low cost and workability make it the preferred choice for construction, automobiles, infrastructure, industrial machines and many other sectors.
Comparing titanium and steel properties
Both steel and titanium are strong materials that are common in a variety of applications. But in a head-to-head with steel vs titanium, what are the primary differences?
Titanium is a naturally occurring element that is accessible in both pure and alloy forms. The most common titanium alloy, Ti 6-4, contains aluminum and vanadium. Steel is also a man-made material composed of iron and carbon, with different proportions of additional elements that alter its qualities, depending on the intended use.
Steel and titanium differ in their crystalline structure, with titanium being a HCP (hexagonal close packed) structure and steel BCC (body centered cubic). This is one of the main reasons why titanium offers lower density and a higher strength ratio.
Because of its low density and excellent strength-to-weight ratio, titanium is a desirable material for aerospace applications, where it is usually shaped using CNC machining processes.
Steel alloys are strong and long-lasting, but they are heavy, making them excellent for situations where cost is a greater priority than weight.
Steel trumps titanium in a number of categories, including hardness. One of the reasons titanium is so difficult to process is because of its low Brinell number. Titanium alloys are prevalent in the industry because trace quantities of other metals balance titanium’s poor material hardness.
This is another area where steel generally outshines even titanium as most of its alloys are more elastic. Once again, greater elasticity makes the steel easier to machine and create custom parts, which is an extremely important characteristic as it directly affects the processing cost.
The debate on titanium vs steel will never give you a straightforward answer. In all cases, your project, conditions, and the available budget will determine which one is the better choice.
There is a significant amount of overlap in strength across the range of steel and titanium alloys, so it’s difficult to call one stronger than the other; there are grades of steel stronger than some titanium grades, and vice versa.
Titanium stands out thanks to its ability to resist corrosion and tolerate severe temperatures.
Steel alloys work well in most situations, but the presence of iron guarantees they will corrode eventually. Titanium, on the other hand, outperforms and is employed in harsh environments where persistent exposure to moisture, chemicals and other substances is expected.
Titanium is commonly employed in high-performance applications where strong thermal properties, high resistance to corrosion and a high strength-to-weight ratio are a must. Titanium is commonly used in the following applications:
- Surgical tools and applications
- Tennis rackets
- Motorsports vehicle components
Steel and its alloys are among the most extensively used metals due to their versatility. From the production of metal parts to basic building and mechanical development; the material is used across the world and in virtually every industry. These are some of its most popular applications:
- Various types of tools
- Electrical appliances
- Oil and gas pipeline
- Trains and cars
Steel is the less expensive choice when compared to titanium since it is easier to produce with fewer processing requirements. But, due to the multiplicity of its forms, the costs vary substantially.
Titanium is generally 20-40x more expensive than steel per unit weight.
Advantages of titanium
The most appealing aspect of titanium is its remarkable resistance to corrosion. When exposed to air, titanium forms a thin, impermeable layer of oxide on its surface. Furthermore, the oxide layer is naturally robust and highly resistant to practically all major corrosion causes, making titanium an excellent choice for any outdoor application.
Unusually high melting point
Titanium has a high melting point. Titanium’s melting point of roughly 1668 °C makes it an excellent choice for high-temperature applications such as turbine jet engines.
Titanium, unlike most other metals, is not hazardous to humans or animals. This is why titanium is widely used in the medical industry. Titanium is the material of choice for medical practitioners for anything from bone strengthening to dental braces.
Ability to withstand extreme temperatures
Titanium has many qualities that allow it to withstand high temperatures. Titanium does not shrink or expand, making it a crucial component for structural integrity.
Titanium is one of the strongest materials available. Despite being a relatively light metal, titanium has a high strength-to-weight ratio.
Disadvantages of titanium
Titanium is great but it’s also expensive, making it prohibitive for all but the most critical of parts and projects.
Titanium has a low elasticity modulus and is easily deformed. Titanium is difficult to machine due to its low stress-to-strain ratio.
If you intend to use titanium for casting, you should reconsider and explore alternate options. Titanium’s intrinsic qualities, such as its high melting point and strength, hamper the casting process.
Its strength, low elasticity and hardness mean it can be more challenging to work with than steel and many other materials. The high unit cost of titanium also makes certain manufacturing processes prohibitively expensive due to wastage.
Difficult to extract
Titanium extraction is not easy. Not only are the extraction components pricey, but they are also risky to handle. The extraction process also causes soil erosion and other environmental issues.
Advantages of steel
Steel is one of the most widely utilized and accessible metals on the planet. It’s also reasonably priced and easy to obtain.
Steel has always been recognized for its strength and durability. Steel can also withstand and preserve structural integrity in extreme situations like tornadoes and hurricanes.
The wonderful thing about steel is that it can always be reused with well established processing, while maintaining its original strength and adaptability.
Steel, as a component, provides designers with greater freedom and customizability than other materials. Steel’s characteristics can be varied by combining it with several additional elements.
As a rule, steel exhibits excellent weldability, machinability and is very easy and predictable to form. This makes it an extremely versatile material.
Disadvantages of steel
Steel can lose up to 0.5mm of thickness and thus strength per year if exposed to certain environments and not properly maintained or protected.
Low strength at high temperatures
Steel must also be adequately protected against high temperatures. While there is no threat of combustion, steel’s resistance to ‘creep’ is quite poor, meaning at high temperatures, its strength drops precipitously.
Steel isn’t deemed visually appealing for the vast majority of products. As a result, steel items typically require surface treatment or cladding to be more aesthetically pleasing.
Is titanium stronger than steel?
Titanium is significantly stronger than stainless steel, making it excellent for high-stress applications such as airplane building. Stainless steel, on the other hand, is more corrosion-resistant than titanium and is therefore commonly used in food processing and medical equipment.
Titanium provides higher strength per unit mass, but steel remains the superior choice in terms of total strength. Titanium is perfect for circumstances requiring strength and lightness, which is why it’s commonly used in high performance automobile and aerospace designs. Steel is a logical choice when only strength is required, but titanium is suitable when both strength and weight are a factor.
Both titanium and steel have unique properties that make them suitable for different applications. When deciding between these two materials, consider the following factors:
- Strength-to-weight ratio: If weight reduction is a priority, titanium may be the better choice due to its higher strength-to-weight ratio.
- Corrosion resistance: For applications in harsh environments, titanium’s superior corrosion resistance stands out.
- Cost: Steel is generally more cost-effective than titanium, making it a popular choice for large-scale projects and applications where cost is a significant factor.
- Fabrication and machining: Steel is generally easier to work with and machine compared to titanium, which can result in lower production costs.
Ultimately, the choice between titanium and steel will depend on the specific requirements of your project and the trade-offs you are willing to make in terms of cost, weight, strength and resistance to corrosion. By carefully considering these factors, you can make an informed decision and select the best material for your application.