H.C. Starck Solutions commands center stage in the development of the most incredible metals and alloys on the planet
“Metal is immortal.” When self-proclaimed “Metal God” Rob Halford said those words he was referring to music and mortality. He didn’t intend to be, but the famed Judas Priest frontman was right about something just as mysterious: refractory metals. Incredibly pure, immune to the most intense heat, the most relentless pressure, and the most corrosive chemicals, these ultramodern materials are forming humanity’s future -- and H.C. Starck Solutions (HCSS) is leading the transformation.
Founded in Berlin over a century ago, HCSS has progressed from being a trading company to becoming a global leader in high performance metal solutions development, specializing in the manufacture of exotic metals. Today, the firm has six major production sites in the U.S., Germany, United Kingdom and China and a customer network in more than 40 countries, making molybdenum, tungsten, tantalum and niobium for a range of amazing applications.
“Our growth journey over the last 100 years has gone where these metals have led us- from early (and still existing) applications in chemical and thermal processing technologies, through multiple generations of medical imaging equipment, aerospace and defense products to leading-edge semiconductors and flat panel displays and to future technologies such as space vehicles and hypersonic technologies, as well as sustainable energy,” explained Uli Blankenstein, HCSS’s Chief Market and Innovation Officer.
“Through innovation and process improvement we have been able to transform these metals into products with qualities not thought possible even a few years ago. Today, we make products that are up to 99.999% pure, tightly control the microstructures in our products and are able to hold dimensional tolerances much thinner than a human hair. We produce shapes smaller than a fingernail to plates two stories high.”
By offering unique combinations of material properties such as high-temperature strength, corrosion resistance, high density, radiation shielding, high thermal and electrical conductivity and low thermal expansion, refractory metals are irreplaceable in extremely demanding high-performance electronics, aerospace, defense, medical, energy, and industrial applications.
“Our materials are in cars, PCs, TVs, medical equipment, and airplanes. You cannot run a chemical or glass plant or send a rocket to space without the high-performance metals HCSS produces,” he noted. “Our customers are the innovators and technology leaders in their field. They get all the news and headlines, and it is well deserved. However, I think most people don’t realize that it is mid-size companies like ours that have unique competencies, decades of experience and highly specialized equipment, without which none of these innovations would be possible."
The company is at the epicenter of the booming semiconductor market. Their high-performance tantalum sputtering targets are an integral material in all copper-based semiconductors, which are used in logic and memory devices for phones, PCs, cars, and many other applications.
As a global market leader, we have seen significant demand increase since last summer. We have been working very closely with our customers, and also with our raw materials and service suppliers to ramp up supply without sacrificing the high quality that HCSS is known for,” he pointed out. “With the growth of 5G, IoT and longer-term autonomous driving, we see both the demand and technology requirements continuing strong over the next years.
“To meet this, we are planning a major investment into additional equipment throughout the next 24 months to secure our long-term competitiveness. As the only major US supplier of these vital semiconductor materials, we also see ourselves as an important partner with the administration’s renewed focus on securing the domestic supply chain for these crucial technologies.”
Prepare to be awed
Our section lead-ins aren’t always this effusive, but the following recitation from Blankenstein merits the star-struck introduction:
“HCSS has participated in the exciting Fusion Energy market over the years, supplying various research institutions, global consortiums, and companies involved in superconducting wire and shielding components for Fusion reactors. Our tantalum and niobium sheet products serve as critical components in the wire of superconducting magnetics,” he began.
“At the heart of the magnet technology is a niobium rod used in the fabrication of superconducting wire filaments. Combined, our sheet and rod products play a key role in controlling a plasma energy source, with temperatures as hot as those found on the surface of the sun. HCSS collaborated with our customer in South Korea to supply thousands of specialized niobium rods used in their process to manufacture superconducting wire for an international Fusion Energy reactor being built in Europe.
“We worked very closely with the customer every step of the way to ensure the chemical, mechanical, and geometric properties of HCSS’ niobium product met the exact requirements for their process. This was very important as the niobium rod is transformed from its original size and shape into a highly sophisticated product as it undergoes a reduction process to its final form, which is approximately 4% of the diameter of a human hair.”
The relatively new field of Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME) has resulted in a flurry of university research into new alloys that cover combinations of metallic elements not previously investigated. “In applications relevant to refractory metals, we have been supporting the development of some promising alloys identified by ICME using our unique in-house processing capabilities,” he noted.
“These new alloys show promise for applications in aerospace, new energy, and hard coatings. Some examples in the recent past are significant work on niobium hafnium containing alloys for the space industry as well as work on a new class of high entropy alloys that will be used in airplane engines and other high temperature applications in the future.”
HCSS collaborates closely with world-class universities and research institutes to utilize the latest science and engineering advances and owns a portfolio of more than 200 active patents on the technologies they’ve developed. They support their customers throughout the whole process, from the initial stage of product development and prototyping to ramp-up and sustainable volume production.
Investing in additive manufacturing technology for refractory metals is another bold step the company started six years ago to be ahead of the curve, knowing what refractory metals could potentially offer. Supporting investments for this nascent technology include refractory alloy feedstock powder and wire production to feed various AM platforms. When making parts that aren’t feasible or economical to make with traditional methods, HCSS is developing a variety of technologies to do so, including 3D screen printing, binder jet, laser powder-bed fusion, and directed energy deposition.
“These parts are being tested in applications as diverse as space propulsion, medical imaging, defense, chemical processing, and jewelry. Our long history of processing refractory metals provides the knowledge necessary to select the correct combination of materials and AM methods for a specific end-use.”
Sustainability and planetary impact are a top priority at HCSS. They’ve developed closed loop recycling technologies for many products, reuse their in-process waste matter, and work with customers to transform their end-of-life materials into new products. Careful observation of the Charter on Conflict-Free Procurement ensures the purchase of mining materials from suppliers with environmentally and socially sound business practices.
“As an essential supplier in the defense, semiconductor, and medical sectors, most of the company’s 600-plus global employees have been on the job despite the tremendous pressures of life and work during COVID. “Our team did all this and was still able to achieve record output,” Blankenstein marveled. “I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to all my coworkers in the H.C. Starck Solutions sites, our suppliers, as well as customers, and factory workers worldwide for all that they have done during these troubled times to allow us to get through this pandemic together.” And so do we.
H.C. Starck High Performance Metal Solutions (H.C. Starck Solutions) is a leading global supplier of metal powders, complex fabrications, and additively manufactured parts from the company’s core competencies – tungsten, molybdenum, tantalum, and niobium.
Our trusted supply chain delivers high-tech material solutions from its production facilities in North America, Europe, and Asia.
Our state-of-the-art research laboratories are equipped with the latest in modeling and simulation software, testing equipment, and analytical tools to evaluate product performance for the most difficult applications.
H.C. Starck Solutions supplies its fabricated products to growing industries, including electronics, aerospace, medical, chemical processing, glass melting, and commercial heat treating.
We deliver product solutions to OEMs, end-users and aftermarket manufacturers. Our outstanding quality, unparalleled expertise in refractory metals, and processing, ability to collaborate in depth with partners globally, and commitment to innovation enable our customers’ success.