ESA funding used to transfer technology from rocket fuel tanks to oil rigs

To form spheres, metals are heated until soft and then blown into moulds under high pressure. Later, halves are welded together to form a sphere Picture courtesy of ESA
New funding from the European Space Agency (ESA) is enabling German manufacturer Formtech to use technology traditionally used to shape rocket fuel tanks to form floats for industrial chemical tanks and oil rigs. The technology, called 'super plastic forming' involves heating special alloys of titanium or corrosion resistant steel just enough to make them soft.

According to Formtech engineer Stefan Schoeps, the alloys are then put inside a form before gas pressure is applied. For titanium, the metal is heated to approximately 920ÂșC, or about half its melting point. "For these spherical vessels, it's exactly like blowing a bubble," he said.

In 2009, Formtech began talks with ESA technology transfer broker MST Aerospace about transferring this technology to the chemical or refinery industries. Formtech's solution will feature at the ESA Technology Transfer Programme stand at the annual Hannover trade fair in Germany in Spring. "We believe the transfer potential for this technology is quite high," said Werner Dupont of MST Aerospace.

Laura Hopperton

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