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Titanium vs Stainless Steel: Which Metal is Right for Your Project

Titanium vs Stainless Steel

Titanium and stainless steel are metals known for their high strength and corrosion resistance. They also tend to be more expensive raw materials, and more expensive to machine. 

Both materials are used for a wide variety of parts and building materials. There are also a variety of alloys for each material. Figuring out which one is the best option for your next project can be challenging. 

In this article, we’ll share a few of the key differences that will help you and your team choose the best material for your machined parts and components. 

What are the key differences?

The primary differences between titanium and stainless steel come from the fact that titanium is an element and stainless steel is an alloy. The properties of titanium are naturally found in the metal. While stainless steel is a mixture of iron, chromium, nickel, and other elements. 

This difference means that the properties of stainless steel can be altered more than titanium, making it more versatile for different uses than titanium.

  • Titanium is more expensive than stainless steel.
  • Titanium is stronger when temperatures fluctuate. 
  • Titanium is nontoxic and often used for medical purposes.
  • Titanium is softer, and it’s generally more prone to scratches. 
  • Stainless steel is heavier than titanium.
  • Stainless steel is less expensive to machine.
  • Stainless steel is more formable and weldable.
  • Stainless steel is more subject to fatigue and shattering.

Machining and using titanium

Using titanium for precision machined parts can be difficult. Titanium has a machining cost factor 30x greater compared to most steel alloys. 

Even though titanium is expensive as a raw material, and expensive to machine, it has a lot of great benefits. Titanium has a similar strength compared to stainless steel, and it’s significantly lighter. Titanium is about 50% as dense as stainless steel, and it provides the same amount of strength as stainless steel at 40% of its weight.

Titanium parts are often used in the aerospace industry where weight reduction is a priority. They’re also used for medical parts because titanium is biocompatible.

Machining and using stainless steel

Stainless steel is one of the most commonly used metals in every industry. Stainless steel offers great strength and corrosion resistance. To be considered stainless steel, the alloy mixture needs to have at least 10.5% Chromium, which gives the metal better corrosion resistance.

There are a wide variety of stainless steel alloys, which have unique properties and are used for different purposes. The alloys are classified into numbered families. The 300 grades of stainless steel are the most commonly used for precision machined parts.

Which metal is right for your project?

Both materials are viable options for projects that require high strength and lasting durability.

Here are some questions you can ask to choose the best material:

1. Strength Requirements:

  • Does your project require a high strength-to-weight ratio? If yes, consider titanium.
  • Is moderate strength sufficient for your project? If yes, stainless steel may be suitable.

2. Corrosion Resistance:

  • Will the material be exposed to harsh chemicals, saltwater, or other corrosive environments? If yes, titanium offers superior corrosion resistance.
  • Is the material required to resist moderate levels of corrosion? If yes, stainless steel might be sufficient, particularly when selecting specific grades like 316.

3. Weight Considerations:

  • Is weight reduction a critical factor for your project (e.g., aerospace, automotive)? If yes, titanium’s lower density can provide weight savings.
  • Is the weight of the material less critical in your project? If yes, stainless steel can be a suitable choice.

4. Thermal Properties:

  • Does your project require a material with low thermal conductivity? If yes, consider titanium.
  • Is a higher thermal conductivity desired for your project? If yes, stainless steel may be a better fit.

5. Fabrication and Machining:

  • Is it crucial for the material to be easily machined and fabricated? If yes, stainless steel tends to be easier to work with.
  • Can you accommodate the specific machining and fabrication requirements of titanium? If yes, and other factors favor titanium, consider it for your project.

6. Cost:

  • Is your project budget-sensitive? If yes, stainless steel is generally more cost-effective.
  • Can your project justify a higher material and processing cost for the benefits of titanium? If yes, consider titanium.

7. Biocompatibility:

  • Is your project related to the medical or dental industry, where biocompatibility is crucial? If yes, both titanium and certain stainless steel grades (e.g. 316L) are suitable, but titanium is often preferred.

Spex is an ISO 9001:2015 certified precision machine shop in Rochester, NY. We machine thousands of unique metal and polycarbonate parts every month for different industries around the world. Reach out to our team to see if we can help with your next project. 

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