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Rare Metal Materials and Engineering Volume 39, Issue 6, June 2010 Online English edition of the Chinese

language journal Cite this article as: Rare Metal Materials and Engineering, 2010, 39(6): 09630968.


Three Dimensional FEM Simulation of Titanium Hollow Blade Forming Process

Zhao Bing1,2,

Li Zhiqiang2,

Hou Hongliang2,

Liao Jinhua2,

Bai Bingzhe1

Tsinghua University, Beijing 100081,China; Beijing Aeronautical Manufacture Technology Research Institute, Beijing 100024,China

Abstract: With the introduction of high by-pass turbofan engines into both commercial and military aircraft industries, the fabrication of large size fan blade through superplastic forming/diffusion bonding (SPF/DB) has become a pivotal technique of turbine fan engine. There are three key steps to form a hollow blade: twisting, hot forming and SPF. In this study, a three dimensional finite element method (FEM) model is established to simulate the forming process of titanium fan blade, in which the mechanical behavior of TC4 obeys Backofens equation. Based on the numerical modeling, the influences of key factors such as the twisting rate, descending velocity, frictional coefficient, strain rate, the sheet thickness ratio of core sheet to face sheet on the forming force were studied. The results show that with increasing of the twisting rate, descending velocity, strain rate, the sheet thickness ratio of core sheet to face sheet, the forming forces increase; however the frictional coefficient has little influence on the forming force. Key words: titanium alloy; hollow blade; finite element method(FEM); superplastic forming (SPF)

SPF/DB techniques have been widely used in the production of many types of hollow metallic sandwich type fabrications with an internal structure, such as airframe and aero-engine components. Since titanium alloy has excellent ability of superplasticity and diffusion bonding, the SPF/DB process was introduced to produce complex, lightweight and strong integral components made from titanium-based alloys, such as fan blades, or fan duct outlet guide vanes for gas-turbine engines[1-3].The wide-chord fan blade is the most typical structure that can be fabricated through SPF/DB process at the present time, and it has become a pivotal technology for high thrust-to-weight turbine fan engine. Rolls-Royce has adopted SPF to manufacture high strength, lightweight components and leads the field of hollow, wide-chord fan blades production[4]. Since last few years, the simulation of SPF process by FEM has received considerable attention. A number of theoretical and numerical analyses have been performed for modeling SPF[5-8]. The rigid visco-plastic FEM provides a tool for the analysis of superplastic mechanism with accurate prediction of the deformation behavior and of the final

thickness distribution[9-11]. However, few papers were reported on simulating the forming process of hollow blades through three dimensional FEM. In the present work, the forming process of hollow blade is simulated through a three dimensional FEM model. Forming force and air pressure cycle under different conditions are analyzed. These works will help the design and the fabrication of titanium hollow blades.


Finite Element Model

Geometry model

Fig.1 shows internal structure of a practical hollow blade supplied by Rolls-Royce. The contour of a fan blade is decided by two three-dimensional surfaces as shown in Fig.2. Before the forming process, sheets are firstly put down in layers; heat and pressure are then used to bond sheets together in the diffusion bonded region. Subsequently, there are three steps to form a hollow blade after the diffusion bonding process. Therefore, three forming dies are needed: twisting dies, hot forming dies and SPF dies. Fig.3 shows the three dimensional FEM model of forming proc-

Received date: June 12, 2009 Corresponding author: Zhao Bing, Candidate for Ph. D., Senior Engineer, Titanium and Titanium Alloy Machining and Forming Center, Beijing Aeronautical Manufacturing Technology Research Institute, Beijing 100024, P. R. China, Tel: 0086-10-85701254, E-mail: Copyright 2010, Northwest Institute for Nonferrous Metal Research. Published by Elsevier BV. All rights reserved.


Zhao Bing et al. / Rare Metal Materials and Engineering, 2010, 39(6): 09630968


Internal structure of a titanium hollow blade b Twisting die Hot forming die

SPF die b


Geometry model and FEM meshes: (a) front view and (b) back view

rate, m is strain rate sensitivity exponent, and k is a constant of the material. At the deforming temperature of 925 oC, k is 1200 N/(m2s) and m is 0.6.


Boundary conditions


External surfaces of a blade: (a) surface one and (b) surface two

ess. In this model, the thickness of the face sheet is 1.76-4.0 mm and the thickness of the core sheet varies from 0.6 to 1.2 mm. The elements meshes used in this analysis are composed of 480 hexahedral solid elements. For the purpose of avoiding excessive deformation in local region, the elements locating at both sides of diffusion bonded region are treated to possess the same nodes.

Fig.4 shows the boundary conditions at different forming stages. As shown in Fig.4a, in twisting process, one edge of the sheet pack is in fixing, the other edge parallel to the previous edge runs with the twisting die around z axis, and the rotary angle is 67. In hot forming process, in order to avoid the sheet pack swimming in hot forming dies along z and x direction, the displacement in z direction is set as zero at the edge of the sheet pack as shown in Fig.4b. The displacement in z and x direction is also set as zero in the middle of one edge of the sheet pack as shown in Fig.4c. In SPF process, a gas pressure is imposed on the inner surfaces of face sheets as shown in Fig.4d.


Results and Discussions

Typical process


Constitutive equation

The material of hollow blade is TC4 alloy, whose mechanical behavior at high temperature and low strain rate is characterized by Backofens equation: &m (1) = k Where is real effective stress, & is real effective strain

Fig.5 is the effective stress distribution during the forming process in a typical working condition, while the twisting rate is 0.0621 /s, the descending velocity of the hot forming die is 0.2015 mm/s and the target strain rate is 2.010-4 /s. One advantage of finite element modeling for SPF is that any step of the whole process can be observed


Zhao Bing et al. / Rare Metal Materials and Engineering, 2010, 39(6): 09630968

y z c x z

y x d c d

y z x z

y x Fig.6 Effective strain distribution in different forming stages: (a) 0 s, (b) 1000 s, (c) 1100 s, and (d) 1600 s


Boundary conditions: (a) twisting forming, (b) hot forming, (c) hot forming, and (d) SPF

gion between the core sheet and face sheet also has the same strain level compared with the other region.

a b

Influence of the twisting rate of twisting die

Fig.7 shows the influence of twisting rate on the torque at 925 oC. As the twisting rate increases, the torque will increase notably. The maximal torque is about 7500 Nm and the forming time is about 4 min at a twisting rate of 0.2484 /s. This result indicates that the flow stress of a superplastic alloy is strongly linked to the inelastic strain rate.

c d

Influence of the descending velocity of hot forming dies

Fig.8 shows the influence of the descending velocity of hot forming dies on the forming force. As the descending velocity of hot forming die increases, the forming force will increase remarkably. The forming force increases from 3800 N to 10000 N while the descending velocity increases from 0.0504 mm/s to 0.4029 mm/s. At 925 oC, the peak forming force is only around 10000 N; therefore, large
Fig.5 Equivalent stress distribution at different forming stages: (a) 0 s, (b) 1000 s, (c) 1100 s, and (d) 1600 s

8000 0.2484 /s
Torque /Nm

6000 4000 2000 0 0


easily. It can be seen that the maximal effective stress is around 46.28 MPa during the twisting and hot forming process; however, the maximal equivalent stress in SPF process is only 11 MPa. Fig.6 shows the effective strain distribution in the same working condition. During SPF process, it is noted that the core sheet, which is thinner than the outer sheet, still has the same level of effective strain distribution with the face sheets. The diffusion bonded re-

0.1242 /s 0.0621 /s 0.0311 /s

o o


1000 1500 Time/s



Influence of twisting rate on torque


Zhao Bing et al. / Rare Metal Materials and Engineering, 2010, 39(6): 09630968

12000 10000
Forming Force/N

0.4029 mm/s
Forming Force/N

8000 6000 4000 2000 0 1000 1020 1040 1060 1080 1100 1120 1140 Time/s
Fig.9 Friction influences on hot forming force

8000 6000 4000 2000 0 0

0.2015 mm/s 0.1007 mm/s 0.0504 mm/s

0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4






Fig.8 Influence of descending velocity on forming force

tonnage equipment is not necessary for hot forming process.

20 15 10 5 0 0.0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4


Influence of the friction coefficient

Gas Pressure/MPa

Gas Pressure/MPa

The Marc code uses different models for the friction. In our process, the Coulomb friction is a more reliable one, in the classical formulation Ffr= Fn (2) Where Ffr is the tangential force between two bodies in contact, Fn is the relative normal reaction and is the Coulomb friction coefficient. Fig.9 shows the influence of friction coefficient on forming force. In hot forming process, supposing the twisting rate is 0.1242 /s, when the friction coefficient increases from 0.1 to 0.4, the forming force is almost unchangeable. Fig.10 shows the influence of friction coefficient on SPF pressure cycle. Similarly, when the friction coefficient increases from 0 to 0.4, the gas pressure changes little. Because the friction coefficient has little influence on the forming force, it is reasonable that lubricants are not necessary in hot forming and SPF process.



1600 Time/s




Friction influences on SPF pressure cycle

20 15 10 5 0 1000
1.010 /s -4 2.010 /s -4 5.010 /s -3 1.010 /s -3 5.010 /s


Influence of the target strain rate on pressure cycle

In order to optimize the superplastic forming processes, it is necessary to control the strain rate induced in the material by the pressure gas. This control ensures high deformability. In general, there are two approaches used in the finite element analysis of SPF process. The first approach uses a forming pressure profile based on a constant strain rate in the sheet. The second approach uses an optimum forming pressure profile derived from a certain failure criterion. In this paper, the first approach is adopted. Therefore, the strain rate must be kept below some characteristic value. This can be realized by controlling the pressure cycle. Fig.11 shows the forming pressure profiles at different strain rates calculated by finite element analysis. It can be seen that the gas pressure will increase with time running on, and then stay at a certain value of 15 MPa to the end. This indicates that the face sheet has touched the dies in the second period. At a certain forming time, it is observed that higher gas pressure is required for higher target strain

1500 Time/s




Pressure cycle at different strain rates

rate forming. This is because the higher flow stress is associated with higher strain rate. However, the gas pressure reaches the same value of 15 MPa despite the dissimilar gas pressure increasing stage. The forming time is 1550 s at 5.0 10-3 /s, significantly reducing from 2210 s at 1.010-4 /s; it can be seen that the forming time will be saved with a high strain rate. In view of the height the cross section of hollow blade is not high and the deformation degree in SPF process is not intensive, so a high strain rate is preferred in SPF process.

2.6 Influence of the sheet thickness ratio on pressure cycle

During the forming process, the geometry parameters always have significant influence on forming force as well


Zhao Bing et al. / Rare Metal Materials and Engineering, 2010, 39(6): 09630968

as the processing parameters. In this work, the influence of thickness ratio between core sheet and face sheet is focused on. It is supposed that while the thickness of core sheet changes from 0.6 to 1.2 mm, the total thickness of the sheet package is unchangeable. Fig.12 shows the influence of thickness ratio on SPF pressure cycle. Before 1500 s, the gas pressure is high upon high thickness ratio; contrarily, the gas pressure is high upon low thickness ratio after 1500 s and before the gas pressure attain to the peak value of 15 MPa. In spite of dissimilarity of the gas pressure profiles, the difference is not large upon different thickness ratio. While the thickness ratio is high, as a result, the face sheet thickness will be so thin to cause the grooves forming on the face sheet. Therefore, an excessively high thickness ratio is not advised. In this case, according to the calculating result, 0.6 is considered appropriate.

shows the hollow blade, from which we can see that the face sheets coincide with SPF model completely and the core sheet is formed into V-type ribsi, these facts verifies the exactness of simulating results, so the three dimensional finite element model can be directly for used the hollow blade forming process.



Typical SPF component

Simulative parts were fabricated under the conditions as simulated in Fig.5 and Fig.6. In the SPF process, a gas pressure shown in Fig.11 was applied, the peak gas pressure is 15 MPa, and the SPF time is about one half an hour. Fig.13
20 15 10 5 0.6 0.8 1.2

1) It is feasible to establish a three dimensional FEM model to simulate the forming process of a hollow blade. 2) The forming force has a strong dependence on the twisting rate and descending velocity of the hot forming die. However, friction coefficient has little influence on hot forming and SPF process. 3) The gas pressure profile in SPF process has the similar shape. In SPF process, the gas pressure always increases to a certain value of 15 MPa and keeps this value to the end. Target strain rate has a direct influence on SPF pressure cycle. With the increase of target strain rate, the gas pressure increases. The thickness ratio between the core sheet and face sheet has a slight influence on SPF pressure cycle.

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Gas Pressure/MPa



1600 Time/s




Pressure cycle with different thickness ratio


Typical parts of hollow blade: (a) transverse section of hollow blade part and (b) external surface of hollow blade part