Oral-History:Rodney R. (Rod) Boyer

From ETHW

About Rodney R. Boyer[edit | edit source]

Rod Boyer

As a titanium specialist at Boeing, since 1965, Rod Boyer has been involved in basic research, development and application of titanium alloys for airframes.  His efforts have been directed toward furthering the understanding of the metallurgy of titanium, i.e., the effects of processing variations, resulting in microstructural variations, on the properties of titanium alloys.  He has done research on all product forms used on aircraft and studied almost all of the processes involved in the fabrication of titanium components, from mill processing to machining and chemical processing.  His efforts have led to the implementation of several new technologies on Boeing (and other) aircraft, including, high strength Ti-10V-2Fe-3Al forgings (used at the 173 ksi strength level), Ti-3Al-8V-6Cr-4Mo-4Zr springs, Ti-15V-3Cr-3Al-3Sn high strength castings and clock springs, titanium wear coatings on bearing surfaces, Ti-15V-3Cr-3Al-3Sn pneumatic ducts, Ti-6Al-2Sn-2Zr-2Mo-2Cr forgings and Beta 21S nacelle components.  The latter was an interesting experience in that it normally takes 10-20 years from the development of a new material to its production implementation.  In this instance it was about 3 years.  This meant that much of the process development, such as chemical processing, heat treating and welding, were being developed as production components were being built.  The above achievements were all first put into production at Boeing through the efforts of Mr. Boyer.  Implementation of each of these technologies involved Mr. Boyer leading a team of Boeing and multiple industry participants. During this period, he has been responsible for all of the titanium processing and procurement specifications, directing the company IR&D efforts, supporting any titanium fabrication or fleet problems, and qualification of new sources.

He directed the industrial effort on titanium alloy development for the NASA sponsored High Speed Civil Transport Program, is and has been involved in several Air Force sponsored Materials Affordability Initiative Programs.

He has co-edited 7 books, the most notable being the “Titanium Alloys Materials Properties Handbook” published by ASM.  He has about 300 technical presentations and publications, including 35 invited presentations at regional, national and international levels, with 7 plenary/keynote presentations at the national level and 11 at international symposia.

Further Reading[edit | edit source]

Access additional oral histories from members and award recipients of the AIME Member Societies here: AIME Oral Histories

About the Interview[edit | edit source]

Rod Boyer: An Interview conducted by Adam Pilchak in 2022 in Issaquah, Washington.

Copyright Statement[edit | edit source]

All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement between the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers and Rodney Boyer, dated March 31, 2022. The manuscript is thereby made available for research purposes. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers.

Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers, 12999 East Adam Aircraft Circle, Englewood, CO 80112, and should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Rodney Boyer, “Rodney R. (Rod) Boyer: The Ti Guy,” an oral history conducted by Adam Pilchak in 2022. AIME Oral History Program Series. American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers, Denver, CO, 2022

Interview Video[edit | edit source]

Interview[edit | edit source]

INTERVIEWEE: Rodney Boyer
INTERVIEWER: Adam Pilchak
DATE: 2022
PLACE: Issaquah, Washington

00:23 GROWING UP IN ABERDEEN, WASHINGTON – FAMILY & DECIDING TO BE AN ENGINEER[edit | edit source]

Adam Pilchak:

Hello, this is Adam Pilchak. I am currently the Director of Aerospace materials at Materials Resources, LLC. And, today I have the distinct pleasure of interviewing Rod Boyer for AIME's oral history project. The date is March 31st, 2022, and this is a second interview following up from another one we did December 9th, 2021. Rod Boyer is a longtime member of AIME and TMS and had many, many contributions to the field of titanium metallurgy and the aerospace industry. He finished his distinguished career as a consultant under his business, RBTi Consulting. Today we're going to talk a little bit about his experiences throughout his career and during his time growing up. Can you tell me about where you grew up?

Rodney Boyer:

I grew up in a city called Aberdeen in the state of Washington, a two-hour drive from Seattle. Well, I had one brother and a sister, and they were the youngest, and they're all gone. I worked at a pulp mill Monday through Friday, then I got three days off. Then the next week I worked swing shift, and then the next week I moved to graveyard shift. I didn't really appreciate that very well. So, that's when I knew I was going to be an engineer.

01:44 LEARNING TO BE AN ENGINEER – FROM COMMUNITY COLLEGE TO THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON[edit | edit source]

Rodney Boyer:

I worked for a year and a half after I got the degree at Grace Harbor Junior College. That's when I decided I don't want a nine to five job or eight hours every day. And, I finally got a chance to get into University of Washington. I got my Bachelor's in 1963 in metallurgical engineering.

Adam Pilchak:

What made you choose the University of Washington?

Rodney Boyer:

They had a good engineering school, and it was relatively close and not as expensive as some of the others. So, that's what took me there.

02:17 METALLURGICAL MEMORIES AND INFLUENCES[edit | edit source]

Adam Pilchak:

Were there any particular professors there that were very memorable to you? Anyone that influenced you in any particular way?

Rodney Boyer:

Probably my thesis advisor, Dr. Douglas Polonis. I remember on a blackboard; he could draw almost a perfect circle.

Adam Pilchak:

That's quite a feat.

Rodney Boyer:

I had a professor when I had a lab, I got put into trying to get single crystal zirconia. I took it through the cycle, and it got contaminated. And, I sarcastically said, “Geez, it looks like we rusted it.” And, I had a little thing about, maybe, an eighth of an inch thick, a little cross section of the circular rod that we were using to change the temperature from one end to the other. And, the professor, he saved a slice of that thing, and he had it on his desk for about 30 years. He came to an ASM meeting. I think I was talking at the end of the thing. He gave me that little piece that he had sitting on his desk for 30 years, and he even remembered what it was from; I was kind of amazed with that.

Adam Pilchak:

You shared the same advisor as Jim Williams. Any other memorable classmates from that time?

Rodney Boyer:

The only one I can remember is a guy who was in my high school class; he is the one who told me to take metallurgy. We had quite a few good students, but Jim was the best.

03:49 INTO THE WORKFORCE – A CAREER PATH LEADING TO BOEING[edit | edit source]

Adam Pilchak:

Out of grad school, did you go straight to Boeing or did you have any other jobs first?

Rodney Boyer:

I got an invitation to work from Makes for Rockets Totaling Rocket Motors. I started there in 1965, and apparently, they pissed off the Navy. They started into layoffs, and my understanding is it went from 20,000 to about 2,000 people in a couple of years. So, I got out of there.

I got a job down in California. And then, they had a layoff, and I'd only been there a couple months. And, their policy was, if you hadn't been there three months, you were automatically laid off. It just happened that I had an application in at Boeing. Just about the time that these guys laid me off, I got a telegram offer from Boeing. I had that offer, so I gave myself a week to look for a job. And, I took the offer and drove up to Seattle and went to Boeing.

04:51 THE BOEING YEARS – WORKING WITH JIM WILLIAMS[edit | edit source]

Rodney Boyer:

Jim was really [the one who] got me into becoming useful. I worked with him in the research on titanium when I started the supersonic. And so, I became an electron microscope guy. Jim and I did a lot of two or three years on that.

And then, I became a metallurgical engineer after that program faded. I worked on failure analysis and met lab and electron microscopy.

05:22 THE BOEING YEARS – TRAVELING THE WORLD AS A LEAD ENGINEER[edit | edit source]

Rodney Boyer:

The mid-seventies, when I started being the lead engineer, that opened up the door for me to do a lot of traveling, approve processes and approve new suppliers, approve castings, forgings, all that kind of stuff. I’ve been to every part of the world, except south America. But, I got trips to Australia and New Zealand, all over the U.S, all over Europe. I got to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Anyway, I've been all over the world, even in Africa.

05:57 THE BOEING YEARS – MEMORABLE PROJECTS & ACHIEVEMENTS[edit | edit source]

Adam Pilchak:

What were some of the most memorable programs for you that you worked on?

Rodney Boyer:

Well, I worked on the SST with Jim.

Adam Pilchak:

That's the supersonic transport?

Rodney Boyer:

Yeah. I got a lot of articles, but this is probably my biggest effort. I think it took about three or four years to get there.

Adam Pilchak:

Every titanium metallurgist on the planet appreciates that book right there, Rod, no doubt!

06:22 TALKING ABOUT TITANIUM – BECOMING THE “TI GUY”[edit | edit source]

Rodney Boyer:

When I became the titanium lead engineer, that just really set me off. I was already pretty familiar with titanium and had a fair amount of information about it. But, that was really the start of my career because, between Boeing and my consulting work, I was in titanium for probably about 50 years.

06:44 TALKING ABOUT TITANIUM – CHARACTERISTICS & APPLICATIONS[edit | edit source]

Adam Pilchak:

Titanium, what's unique about it, and some of its interesting characteristics and applications?

Rodney Boyer:

Titanium is a unique material, but it's very expensive. And so, I'm constantly doing work there so we can reduce the expense, because it's an excellent weight saving component. In addition, a low modulus has advantages for springs, and it’s an excellent material for aerospace, chemical, petrochemical, biomedical architecture, and special niche stuff.

In aerospace, the primary thing they're competing against is aluminum and steel. You have to have a really good process to replace aluminum because aluminum's got a weight advantage. Against steel. titanium has an advantage of about 40% in density, but it, again, is expensive to work with. So that's where most of the work is done is developing alloys processing which enable us to get there.

07:48 TALKING ABOUT TITANIUM – RATIONALE FOR USE[edit | edit source]

Adam Pilchak:

So, given that titanium is so expensive, you must need good rationale for its use. You mentioned certainly weight savings over steels and the low modulus to help with springs. Are there any other reasons one might consider using titanium in aerospace applications?

Rodney Boyer:

Temperature, you can go a lot higher in temperature with titanium than you can aluminum. With steel, you are fighting the fact that the steel is lower than the titanium. And, that's why we have to develop better alloys or processing means to get the higher strength so that you can make the gain and improve the life of the alloy.

Steel and aluminum have pretty good corrosion problems, and titanium is excellent. But, we’ve got to develop ways to now tie them together, so we can take care of that weight advantage.

Composite's compatibility is another big factor; more composites are going into aircraft. And, titanium is compatible with the composites, much more so than the aluminum. Sometimes you just use a joint or joining it against aluminum or steel against composites. If they can do it with titanium or aluminum, it's probably the cheapest way to go.

You’ve got the lower modulus, so that means you can go longer time in service and reduce weight. And, we use a lot of titanium in springs.

With stainless steel, you can bury that in the ocean, and it will eventually, after a number of years, even the stainless-steel pits, whereas the titanium does not. You just have to be careful about making sure that you haven't got abrasion going on or something someplace which will reduce or eliminate the oxide and corrosion proceeds.

With operating temperature, titanium is obviously better than the aluminum. It's not as good in aerospace applications, [it’s just] a standard alloy. You can't use it for a very high strength because the strength will just be reduced by the heat. But, we've developed higher temperature alloys with additional modifications so that the oxide can compete with the steels up to about generally 1100, but they're alloys which go to 1200. Some we use for a short time at high temperatures: titanium, 15 vanadium, 3 aluminum, 3 chrome.

I didn't mention the space limitations. We had part on a 757 where the wing design is set. And then, they come to build a part of the wing, and they find that the aluminum that they're trying to use isn't strong enough. And, this higher strength, low modulus allows the titanium to be used in those kinds of conditions. And, they survive quite well.

10:56 TALKING ABOUT TITANIUM – USE IN LANDING GEAR[edit | edit source]

Adam Pilchak:

It's been said that you're responsible for putting more titanium into the air than anyone else. One of the largest structures, one of the most important ones that you've done is introduced titanium landing gear, gigantic structures, where they're very difficult to produce and process. What kind of challenges did you encounter when trying to field titanium landing gear?

Rodney Boyer:

One of my prime development of the Ti-10V-2Fe-3Al alloy, which can be heat treated to 180 Ksi yield strength it's melting difficulties, et cetera, with that strength level, you can't tolerate very much anything, or it'll generate a crack. But, we had a few years of experience with a Spitfire VII, and its smaller parts.

And, the landing gear guy for the 777 actually selected it. He saw the properties. And, people were really anxious about it at first because of melting problems, defects, this kind of thing, because at that high strength, they're going to be big factors. We really jumped in, and you can see that all those named things are titanium 10-2-3 parts. And, they show how we get that weight savings.

Adam Pilchak:

And, which alloy was that, Rod, that you said that you developed that reduced that weight?

Rodney Boyer:

Ten, two, three.

12:19 TALKING ABOUT TITANIUM – USE IN THE SR-71[edit | edit source]

Adam Pilchak:

Did you work on the SR-71 program?

Rodney Boyer:

No, that’s data that I've gotten from Lockheed. We needed an alloy which could fly at high altitude for a spy mission. SR-71 was the first supersonic titanium of note. And, it's also resulted in the fastest and highest spying attributes. This is because they developed a beta alloy, what we call a beta alloy, which has got a higher beta content, so that you can strengthen it. So, when titanium was used on the airframe and all the wing and skin structure, that airplane flies at 3.5 Mach at about 85,000 feet. And, it's painted with radar absorbing black paint. I've talked to SR-71 pilots, and they say, they go over Russia, they fire a rocket, and they just turn on the fuel and outrun the thing. So, they work very well.

13:22 TALKING ABOUT TITANIUM – CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE AEROSPACE INDUSTRY[edit | edit source]

Adam Pilchak:

There's probably a small number of people on the planet that have taken an alloy from the development phase to putting it on an airplane. You did that multiple times?

Rodney Boyer:

Yes.

Adam Pilchak:

That's incredible!

Rodney Boyer:

And, I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I seem to have a knack for picking things at work. That was my bubble, to be able to develop new materials [during the] seventies, eighties, and, probably, at least the early nineties. I think I did more for the titanium industry and the aerospace industry than anybody. I developed several new alloys for strength, for super plastic forming, for formability, castings. I developed more products than anybody I've seen yet.

Adam Pilchak:

Is there one accomplishment, you know, one thing that you have flying that you're like, ah, that's the one, you know, that's the most important one I did.

Rodney Boyer:

Yeah, I took beta 3 and made springs out of it. And that's with the fact that you got half the modulus, and that means you need half the coils. So, now you can actually make them cheaper than steel. Ever since I developed that, we've used titanium springs and landing gears.

14:40 TALKING ABOUT TITANIUM – TECHNICAL SOCIETY MEMBERSHIPS AND RECOGNITIONS[edit | edit source]

Adam Pilchak:

So, Rod, were you a member of any technical societies?

Rodney Boyer:

Oh, god, yes. I was always in ASM and TMS and AIME. I was definitely involved, and I was probably most heavily involved with ASM.

Adam Pilchak:

On some of the committees, maybe?

Rodney Boyer:

I was always also on the board for ASM.

Adam Pilchak:

And, I think you were a member of the TMS titanium committee for a long time, if I'm not mistaken?

Rodney Boyer:

Yeah, that's true, probably 30 years.

Adam Pilchak:

When you stopped being the liaison to the international titanium association -- so, you were a really longstanding liaison between those two organizations -- and, since then, we've struggled to keep somebody in that for more than a year. That was a great service you did back then.

Rodney Boyer:

Well, I appreciate it.

Adam Pilchak:

One award on the list here seems like a little bit of an oddball. So, I'm going to ask about that one first. You've had this wonderful career putting titanium all over aircraft, but in 1994 you received the ASTM Russ Ogden award for contributions to reactive and refractory metals. So, I'm curious about your work with the reactive and refractory metals.

Rodney Boyer:

No, I don't even remember much about that.

Adam Pilchak:

[Laugh] Alright.

Rodney Boyer:

I mean, there's only one system that is really good. And, that's titanium.

Adam Pilchak:

Yes, sir.