1) Have the products of Ushba been tested? Yes. Initial laboratory strength-tests are first performed during the prototype stage. Then, at the conclusion of the field-testing phase, additional testing takes place at an independent, certified laboratory in the United States. These tests are performed using methods and criteria which meet or exceed current standards (CE, UIAA, etc.). For applicable products, we go a step further by submitting them to an authorized testing facility in Europe for full certification as per European Norms (CE Norms). Currently, this final step is in progress for several of the new offerings. Yes, the gear does meet or exceed the standards. For example, the CE Norms for ice screw strength is 10 kN; the new Ultimate Ice Screw withstands forces in excess of 17 kN (+3800 lb)! Comparable strengths can be found with other Ushba products as well. Lab testing is great, but we continue our testing regimen in the real world via ongoing field-testing by some of the worlds’ top climbers.
2) Is it true that titanium becomes brittle when cold? No. In fact, unlike steel and aluminum, the bond of the molecular structure of titanium actually becomes stronger as the temperature drops. This is a common misconception about Ti climbing equipment--- it is not inherently brittle.
3) Is it true that steel screws place easier than Ti screws? Not necessarily. The ease of placement of ice screws is a function of design rather than the material utilized. Until recently, the general perception of Ti ice screws as "leavers" has been as a result of cheap, sub par designed and machined "gray-market" screws, of dubious origin, originating from behind the Iron Curtain. Although Ti screws are almost half the weight of steel screws, it is still the design that makes the difference. To experience the difference that design attributes can make, try the new Ushba Ultimate Screw and Pound-In which utilize the stronger/more durable Ti-Spec alloy.
4) Is it true that Ti is susceptible to work-hardening and stress/fatigue cracks? Titanium exhibits work-hardening rates which are less than steel, and Ti actually has a higher fatigue strength. Regardless, the occurrence of work-hardening is more a function of machining expertise (or lack thereof) than the material itself. Related to this, the proper heat-treating and machining of Ti, as with any metal, is critical in order to avoid stress and fatigue cracks. Further, fatigue-strength is not as great of a problem as one might think when it comes to Ti climbing equipment. To illustrate this, Ti aircraft/spacecraft components, for example, may be subjected to roughly 100,000 to 1,000,000 or more ‘cycles’ per flight, whereas climbing equipment might be subjected to only 100 to 1,000 cycles per lifetime.
5) Why doesn’t Ushba make a titanium carabiner? Ti is strong, lightweight, and versatile. However, the technology of bending titanium rods to an angle greater than 90 degrees (as would be needed to fabricate a carabiner) has been elusive. Of course, a carabiner could be made from a cast-molding, but it is difficult to control the crystalline structure of Ti when it is re-heated to the melting point. Besides, aluminum biners are very light, strong, affordable, and dependable. Ti carabiners do exist, however their attributes are often inappropriate for climbing applications, and the quality control employed to date has not yet satisfied Ushba’s standards.
6) I have been buying Ti ice screws for years, paying as little as $5/screw. Why are Ushba’s ice screws expensive? Ushba does not economize when it comes to a climber’s safety. Sub par screws will continue to trickle into the West as long as climbers and speculators continue to purchase gray-market screws. While most of those screws are probably O.K. from a safety standpoint, don’t expect stellar performance. Ushba’s screws combine special titanium alloys and designs that put them on par with the finest steel screws available; these are not "leaver" pieces. Thankfully, the new market economies of Eastern Europe have all but eliminated the speculative nature of gray-market climbing products. Whether or not you decide to purchase Ushba products, buy your Ti gear only from established and reputable companies. It is also important to note that Ushba’s material costs are higher than those who work primarily with steel and aluminum. For example, the cost of carbon steel is about .25 cents per pound whereas Ti costs between $10 to $15 per pound. Consumers should also know that Ushba products are often more expensive than comparable products because we do not cut corners when it comes to safety, quality materials, state-of-the-art machining, and a very skilled production team.
OVERVIEW: Titanium, the worlds 4th most abundant structural metal, was first isolated almost 200 years ago and was appropriately named after the powerful mythological first sons of the earth—the Titans. The titanium industry as we know it today is just 40 years old. Only recently has mainstream production become technically and economically feasible. Although titanium (Ti) is the 9th most abundant element, constituting about 0.63% of the Earth’s crust, it is expensive to process and requires state-of-the-art manufacturing machinery, and skilled, knowledgeable engineers and machinists to fabricate finished products.
ALLOYS: When discussing titanium, one must realize that Ti can take many different forms (alloys). Ti combines well with most metals and, depending on the recipe used to create the soup (alloy), Ti can exhibit any number of characteristics in a variety of applications. For example, the ‘commercially pure’ (CP) alloy, which is roughly 99% titanium, is relatively soft. Conversely, the alloy commonly known as ‘Ti64’ (Ti-6% Aluminum-4% Vanadium) is commonly used as a lightweight substitute for steel. While the strength of 316 stainless steel is about 70,000 psi, Ti64 has a tensile strength of approximately 135,000 psi. In short, a variety of Ti alloys are available, but selecting the proper alloy for a given application depends on the desired attributes of the finished product. The key to utilizing its unique properties is more in product design, rather than simply substituting titanium for another metal.
MECHANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: On average (depending on the specific alloy), Ti is as strong as steel, yet 40% lighter. It is immune to corrosion from salt water and most industrial and organic chemicals. Also, it is a "self-healing" metal, meaning that scratches/abrasions on the surface finish are immediately ‘healed’ in the presence of oxygen or water (no oxidation or rust). Depending on the product design, heat treatment, and alloy used, Ti can be soft or hard, flexible or stiff, as heavy as steel, or as light as aluminum. In short, it is a versatile material which can exhibit a variety of mechanical properties. For example, Ushba’s new Ti-Spec alloy offers an increase in strength which is nearly double of that found in previous Ti screws (65 ksi/450 Mpa for Ti-Spec compared to 35 ksi/240Mpa for generic Ti)!
USHBA’S TITANIUM PROGRAM: Ushba views titanium as a viable, and often superior, material for climbing and safety equipment because lightweight, reliability, and strength are critical. The production facilities, physicists, engineers, and machinists we work with are experienced, knowledgeable and use specialized tools and state-of-the-art machinery to produce Ushba’s titanium equipment. And, the products are designed and created by climbers. We purchase our titanium materials from a producer which is certified by more than 520 world-recognized quality-control standards including ISO 9000, ASTM, and various aerospace certifications. In fact, companies such as GE, Pratt and Whitney, Rolls Royce and others also purchase materials for their critical components (jet turbines, for example) from these same facilities.