Expanding the market for Powder Metallurgy: Developments at Höganäs’s PoP Centre
Höganäs opened its PoP Centre, located at its headquarters in Höganäs, Sweden, in October 2009 in order to help further the development and awareness of powder metallurgy technology and to showcase PM’s potential to end-users. The centre provides technical help and support for all aspects of the PM process, from component design to material selection and manufacturing.
“We believe that working with the entire value chain is necessary in order to expand the market for PM applications and to push the limits for PM solutions,” Ola Litström, Manager of Product and Application Development at Höganäs, told ipmd.net. “We therefore wanted to bring together expertise on PM materials, processes and application design under one roof and generated the idea of a PoP Centre”.
“Considering that we were in the middle of a recession, the opening of the PoP Centre was a bold initiative,” stated Litström. “It also sent a strong message to the market about Höganäs’ belief in the future of the industry, and about our commitment to promoting the competitiveness of metal powder technology,” he continued.
In the wider PM community, the PoP Centre might have been mistaken for a move into PM component production but, states the company, it had always been about finding new application areas for PM technology and to advance the industry as a whole.
A key aim of the PoP Centre was to provide a comprehensive range of resources and services, especially in areas such as pressing and prototype manufacturing. “While Höganäs has many years experience of working with materials and sintering processes, the company felt that bringing in experts in the adjacent technology areas such as compaction, tooling and machining, would be useful,” stated Litström. For this reason, Höganäs decided to work closely with two leading experts, compaction press manufacturer Dorst Technologies and tool manufacturer Alvier PM-Technology AG, and to invest in a multi-platen CNC 800-ton compaction press.
“Two other important investments were a state-of the art CNC turning lathe and a 5 axis CNC milling centre that provided new capabilities to map and verify the performance of materials, newly developed machining enhancers and components in order to arrive at optimum machining solutions for the customers,” added Mats Larsson, Manager of Compaction and Sintering Development at Höganäs.
Meeting development needs
The field of electromagnetic applications has been the most demanded area since the centre was opened. “Cooperation with Dorst and Alvier meant Höganäs could hit the ground running to meet compaction needs and make more complex-shaped parts for innovative electromagnetic designs,” explained Larsson. “Customers have the opportunity to test, compact and heat treat new electric motor parts in the PoP Centre and to find the best, compaction-friendly designs.”
For the PM components area, a large part of the centre’s work has been devoted to the manufacturing of blanks for prototyping as well as pilot manufacturing of, for example, SMC parts. In 2010 alone, Höganäs received around 70 orders for blanks for use in testing material properties, for rapid prototyping of components and for verification of new design concepts. During this time 14 different tool sets were run on the PoP centres presses and several new ones have been ordered, the company told ipmd.net.
“PM Conversion projects for high-performance transmission gears and synchronizer components have also proved of great interest to customers and end-users,” commented Litström. “The customer decides the extent to which they use the centre’s resources and expertise, but there are possibilities to carry out complete application development projects.”
A good example, states the company, of how well the PoP Centre concept can work for everyone is an assembled camshaft application. The project started at a PoP seminar in India 16 months ago where Höganäs presented new wear resistant PM materials for a camshaft application to an Indian OEM. “Working through the centre has enabled the creation of a four-way partnership between end-user, system supplier, assembly technology provider and Höganäs to develop and prototype complete camshaft assemblies ready for engine testing,” Litström explained.
Besides PM components, the centre provides a full range of services for all of Höganäs’ metal powder applications such as electromagnetic applications, surface coating and laser cladding, filter technology, brazing and metal injection moulding (MIM).
The company added that the PoP Centre has proved to have a global appeal for customers and end-users. “There has been a worldwide interest especially from growing markets such as Asia, India, South America and Russia where customers have limited resources and can benefit considerably from Höganäs’ capabilities,” continued Litström. “In Europe and North America, there has been a lot of interest from small and medium-sized companies, realising that Höganäs can help them in developing more cost-efficient solutions and adding value to their application development and process optimisation projects. Interestingly, all markets are beginning to take great interest especially for high strength gear activities,” he added.
Höganäs states that closer cooperation with customers and better understanding of application performance requirements has meant more focused and accelerated development of their own powder products. “A few examples are the new Intralube® E mix solution for more efficient lubrication, the new machining enhancers MnM and SM3 for improved machinability of PM steels, the 1P1S high density compaction solution Hipaloy® for wrought steel material performances and the lean Distaloy® AQ for more cost effective heat treated applications, which won an EPMA Award for Excellence in PM in 2010,” Litström stated.
Demonstrating the capabilities of PM
The PoP Centre also promotes the potential of PM through a wide range of activities such as customised training and seminars for customers and end-users. The possibilities of high load-carrying PM gears have been highlighted in numerous events and through two high-profile activities, the gear box conversion of a Smart car and sponsorship of the Ramona Rallying Team with high-performing PM gears.
“The Smart car project aims to show the potential of PM gears to replace solid steel gears in small car transmissions,” stated Litström. Fitted with seven sintered gears, the Smart car was driven from Höganäs in Sweden to Florence in Italy for the PM industry’s World Congress, and then back again. “By the end of the journey, the car had covered more than 70,000 kilometres without any gear-related issues. The goal is to reach 200,000 km.” Besides Florence, the car has been exhibited at the international transmission symposium in Berlin, Germany, and at the JSAE expo in Yokohama, Japan.
In a similar conversion project, a sintered and hot isostatic pressed (HIPed) fourth gear set was fitted in a high performance non-synchronised gear box of a 600 Nm rally car for last year’s rally season. “The gear was designed and prototyped at the PoP Centre in close cooperation with partner and gear manufacturer Swepart Transmission,” explained Litström. “The results were so good that the rally car’s gearbox will be fully converted to gears made of metal powder during 2011,” he added.
Investing in the future
Höganäs states that the resources of the PoP Centre are being continuously improved and upgraded. “Future plans include two further investments aimed at advancing transmission gear conversions – a new advanced press tool adaptor system for pressing helical gears and a FZG gear-testing rig for generating gear design relevant data and for studying PM gear efficiencies,” commented Litström. “To better support customers globally, an extension of the PoP Centre was inaugurated in India in January 2011,” he stated.
The PoP Centre has come a long way in a short time and proved the value of creating an innovative platform for successful expansion of PM technology into new application areas. Höganäs state that the positive response of the industry and many OEMs to both the PoP Centre concept and the resulting projects has far exceeded their expectations. “By pushing the limits of PM technology and developing new applications, Höganäs wants to continue to improve the competitiveness of the industry and to generate new business opportunities for everyone involved,” concluded Litström.
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