The impact of the global financial crisis on Japan’s PM industry
Japan’s PM industry relies heavily on the production of parts used in the automotive industry. With more than 90% of PM parts manufactured in Japan destined for automotive applications, the PM industry was severely hit by the global financial crisis of 2008/9 and the resulting downturn in auto sales.
Figures show that demand for PM machine parts in Japan, which includes automotive, industrial and electronic applications, fell around 33% in 2009 to 69,754 mt.
Iron powder shipments for 2009 also dropped to 159,704 mt (of which 79,699 mt were for PM applications, 60,225 mt for other applications and 19,780 mt for export). Copper powder shipments were recorded at 5,729 mt (of which 4,218 mt for PM, 841 mt other and 670 mt for export). The demand for PM bearings, of which around 60% are used in vehicles, also dropped in 2009 to a total of 4,887 mt.
2010 data points to a strong recovery
The resurgence of the global automotive industry has significantly boosted demand for PM components in Japan. Although not yet at 2007’s levels, Japan’s PM industry showed good signs of recovery in 2010. Machine part production was up 37% on 2009 levels, to 95,893 mt.
Likewise, total demand for iron powder rose almost 30% to 206,058 mt (of which 111,064 mt was for PM, 64,960 mt for other and 30,034 mt for export). Copper powder shipments rose to a total of 8,194 mt (of which 5,791 mt was for PM, 1,219 for other and 1,185 for export). PM bearings production increased 47% to 6,628 mt.
Asia: PM markets and applications
The automotive sector is the main customer for the majority of PM parts manufacturers in Asia, with a few notable exceptions such as those in Taiwan and Singapore. Table 2 gives a breakdown of the main application areas for PM parts.
Just over half of all PM parts found in automotive applications are used in engines, with drive trains accounting for 25% of parts produced. Fig. 1 shows the breakdown of applications for sintered components in a typical Japanese car. Fig. 2 shows applications for PM bearings in the typical Japanese car, with some 55% of PM bearings used in electrical applications.
Regional variations: PM production in Asia
As previously mentioned, China now leads the way in the production of iron and copper base PM component production in Asia. Less affected by the automotive crisis, with just over 60% of its PM parts being used in automotive production, China witnessed continued growth during 2009 and 2010.
China now accounts for 35% of iron and copper based PM part production in Asia, whilst Japan has seen its market share fall from 34% in 2008 to 24% in 2010.
Korea now accounts for 15% of PM parts production and India is at 12% for the region.
It remains to be seen how the Japanese PM industry will be affected in 2011 following the tragic earthquake and tsunami that hit the country earlier this year. Automotive production was seriously affected following the disaster, so this will have consequences for the entire automotive supply chain in the region. Many cars and components are exported, so the global demand for automobiles will also be a major influence over the coming months.
However, new applications for powder metallurgy components are of course always being identified. The development of more hybrid and electric vehicles will set new challenges for the industry. Smaller internal combustion engines could mean less use (by weight) of traditional PM components, however the increase in the use of electric motors offers new opportunities.
Japanese companies have already developed applications for PM based soft magnetic composites and other PM parts used in hybrids. For example, Honda uses a PM soft magnetic iron rotor core produced by Hitachi Powdered Metals Ltd in its electric motor weighing some 3.8 kg, and the Toyota Prius HEV uses a sinter-brazed planetary gear weighing close to 2 kg for the reduction in the powertrain, and a VVT system, which utilises several PM parts.
Toyota also adopted the first electric-powered water pump that draws its energy from the battery to reduce friction loss through precise control of the coolant water flow rate and an electrically operated drive belt.
Further proof that the Japanese PM industry is actively developing and seeking new applications for powder metallurgy can be seen in the many JPMA PM Awards presented during 2010.
- Visit the JPMA website
- Download the Call for Papers for the 2012 Powder Metallurgy World Congress, Yokahama
Author: Paul Whittaker, Editor ipmd.net, [email protected]