In the Global Powder Metallurgy Review session at the PM2012 Powder Metallurgy World Congress in Yokohama, Japan, October 14-18, Matthew Bulger, President of the Metal Powder Industries Federation (MPIF), focused on recent trends in the North American PM industry.
Bulger stated that iron powder shipments increased by 3% in 2011 to 327,447 mt despite the two month shut down of one of the major powder suppliers.
Iron powder shipments have grown by almost 9% in the first 8 months of 2012 to 239,446 tons, said Bulger, thanks to the continuing revival of vehicle production in the region. With U.S. light vehicle sales expected to exceed 14.8 million over the whole of 2012, many PM parts makers, especially those focusing on the automotive sector, are again experiencing double-digit growth.
The MPIF estimates that the average PM parts content per typical vehicle is set to increase to 19.8 kg in 2012, which is double that of Japan or Europe. This is said to give PM parts a 30% share of all engine parts and includes powder forged connecting rods, bearing caps, valve seat inserts, VVT parts, etc. Bulger said that potential growth for PM in the automotive sector appears more likely in transfer case and transmission applications.
However, Bulger warned that the upsurge in North American vehicle production will pose a serious capacity issue for the PM industry which saw plant closures, the scrapping of older equipment and staff cuts of 20 to 30% during the depth of the last recession in 2009. Many PM parts producers supplying the automotive sector are already straining to meet growing demand, and compacting press capacity in the larger compacting press size range, especially above 700 tons, is a serious constraint.
In 2011, 15 compacting presses were shipped to the North American PM industry, up from only 9 presses shipped in 2010. Bulger said it could take around 12 months to build a high-end powder press and put it into production. Another serious constraint is said to be a shortage of skilled employees after the deep cut backs three years ago. ‘Playing catch up now is painful and PM executives are experiencing the same difficulty with employee skills facing the entire auto-supply sector’, stated Bulger.
Bulger added that the other sectors of PM such as metal injection moulding (MIM), and hot isostatic pressing (HIP), were also doing well. MIM production, which is less reliant on the automotive sector than conventional PM parts, grew by nearly 40% in 2011, whilst HIP sector experienced robust growth due to the general surge in demand from the oil-and-gas, tool steel, and aerospace markets. PM HIP now accounts for around 30% of the HIP market with the remainder being the HIPing of castings.
The growing demand for lightweight materials is encouraging new attention aimed at PM aluminium, titanium, and magnesium structural applications, stated Bulger. Just one example is the recent qualification by Boeing of PM titanium alloy products for commercial aircraft use as an alternative to machining parts from bar, plate, castings, forgings, or extruded products.
Bulger reported that an updated ‘PM Industry Roadmap’, a project of MPIF’s Technical Board, Industry Development Board, and numerous additional industry experts, was released earlier this year. Based on the first Roadmap completed in 2001, the update shows that the industry has made steady progress in high-density processing, new materials, 3-D additive manufacturing systems, modelling, and advanced manufacturing methods.
Looking ahead, the new Roadmap identifies three main topics that will impact the industry’s growth: high-density PM components, processing of lightweight materials, and electrical and electromagnetic applications. While the current PM industry is driven by automotive applications, growth in the next decade must be found in other markets. The overall need for alternative energy sources should open new markets and applications for PM.
The MPIF has, in conjunction with the publication of the new Roadmap, also produced a brief video which describes the technical barriers, challenges, opportunities, and priorities that are expected to drive the PM industry’s continued growth over the next 10 years. The video can seen on the MPIF website www.mpif.org