Automotive market trends
While different experts point to US auto sales peaking and contracting this year to about 17 million to 17.2 million light vehicles, the short-term outlook for PM parts sales remains relatively stable and positive. The reasons include: new applications; new product launches and more value-added production steps such as automatic inspection; more overall automation; and relying more on grinding, turning, and milling for closer tolerances.
The best-selling light trucks with V-8 engines and SUVs continue their normal PM parts content of up to 27 kg (60 lb) or more. Crossover vehicles carry an estimated 20.2 kg (45 lb) of PM parts, and passenger cars contain about 10.8 kg (24 lb) on average.
GM and Chrysler vehicles still use six-speed transmissions that contain an estimated 10.3 to 12.1 kg (23 to 27 lb) of PM parts. Newer eight and nine-speed transmissions account for the same or fewer pounds. Variable valve timing (VVT) systems, using up to 2.7 kg (6 lb) of PM parts in larger engines, will continue to grow.
It was stated that recent trends include new applications in automotive electric power trains, the development of more complicated gearing, and new wear coatings on moving parts. Aluminium PM parts will see strong gains as automotive designers strive to reduce vehicle weight. A new and exciting PM aluminium transmission part is set to go into production this year.
Many experts see the average PM parts content in light vehicles gradually shrinking every year as smaller engines and transmissions are designed, added McGeehan. Some of the newer vehicles will contain 2.7 to 3.6 fewer kilograms (6 to 8 lb). Looking ahead, production in North America and Europe will stabilize while Asia (mainly China) will grow long term. For example, China produced 25.2 million light vehicles in 2016. This year Chinese production is projected to rise to 26.8 million vehicles.
Powder Metallurgy equipment trends
According to the 2017 MPIF Pulse Survey among members of the Powder Metallurgy Equipment Association (PMEA), the majority of equipment builders forecast a stable capital equipment purchase trend over the next five years. Currently, the PM parts industry has enough production capacity in place. Most new equipment purchases are for capability as opposed to capacity.
The new normal for compacting press orders annually seems to stay in the 20–25 unit range. There is a definite need for larger tonnage presses featuring more levels. For example, a Midwestern parts maker is adding a press for capability with three upper-motions and four lower-motions that is CNC controlled for specific levels. The company is also adding collaborative robots featuring articulating arms for loading compacting presses and furnaces.
Tooling trends cover more complex tooling for larger parts and innovative gear forms with teeth on the outer perimeter of parts and asymmetric sprockets. Furnace trends include rapid cooling systems and adding more zones in furnaces.
Metal Injection Moulding (MIM) trends
US Metal Injection Moulding (MIM) sales increased by about 10% in 2016 to an estimated range of $350 million to $400 million stated McGeehan. The industry includes about 25–30 commercial job-shop parts makers and 15–18 captive operations making medical & dental and firearms for their own products. It is estimated that MIM-grade powders consumed in the US increased by at least 10% to a range of 1,365,000–1,745,700 kg (3–3.85 million lb).
Stainless steels and low-alloy steel continue dominating the MIM materials mix, representing an estimated 83% of powders consumed. Other MIM materials include soft magnetic materials, tungsten alloys, titanium, tool steels, Inconel 625 and 718, and tungsten carbide. Traditional MIM markets remain steady, except for a significant decline in the firearms market beginning in early 2017. MPIF’s Pulse Survey among members of the metal injection molding association (MIMA) show the market breakdown of North American MIM parts shipped by weight in 2016.