The POWDERMET2018 International Conference on Powder Metallurgy and Particulate Materials was held in San Antonio, Texas, USA, from June 17-20, 2018.
Organised by the Metal Powder Industries Federation (MPIF), the event attracted over 850 participants and included three days of presentations accompanied by an exhibition and a range of social and networking events.
The Opening General Session included a presentation by MPIF President John Sweet, who gave delegates a detailed overview of the state of the North American Powder Metallurgy industry.
Sweet stated that the PM industry gained in 2017, with metal powder shipments growing modestly. PM tooling and equipment makers reported favourable business levels, along with Metal Injection Moulding (MIM) parts producers. Metal Additive Manufacturing (AM), it was stated, continued to grab headlines internationally.
Metal powder shipments and trends
Manufacturers of metal powders for conventional PM experienced favourable business levels in 2017 and reported a positive outlook for 2018. Most powder shipments in North America increased.
Companies are continuing to add new and improved products to strengthen the industry’s technology edge and Sweet stated that some of these new products include gas‐atomised alloys for AM, machinability‐enhanced powders, magnetic materials and premixes with reduced levels of nickel.
North American iron powder shipments rose by 2% in 2017 to 386,080 mt (428,978 st). Powders for PM parts and friction components increased by just below 2% to 354,570 mt (393,965 st). Estimated stainless steel powder shipments increased by up to 3% to 7,936 mt (8,750 st).
Copper and aluminium
Copper and copper base/tin powder shipments increased by 2% to 16,462 mt (18,150 st).
Aluminium powder shipments for conventional PM reportedly increased, but overall shipments decreased by about 6% to an estimated 29,931 mt (33,000 st).
Molybdenum shipments have been reduced due to some production being moved outside of North America, although consumption is up compared to last year. Current shipments are estimated at 1,125 mt (1,240 st).
Tungsten powder shipments increased by an estimated 49% to 1,717 mt (1,892 st), and tungsten carbide powder shipments increased by an estimated 51% to 7,916 mt (8,726 st).
Nickel powder shipments rose by an estimated 2% to 5,737 mt (6,325 st). Overall, total North American metal powder shipments increased by 2% to 459,998 mt (507,063 st) in 2017.
It was reported that metal powder shipments in Europe last year were stable, whilst PM markets in Asia experienced modest growth, with China in the lead.
Sweet stated that, according to most industry observers, the US market for traditional PM grade powders has stabilised. With existing technology and applications, annual near‐term growth will be modest, ranging in the lower single digits. Without the introduction of new high‐volume PM ‘champion’ parts, the industry will ease into a maturing mode.
Nevertheless, MIM‐grade powder shipments will see higher growth numbers along with similar powders for AM applications.
In 2018, the US PM‐grade powder market will most likely flatten. According to observers, and based on robust first‐quarter iron powder shipments, business levels will continue rising at least through June and settle down during the second half.
While demand for PM parts from the automotive industry will remain fairly stable overall in 2018, markets such as lawn and garden, agricultural, commercial, off‐road and products connected to home building are gaining.
In the annual PM Industry Pulse Survey conducted by the MPIF, 78% of the Metal Powder Producers Association (MPPA) members who responded plan on increasing capital spending this year. MPPA members rank the three most significant business challenges they face as: expanding PM applications, an aging workforce and the impact of the ‘new’ automotive industry.
Manufacturing challenges include expanding capacity, developing new materials and continuous improvement. Most companies are operating above 80% of rated capacity.