Powder Metallurgy parts market trends
Parts makers report positive results last year and forecast improving business levels in 2018. In the MPIF Pulse Survey, 68% of respondents expect sales to increase in 2018. Discussions with industry leaders during the first quarter revealed continued growth in the 5%–10% range, depending upon specific market demand. PM companies in Western Pennsylvania reported good business levels.
Some parts makers see double‐digit growth ahead in 2019–2020. Developmental times for new parts can range from two to five years. Aluminium PM parts applications continue gaining, especially in the automotive market.
While some have predicted the slow demise of medium‐sized entrepreneurial PM operations, nothing could be further from the truth, suggested Sweet, commenting that, “PM remains alive in family-owned businesses passed on to motivated offspring carrying new torches of innovation and creative ideas. Middle‐range PM designs with annual production runs in the hundreds of thousands are still profitable and growing.”
For all practical purposes, PM automotive applications are stabilising, unless new ‘champions’ such as connecting rods, main bearing caps and transmission planetary carriers are designed. Traditional passenger cars have been downsized, with small engines and transmissions needing fewer parts. The electrification of vehicles is growing faster than expected and should capture a larger share of the market within the next five years.
US auto sales narrowed by 1.8% in 2017 to 17.2 million units, the first annual decline since 2009. However, there is a bright spot: the resilient light‐truck market remains a heavy user of PM. For example, a 2017 Ford F‐150 truck in a tear‐down project contained 32.46 kg (71.5 lb) of PM parts. Overall, auto builds and sales in 2018 are projected to be flat or slightly down at about 17 million units.
Most members of the Powder Metallurgy Parts Association (PMPA) plan to increase spending on new equipment for capacity and capability this year. In addition, they anticipate adding new employees.
The majority of PM parts makers are still faced by a challenging search for skilled and reliable entry level employees, an issue faced not just in the PM industry, but in most US manufacturing sectors. Nationwide, unfilled manufacturing jobs run in the millions. In Western Pennsylvania, classified ads in local newspapers are said to be ‘bulging’ with job opportunities.