Powder Metal Industry is sustaining growth momentum.

Press Release Summary:

Well into the recovery that began in 2010, the various sectors of PM and particulate materials have all bounced back and are continuing to grow at a steady pace. Iron powder shipments increased 4.62% in 2013 to 401,738 short tons, surpassing 400,000-ton mark for the first time since 2007. Shipments of copper and copper-base powders increased by estimated 4% to 16,850 short tons, while stainless steel powders gained by an estimated 3.5% to 7,600 short tons.

Original Press Release:

Powder Metal Industry Sustaining Growth Momentum

The PM industry’s ongoing recovery from the dismal depths of the “Great Recession” is a classic comeback story, in which an industry rallies an inner strength rooted in its long tradition of entrepreneurial grit, reported Richard Pfingstler, president of the Metal Powder Industries Federation (MPIF), here at the PM2014 World Congress on Powder Metallurgy and Particulate Materials.

Well into the recovery that began in 2010, the various sectors of PM and particulate materials have all bounced back and are continuing to grow at a steady pace. 2013 iron powder shipments increased 4.62 percent to 401,738 short tons, surpassing the 400,000-ton mark for the first time since 2007. “Placing 2013 shipments into perspective, we must remember that the industry’s high point was 2004, 10 years ago, when iron powder shipments hit 473,804 short tons,” Pfingstler said. “Obviously, we have a way to go in order to regain and surpass that record.”

2013 shipments of copper and copper-base powders increased by an estimated four percent to 16,850 short tons, while stainless steel powders gained by an estimated 3.5 percent to 7,600 short tons.

Continuing his review of the past year, Pfingstler noted that PM compacting-press builders enjoyed a resurgence in demand as parts makers invested in expanding capacity and increasing their capability to meet more-exacting customer specifications for more-complex designs and higher-performance parts.

The PM parts business excelled last year as well, supported by rising North American light-vehicle production that topped 16 million units. This number was the highest in 13 years according to WardsAuto. The MPIF president cautioned that the trend toward smaller engines and away from those with six and eight cylinders is a serious threat to PM. “Still, opportunities abound for PM parts in all-wheel-drive systems, start-stop systems, new diesel engines, and more-complex and lighter-weight gears,” he added.

Opportunities also exist for more value-added parts such as sprockets, which feature laser welding, rubberizing, and CNC grinding. The PM content in a typical U.S. light vehicle rose slightly last year to an estimated 44.5 pounds, up from 43.7 pounds in 2012. The forecast for 2014 is for a very modest increase to 44.6 pounds.

Looking ahead, Pfingstler said that most PM parts markets are projected to see modest growth in 2014, which will result in an equally modest rise in metal powder shipments, again in the neighborhood of five percent. Hampering an even higher growth rate are the challenges faced by smaller family-owned businesses, which still struggle with scarce access to capital and with the economic and administrative burdens of complying with increasing federal and state regulations.

Looking beyond the traditional press-and-sinter PM sector, he noted that the refractory metals markets softened somewhat last year and there was more untapped capacity in 2013 than 2012.

As for the metal injection molding (MIM) market, he reported that it continues to enjoy robust growth. MIM-grade powder shipments in 2013 increased substantially to an estimated 2.5-to-3.2 million pounds. The current MIM parts business represents about 70 companies of which an estimated 25 percent, or 18 companies, are captive operations. The total estimated value of MIM industry sales in 2013 ranges from about $300 to $350 million and it is expected to grow in the 10 to 15 percent range in 2014.

Beyond MIM’s traditional parts markets, which include firearms, medical/dental, general industrial, automotive, and electronics, the automotive market looks especially promising for MIM parts that go into fuel injection and turbocharger applications.

Aerospace engineers are considering specifying MIM parts in the next generation of aircraft engines.

The hot isostatic pressing (HIP) business is heating up, particularly for densifying MIM parts, a significant trend during the last three years. About 50 to 60 percent of MIM firearms and medical parts are HIPed. The HIPing of MIM aerospace parts is a growing market as well.

A future growth area for HIP is additive manufacturing (AM). It is anticipated that specifications for AM parts will require HIPing to ensure full density for robust applications.      

Speaking of additive manufacturing, a particularly appropriate topic since the inaugural Additive Manufacturing with Powder Metallurgy Conference (AMPM2014) was held here simultaneously with the World Congress, Pfingstler said that it is evolving into a serious business model that goes beyond designing prototypes. He said that there are an estimated 100 to 200 metal printers installed in the U.S. providing custom manufacturing and prototype services, including captive installations doing development work as well as R&D programs at government and university laboratories.

The decision to collocate the AMPM conference with the World Congress “was envisioned as a way to open communication among all our industry segments,” the president said.

End markets for AM extend over a wide range: dental products such as tooth bridges and copings, medical implants, aerospace components, automotive parts, injection molding molds, jewelry, watch cases, and satellite parts.

In order to maintain the upward trajectory of its growth pattern, Pfingstler said, the PM industry continues to invest in new technology. Many R&D programs are aimed at improving materials and delivering improved performance.

The Metal Powder Industries Federation (MPIF) has been investing in PM’s future as well. Accordingly, the MPIF Technical Board 2014 technology assessment program is studying how to reduce dimensional variability in ferrous PM parts and processes.

The Center for Powder Metallurgy Technology (CPMT) has also been active, funding fatigue testing studies. In 2013 the Center released a technical report on Strain-Based Fatigue for Four PM Materials.

In addition, MPIF has recently formed an aluminum standards subcommittee to provide new materials data on aluminum PM, particularly aimed at automotive engineers seeking to use more lightweight materials to meet CAFE standards.

In closing, the MPIF president noted that the industry is alive and well, introducing new products, materials, and processes. As a modern, 21st century technology with a rich history, PM continues to reinvent itself. “We are innovative and entrepreneurial right down to our DNA,” he stated. “Our challenge, no matter how large or small our companies, is to maintain that energy and entrepreneurial grit. We must always look to improve what we do, and never stop investing in new talent. In the end, we are still a special industry with a bright future.”

Editor’s Note: For further details contact James Dale@MPIF (609-452-7700 / jdale@mpif.org). A copy of the complete State of the North American PM Industry is available from Dora Schember at 609-452-7700 / dschember@mpif.org.

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