The State of the Powdered Metal (PM) Industry in North America keynote address presented at the Metal Powder Industries Federation (MPIF) conference in Las Vegas last month indicated several market and industry trends that resonated with the Atlas Pressed Metals leadership in attendance at the conference.
Delivered by Patrick J. McGeehan, president of MPIF, the state of the industry address was marked with evidence of modest growth factors, encouraging market trends, and positive outlooks for the balance of the year, bolstered by members’ intentions for hiring new employees and investing in capital. However, the industry must continue to look at opportunities in new markets to offset the anticipated decline of PM use in lightweight vehicles, due to light-weighting requirements imposed on the automotive industry, McGeehan indicated.
MPIF administers the annual PM Industry Pulse survey in order to gather trend data from conventional press-and-sinter, metal injection molding (MIM), metal additive manufacturing (AM) and hot isostatic pressing (HIP) subsectors. Survey findings included:
Further trends include deeper implementation of automation, developing complexity of tooling due to gear innovation and advances in asymmetrical parts, and increased investment into rapid cooling and other furnace technologies to enhance manufacturing capabilities.
“Companies based in PM’s heartland, Western Pennsylvania, enjoyed positive business levels across the board,” McGeehan reported. “The many family-owned job shops offer rapid-response service to customer needs, quick decision-making and short-run production… Traditional PM parts sales should still experience moderate growth in the automotive, consumer products and industrial equipment markets.”
In advancements within the industry, McGeehan predicted that PM companies are “well-positioned to meet the challenges ahead with realistic expectations, careful planning and R&D investments.”
Atlas Pressed Metals, located in DuBois, Pa., is one of those Western Pennsylvania family-owned powdered metal job shops, whose leadership attributes much of its success as a growing company toward its culture for rapid response, agility, and flexibility in supplying customers for short- and long-run products, stated Jude Pfingstler, President of the company. Richard Pfingstler, Atlas’ CEO, agreed, noting the trends are “somewhat mirroring” Atlas’ business as a whole in growth, product mix, long-term planning and investment focus. The company has in the past two years invested in a building expansion, new presses and furnaces, and automation for some of its higher volume lines, while developing a 5-year strategic plan.
“Pat McGeehan’s address really resounded with us,” Jude Pfingstler said, “because we are living many of these growth challenges and opportunities right now. We are seeing reshoring trends from a number of our global customers, and we are also looking into new markets to further stabilize our growth trajectory.”
For more information about Atlas Pressed Metals, call 814.371.4800 x104.
Resin is impregnated into a part for a few different reasons. The resin allows a part to be sealed so it can be used in pressure applications such as resisting air or hydraulic pressure. That same sealing function keeps liquids from being absorbed into the pores of a part whether it is on a plating line, paint line or in an environmental application. An additional benefit is the resin acts as a machining additive, improving the tool life on a part that needs to be machined to net form. In all of these applications, the resin remains stable, up to approximately 400°.
We should start out by describing what warm die compaction means. The molding tooling is heated to slightly below 220° F/104°C. Then, unheated powder is fed into the cavity. Due to the tools’ temperature and the inter-particle friction that takes place during compaction, the dry lubricant present within the powder blend enters a liquid phase. Compaction with liquid lubricant allows us to use material with reduced amounts of lubricant, which improves the movement of the particles during compaction, and aids in the ejection of the part.
The major impact that the warm die compaction process has on the molded component is that it allows the part to be pressed to a higher density which can make a stronger component.
A side benefit is that the warm die compaction warms the powder, which can assist in reducing the tonnage required to press the part.
So in applications where the limits of the press size are being pushed or when stress that is placed on the tool is a concern, warming actually makes it easier to form a part.
We are often asked how we can prototype designs or materials to evaluate the design or test new materials in existing applications. Powdered metal tooling can render these types of testing a costly undertaking but there are alternative options.
Unfortunately, it is not feasible to manufacture production components from any sort of temporary tooling. However, prototypes can be made from a PM blank, also known as a slug or puck, which is manufactured so that material characteristics, such as density and chemistry, closely mirror that of the desired production component. The component geometry can be machined by traditional methods, like milling, wiring or turning, from the PM slug. In some instances, after the machining operation is completed, and depending on how aggressively the slug is machined, the component may be re-sintered to ensure that residual stresses are relieved. Heat treated or harder materials may require a pre-sintered slug so that the material is soft enough to machine, followed by a second, full sinter to reach the material's optimal physical properties. If the prototype component is to have a finish, any residual machining coolant must be removed prior to resin impregnation and/or the application of the finish.
Powdered metal manufacturers expect a healthy and favorable forecast throughout the remainder of 2016, with anticipated single-digit growth, according to the State of the PM Industry in North America address presented by Metal Powder Industries Federation (MPIF) president Patrick J. McGeehan.
McGeehan, Vice President and General Manager of AMETEK Specialty Metal Products, presented industry indicators and outlook during the keynote address at the annual POWDERMET conference held this month in Boston. McGeehan began his term this year and immediately succeeds Richard Pfingstler of Atlas Pressed Metals, who previously led the MPIF.
This modest growth, noted McGeehan, follows a healthy 2015; however the industry may be moving toward a plateau in the near future, identified by looking at predictions for markets served by the powdered metal (PM) industry, namely automotive.
Conditions of the industry are measured in part by annual volumes of iron powder and stainless steel powder shipped. Total estimated metal powder shipments increased by slightly more than 1% in 2015, according to the MPIF. Industry analysts, who predict a possible market flattening in 2017, look toward automotive trends in developing smaller engines and transmissions, and in the commercialization of alternative energy-powered vehicles. Other strong end-markets such as appliance, and lawn and garden are predicted for slight growth, while agriculture and off-road markets expect to see declines, according to McGeehan.
Despite the predicted flattening of the largest market sector for PM, McGeehan remains confident the industry, with proper preparation and investment in technology, supported by research and development, will remain steady through a “stalling” U.S. manufacturing cycle.
“…One positive constant has run through this industry throughout its history. We continue to be a community of innovative entrepreneurs, engineers, and scientists who refuse to believe the critics and continue to surprise the engineered-materials community with PM’s advances,” McGeehan said. “The future remains positive, and PM is a 21st century technology that will continue providing new exciting materials with special properties and process improvements.”
McGeehan pointed to industry trends and developments that continue to push PM materials to higher densities and tighter tolerances. Advancements in additive manufacturing will play increasing roles in the PM industry. And the MPIF Technical Board continues to explore advancements in lean alloys, advanced PM steels and thermal processing, McGeehan said.
Dr. Craig Stringer, Atlas Senior Metallurgist, captured this interesting photo of
unique powdered metal material formation through Atlas' Jeol SEM. The image,
titled 'Tiny Forest of Metal Trees,' won the monthly photo contest at Jeol.