The market for powder metallurgy (PM) has existed for more than 100 years. The process allows for the optimization of metal properties and produces net-shape or near net-shape parts. This results in a minimization of secondary operational costs.

Uses for powder metallurgy run the gamut of applications ranging from automotive and military to medical and aerospace.

Why has this technology been around so long and why are companies continuing to use powder metallurgy? The technology provides a host of advantages, including:

  • Minimizes machining by producing parts at, or close to, final dimensions.
  • Minimizes amount of scrap by using more than 97 percent of the starting raw material.
  • Applies to a wide variety of alloy systems.
  • Allows heat treating for increased strength or wear resistance.
  • Provides a good surface finish.
  • Allows for controlled porosity for self-lubrication or filtration.
  • Enables the manufacture of unique or complex shapes that would be impractical or impossible in other metalworking processes.
  • Well-suited for moderate- to high-volume component production manufacturing.
  • Provides long-term reliability in critical applications.
  • Doesn’t break the bank.

Types of Powder Metallurgy

There are four types of powder metallurgy processes as defined by the Metal Powder Industries Federation (MPIF), an organization of six trade associations representing various aspects of powder metallurgy, including press-and-sinter, metal injection molding, isostatic pressing and metal additive manufacturing.

Press-and-sinter is the conventional type of PM process that involves mixing elemental or alloy powders with lubricants or additives to produce a standardized mixture. These help to improve machinability, wear resistance or lubricity of the part. Metal injection molding offers manufacturing capability for producing complex shapes in large quantities. The process uses fine metal powders that are custom formulated with a binder into a feedstock, which is then fed into the injection molding machine.

Isostatic pressing, meanwhile, applies equal pressure in all directions on a powder compact, achieving uniform density and microstructure. Finally, metal additive manufacturing, or metal 3D printing, builds a part using a layer-by-layer process directly from a digital model without the use of molds or dies.

PM Use Cases

The automotive industry is the largest market sector for powder metallurgy, constituting 73 percent of total sales of PM parts. The market shows no sign of slowing down with a surge in the aluminum powder market coming as automotive OEMs seek to reduce mass and provide improved properties. Upcoming mandates on fuel economy, as well as the shift to electric vehicles, will continue to push automotive makers in the direction of designing lighter vehicles and parts, which is a boon for the PM market.

In appliances and tools, PM is expected to enjoy 4 percent year-over-year growth this year as a result of the continued need for these items in our daily lives. PM can be found in washing machines, lighting controls, locks and other appliances as well as gears, levers, coupling, cams, pulleys, sleeves and more.

PM is also widely used in the agricultural and construction industries from basic lawn equipment and garden care to heavy off-highway machines. With a move to further automate the industrial sector, powder metallurgy will continue to play a role in the future as makers look to lower costs of manufacturing through forging and machining.

With the advent of technology bringing more medically implanted devices, artificial joints and new surgical tools to market, powder metallurgy’s presence has been increasing because of its ability to produce high-volume precision parts to net-shape. But, add to this that PM reduces costs, reduces waste material and produces components that would not be economically feasible using other methods, healthcare companies are adopting the technology rapidly.

Learn more about powder metallurgy and MPIF’s role in the market by viewing the full e-book.