Watch an Introduction to the Powder Metallurgy Industry

01 January 2018

Powder metallurgy (PM) is the art of producing metal powders and the utilization of metal powders to produce shaped components. PM has been in use since 3000 B.C., but over the last 100 years, it has infiltrated daily life and plays a role in the creation of everything from electronics to automotive components and from medical tools to aerospace and defense uses. Today, the newest PM process, metal additive manufacturing (AM), also known as metal 3D printing, is gaining popularity.

This metal-forming technology is used because of unique shape capabilities and a host of properties that provide users with creative solutions. These capabilities include:

  • material efficient processes with low process waste;
  • the ability to use alloys, materials and geometries not feasible with other metal-forming processes;
  • close tolerance capability;
  • highly repeatable processes;
  • excellent bearing qualities;
  • exceptional wear and strength;
  • true involute geometry;
  • controlled porosity;
  • oil and resin impregnation;
  • infiltration with copper;
  • soft magnetic properties;
  • and permanent (hard) magnetic properties.

While PM is used in a wide range of applications, the automotive market is the largest market for ferrous PM. Approximately 75 percent of ferrous PM is consumed by the automotive market. Based on the "2017 State of the Powder Metallurgy Industry in North America" presented at the POWDERMET2017 conference, bestselling light trucks with V8 engines and SUVs contain approximately 60 pounds (27 kg) or more of PM, while passenger cars contain an average of 24 pounds (10.8 kg). Meanwhile, PM use in the Asian marketplace continues to rise.

Common PM processes include:

  • Conventional press-and-sinter technology is typically used by the automotive industry, as well as in the manufacturing of power equipment, recreation products, agriculture & construction, hydraulics and electronics. Conventional PM is a net-shape processing technology and yields parts requiring little or no secondary machining operations.
  • Metal injection molding (MIM) is typically used in medical devices, electronics and firearms, but it is expanding into aerospace and other markets as well. MIM is a net-shape process technology with good dimensional control capable of producing mechanical properties nearly equivalent to wrought materials.
  • Hot and cold isostatic pressing (HIP/CIP) is used in the production of tool steels, refractory metals, and for stainless steel and aluminum components. Isostatic pressing is capable of producing parts of a larger size than is possible with other PM processes with a virtually unlimited capability for complex shapes and geometric features.
  • Metal additive manufacturing is used by the aerospace, defense, medical and dental industries and is gaining ground in the motor sports and the oil & gas markets. Metal AM has the potential to profoundly change the production, time-to-market, and simplicity of components and assemblies.

The PM industry is made up of firms that range in size and structure from small, privately owned firms to large, public or private corporations. The industry supply chain is made up of powder producers, part fabricators, PM related equipment manufacturers, engineering and consulting firms, tool makers, marketing and sales, research and end-users of PM components.

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