The European Powder Metallurgy Association (EPMA) boasts, with much justification, that its annual Euro PM Congress is the foremost event for the worldwide powder metallurgy community, providing a focal point for industry personnel, researchers and suppliers to meet, network and develop their business. One proof of this is that it places hardmetals and hard materials generally – the most valuable part of an important industry – at the very top of its comprehensive agenda. To judge simply by the Technical Programme, the 2012 event at the Congress Centre Basel, Switzerland, from 16th to 19th September is likely to be one of the best ever. Though it’s unusual for EPMA to put a foot wrong in its conference organisation, it accidentally did so this year by scheduling the event for two of the three most important days in the year for one religion–much like holding the event on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Though few will notice in such a well-attended event, it will disappoint a few regulars by preventing their attendance.

There won’t be much breathing space for delegates. After the Welcome Reception on Sunday evening and the scene-setting plenary sessions on Monday morning, around 200 oral and poster sessions are crammed into 23 technical sessions on Monday afternoon and all day Tuesday, with up to four of these held in parallel. Four Special Seminars take place on Wednesday morning, collectively providing something for most in the industry, and on Wednesday afternoon there are tours to two PM plants, significantly both in the hardmetals industry – Kennametal AMSG and Hartmetall AG.

New visitors should be aware that each of the EPMA Special Interest Groups will hold an open meeting during the Conference, at which non-members are positively welcomed. Much less formal than the Conference sessions, there will be much talk of the economic state of that part of the PM industry, of the progress of joint research projects, and of other matters of mutual interest.
After eating and networking, any spare time can and should be occupied by visiting the accompanying exhibition.
Here’s a preview of the 200-plus papers to be presented at the PM technological highlight of the year. The 60-page full programme can be downloaded from the EPMA website (pdf)
The organisers claim to have customised the programme for the following PM sectors, the last-named being a first for a Euro PM event:
      Hard Materials & Diamond Tooling
      Powder Injection Moulding
      Hot Isostatic Pressing
      PM Applications and New Processes
Though I’ve followed this plan as far as possible, I’ve named a few additional sectors to cover the remaining contributions and also differentiated between papers allowed a full oral presentation and those accepted only as posters. Readers should also remember that some papers are relevant to more than one sector, though of course each appears only in the selected conference session. To save space, only the title of each paper is listed and only the first author from each contributing organisation.
Hard materials & diamond tooling (Sessions 3, 7, 11 and 15)
The first hardmetals session comprises a challenging diversity of subjects. The opening paper from powder producer H C Starck attempts to cover the effects of milling conditions on WC/Co. Sandvik HM then investigates solids loading in extrusion feedstock, Fraunhofer the sintering of binderless WC, and TU Wien interactions of nitrogen with WC during sintering.
Poster contributions intended for the same session demonstrate that this event is European only in location. Their origins include not only Romania but also Egypt, Russia and Malaysia, and subjects injection moulding of carbide tool components, changing WC/Co properties by adding nanosized yttria, joining WC powder to steel and heat-treating hardmetals with pre-alloyed binders.

Second of the four hard materials sessions (more than for any other topic) will cover characterisation and applications. It will open with a contribution by Sandvik Tooling on morphology and quantitative analysis. Two further papers are especially relevant to metal milling: one on sintered carbides with iron-containing binders and the other on test methods for high rate impact loading. The other oral presentations are on aspects of rock drilling.

Posters in this session will be more esoteric. One from Korea on adding Si to WC/Ni, another from Russia looks at a stereological approach to hardmetal microstructural engineering, and the last from Portugal on WC with 10% stainless steel binder.

There’s more to hardmetals than WC and Co, though some other hardmetals masquerade under the name of ‘cermet’ – but all hardmetals are cermets, and vice versa. Some are based on other carbide or carbonitride systems, like TiC, TiCN and ZrC, and some have alternative binders like Ni/Co/Cr, Fe or Ni. All are included in one session, plus as posters the ceramic systems Ti-B-N and Si-Ti-B-C, and Fe- and Ni-base MMCs reinforced with fused WC particles.

Only two ultrahard materials are generally recognised in powder metallurgy, diamond and cubic boron nitride. Here they are in one session, covering pressing technique, matrix materials, property measurements, structure analysis, particle coating and composite aggregates.

 Hard materials enthusiasts can climax their conference attendance with the Special Interest Seminar on “Hard Materials – Atoms to Applications: Multi-Scale Modelling and Experiments.” Its two sessions are intended to provide an insight into some of the computational and experimental methods applied to hardmetals and other materials.

 Powder injection moulding (Sessions 10, 14, 18 and 21)

Second in the EPMA’s highlighted sectors is PIM – the increasingly popular powder injection moulding process. The first of four sessions on the subject will be a scene-setter, devoted initially to modelling and simulation, but also including some very practical advice on particle size effects (Turkey and USA) and the manufacture of implantable biomed devices (Malaysia).

The three additional PIM sessions are devoted successively to titanium alloys and then two instalments of an alloy miscellany. The only stand-out factor is the number of German contributions, but this may merely be indicative of the proximity of Germany to Switzerland.

Glass-carbon composites and mesophase graphite (Session 18) are not exactly powder metallurgy, but perhaps one should not be too pedantic when investigating advanced technology.

Like hardmetals, MIM has inspired its own Special Interest Seminar, entitled Metal Injection Moulding of Titanium Based Materials in 2012”.

Hot isostatic pressing (Sessions 12, 16 and 19)

Not so many years ago, a PM conference featuring hot isostatic pressing would have been dominated by sintered carbides and kindred products. And now? Superalloys, stainless steels, titanium and tungsten: but no direct hardmetal interest in three HIP sessions. Sinter-HIP (elevated pressure in an inert atmosphere) of hardmetals is now so well established in production that researchers have virtually discontinued investigations in this area.

The range of alloys, techniques and investigations recorded in these sessions are so diverse that almost anyone working in PM should find something of interest. Examples are self-passivating W alloys for fusion reactors (Spain), properties of stainless steel powder (Sweden) and heat-resistant TI alloy (China).