In 2001, the North American PM industry, under the auspices of MPIF and invited end-users, academics and consultants, published the PM Industry Vision & Technology Roadmap. This was the culmination of a two-year project that drew on the expertise and experience of a wide range of industry executives. Since that time, the PM industry has made significant progress in technology challenges that were identified in the original Roadmap. Examples include high-density processing through the use of improved tooling materials, warm compaction, and die-wall lubrication. Advanced manufacturing techniques and methods related to quality, productivity, and time compression are now in wide use.
 
Now, ten years later, MPIF’s Technical Board and Industry Development Board have updated the technology roadmap. After numerous sessions over a period of 18 months, and with the help of dozens of industry professionals, the technical barriers, challenges, opportunities, and priorities that will drive growth in the future have been identified. The main topics itemised were:
 
  • High-density PM components
  • Processing of lightweight materials
  • Electrical and electromagnetic applications.
     
The 2012 PM Industry Roadmap, just published by MPIF and introduced and presented at PowderMet2012 in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, is not intended to replace the original 2001 Technology Roadmap. Rather, the 2012 update “incorporates the new market drivers and technical challenges that will redefine our technology and impact the industry’s future growth,” the report states. The 16-page document (including four appendices) outlines key markets and drivers as well as technology development priorities.
 
While the North American PM industry today is driven primarily by automotive applications, future growth markets in the decade ahead will include electrical and electromagnetics, alternative energy, aerospace, medical, defence, industrial and consumer products.

Automotive

The automotive sector will be significantly impacted by environmental concerns. “Higher fuel efficiency through [performance improvements], weight reduction, and alternative or supplemental power systems will be key drivers. Opportunities will arise for the PM industry to supply hybrid-electric vehicle components, including insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs), fuel cells, electric motors and gears [...]The gear market is believed to be nearly the size of the entire existing PM market.”

Electrical and electromagnetic

The development of insulated powders for hard and soft magnetic applications is changing the options for electric motor design away from laminated steel. “The multitude of shapes that can be pressed or moulded into stators and armatures using PM consolidation techniques and powders without loss in electrical performance will revolutionise this sector.”

Alternative energy

The report affirms that industries involved in alternative energy represent another opportunity for the PM industry. Wind energy, solar energy, fuel cells and energy storage industries require bearings, gears, adaptors, electric motors, etc – all prospects for PM.

Aerospace

Driven primarily by growth in Asia, the aerospace industry is expected to expand at a rate of 5% pa for the next 20 years. Aircraft will also be forced to become more fuel efficient due to higher fuel costs and because of pressure to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. While airframes provide limited opportunities for traditional PM, titanium PM HIP and titanium additive manufacturing are thought to have possibilities. PM superalloys are already used in extremely demanding applications such as turbine discs in engines. Advances in repair technology, additive manufacturing and net-shape HIPing will allow greater use of PM superalloys and stainless steels in aircraft engines.

Medical and dental

The medical and dental markets cover a multitude of products ranging from cosmetic enhancements, diagnostic equipment, implants, surgical devices, pharmaceuticals, to hospital furniture and medical mobility equipment. Major applications for metal injection moulding exist in dental products, orthopaedic products, and other medical devices and equipment. The medical devices and diagnostics industry (MD & DI) is estimated to be currently growing at 7.5% to 10% pa worldwide. The orthopaedic sector represents the largest part of the MD & DI and has the most active companies.

Defence

Existing and emerging threats will drive development of new technologies to meet a variety of needs for defence and homeland security. Tungsten-based PM materials will continue to be used in X-ray scanning for security screening as well as in kinetic-energy penetrators, and for maintaining proper weight distribution in missiles and aircraft. The challenge of supplying fuel to remote locations will drive the use of lightweight materials, including PM magnesium, aluminium, and titanium, to reduce fuel consumption.

Industrial and consumer products

Industrial and consumer products today represent the second largest combined market for PM applications. Telecommunications, computers, home appliances, lawn and garden equipment, farm/off-road equipment, power and hand tools, recreation goods sectors, etc, will all need component development as they provide new consumer products and services. Worldwide increases in living standards are expected to expand consumer markets.

Technology development priorities

The updated Roadmap notes that continued growth of the PM industry depends on advances in materials and materials properties, processes, and manufacturing efficiency. As indicated above, the three main focus areas of technology priorities for the next decade are high-density PM components, lightweight materials processing, and electrical and electromagnetic applications.
 
The report concludes by outlining the perceived development priorities in these areas in terms of materials and processes, and summarising the respective challenges and benefits that lie ahead.