Seemingly determined not to focus on “2007's perfect storm of challenges” and the rolling waves of on going bad news that have blighted prospects for the North American PM industry, Mark Paullin began his report by touting the market as “the world's largest and most innovative”. The Metal Powder Industries Federation's (MPIF) president cited spiralling energy costs and volatile commodity prices, but pointed out a benefit to be gained from the weaker dollar: that it has made prices competitive, and that US manufacturers have reported a 66% reduction in PM parts lost to offshore companies.

There were, however, strict limits to the cloud's silver lining. The majority of North American powder shipments continued in a downward trend last year, with iron decreasing by 2.9%, and PM parts declining 3.3%, largely due to diminishing automotive production. Copper powder shipments fell by 8.2%, with the PM parts segment slipping almost 8.9%. Tin powder shipments also suffered, falling 19.4% in 2007. Copper and tin were both affected by their high prices, which Mr Paullin observed has “definitely opened the gates to substitution”. Stainless steel and nickel powder shipments both declined by about 5% respectively. However, hardmetals went against the trend, with both tungsten and tungsten carbide powder shipments up by about 3%.
As for utility prices, natural gas was reported to be up by 54%, coal by 210% and crude oil by 200%.
Mr Paullin shifted from the bleak outlook to the positives to be gained from recent events. Japanese automotive plants are more receptive to PM applications for reducing costs. However, getting market access took time. “It's a slow process,” he admitted, “but sustainable long-term business.”
High-visibility applications such as transmission carriers and powder-forged connecting rods are still being manufactured in large numbers and there were new parts for engines and six-speed transmissions. The latter typically contain between 18lbs and 26lbs of PM parts. Dual-clutch transmissions present another opportunity with 16lbs to 18lbs of PM parts. Diesels are predicted to capture 20% of the North American market in 10 years, with the average North American PM content stabilising at 43lbs in 2008. According to Mr Paullin, the MPIF is aiming to assess the number of PM parts possible in a vehicle. The PM parts market is estimated at $2.3 billion with the top 20 biggest companies accounting for 80% of the industry.

Another possible means of deliverance comes in the form of the MIM market, expected to continue to grow by 10% to 15% in 2008. The top three domestic markets in production at the moment were named as medical, firearms and hand tools. Materials used in MIM are predominantly iron-nickel alloys and stainless steels, but room is also being made for specialty materials such as titanium, copper and hardmetals.
Mr Paullin concluded his presentation with assurances that “innovation will prevail”, and that “the industry continues to invest in new opportunities,” citing a for instance: soft magnesium composite powders being used in 3D designs for electrical applications. “Our industry's future remains bright indeed,” he affirmed.
Although beset by rising costs of resources, and the implementation of the REACH (the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of CHemicals) legislation, the report from Europe was patchily brighter than North America.
Margins are low, but positive, said Ingo Cremer, president of the European Powder Metallurgy Association (EPMA). The average weight of European PM car parts is 10kg – a growth of 37% in 10 years. European metal powder shipments have also grown, increasing last year by 11% - the highest increase in seven years. Electricity and overall metal prices are all up, but the major shock proved to be the sharp rise in the cost of road fuels. The EPMA chose to detect a positive effect in this however, noting PM to be an effective weight saver in automobiles.
Nevertheless, Mr Cremer noted the strain on Europe, and as a response to market pressure the industry has seen a shift to low cost countries, such as Slovakia, Bulgaria and China. The European equipment sector faces strong competition from Chinese reproductions of basic European models, whilst the tooling sector suffered closures due to non-European competition. In light of such global movements, Mr Cremer raised the question of how Europe might be able to see such a global market as a source of potential customers instead of a series of threats. This was juxtaposed with the weightier issue as to where “the next China” would be, with Mongolia and Chile noted as strong contenders.
He did not dwell on REACH for too long, but admitted that it would require the preparation of a “large and expensive dossier” for every substance registered. The need to organise data-gathering was emphasised, and it was highlighted that imports of raw materials to Europe would be included in the legislation.
The general conclusion from Europe was the stressed requirement to “play harder”. Although the automotive industry offers a chance to improve, Mr Cremer was straightforward about the European industry's concern with competition from low-cost countries. For Europe, survival may require some serious structural changes and a willingness to broach the territory of divestment.
The MIM supply chain has about 40 to 50 parts makers across Europe, and with larger companies dominating the market, some smaller companies have gone under. Processes are said to have improved, and there is scope to increase involvement with the automotive market. Mr. Cremer reported strong growth in orders.
Although silver linings are thin for North America and Europe, it is clear that adaptability is the primary focus, and with Asia showing its weight, this may largely mean working around Asian development.
The Japan Powder Metallurgy Association (JPMA) president and representative for Asia/Pacific replaced the muted reflection of the previous accounts with a presentation awash with graphs displaying rising figures. Yutaka Mizuno reported fairly comprehensive rapid growths in the industry, with China experiencing a 125% increase in PM products over 2007 from 2006.
As for motor vehicle production in Asia, China's industry led the way, increasing in the same period by 122%, followed by India at 114.4%.
The growing price of raw materials has also affected Asia, but powder shipments of iron, copper and stainless steel are all up, as is powder for MIM use.
Mr. Mizuno stressed the importance of developing technology, and the development of ultra high-strength PM parts capable of surpassing wrought materials and higher performance materials and complex shaping technology.
As well as technical aims, Mr. Mizuno also outlined the intentions of the JPMA to promote PM and educate throughout Asia, and to continue to explore environmental issues.
Mr. Mizuno ended the presentation by guaranteeing that the JPMA would send as many delegates as they could to the World PM2010 in Florence.