2012 was a busy twelve months with big changes affecting the PM industry, many spearheaded by governments and industry organisations. Biggest perhaps was the SEC’s recent ruling, approving US regulations that will oblige certain companies to find out where their tantalum, tin, gold or tungsten comes from – thus reducing the manufacture of so-called conflict minerals.

Additive manufacturing also came of age in 2012, with president Obama opening a new additive manufacturing (AM) institute in Youngstown, Ohio, as part of the US government’s commitment to invest in US manufacturing. Since its opening in August, several leading players have come on board, and it looks promising.

Another significant development in 2012 was China’s bid to improve the sustainability of its rare earth metal supply. In practice, this could open the way for US companies such as Molycorp to increase their role in the rare earth industry. In fact, Molycorp has stepped up production, while Metalysis has responded favourably with a new technology it says can produce the metals directly from oxides in a single step. 

New applications for PM too became prominent in 2012, such as Li-ion batteries for electric cars, (many!), laser sintered lightweight parts for automotive and aerospace. Meantime, there were interesting developments in the production of aluminium powder.

Grab a mince pie and settle down for our review of the year!

January was the month of rare earth minerals, with KEMET implementing its plan for sourcing conflict-free tantalum from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), six months before the SEC ruling. Meanwhile, an investment report from online stock news website Investing Daily revealed a global shortage of rare earth elements (REEs), with China controling 95% of global rare earth elements mine production, milling and processing capacity. At the same time, Molycorp finally got its authorisation from the US Bureau of Land Management to start exploratory drilling of heavy rare earths near its rare earth manufacturing facility at Mountain Pass, California, USA. 

January also marked an important milestone for Sandvik, which turned 150 years old. There were also a couple of important acquisitions: BestMetal completed its Wakefield purchase while Kennametal acquired alloy specialist Deloro Stellite

February brought us news of a new additive manufacturing platform and aerospace manufacturing centre in South Africa . Later in the year it piloted a method of producing titanium powder, and a month later, it partnered with AIRBUS to test titanium parts. 

In other news, KEMET continued in its bid to source conflict free tantalum by buying Niotan, a tantalum powder supplier.

Also in February we learnt – if there were any doubt – that the Chinese PM industry would continue to grow, with 18 million units sold in 2011 in the automotive sector, which is set to reach 20 million in 2012.

In other auto news, Hitachi Chemical increased its powder metal capacity for the auto market. Bodycote expanded its HIP capacity and Metaldyne expanded in Eastern Europe. A profitable February!

March was the month of development for many PM-related companies.

Sumitomo set up a JV for sintered parts in Indonesia, following recent progress in motorisation in Indonesia which has boosted the local auto production. Back in the US, there was  a big boost for tungsten production with news that it would reach 9900 tonnes in 2012. This is in contrast to the poor growth in tungsten carbide growth before the mid-2000s.

Molycorp continued to strengthen its rare earth metals position with the purchase of rare earth processor Neo Material, while filtration specialist Porvair moved into the PM industry with the purchase of Pell Industries for an undisclosed sum

Some of the news in April provided a contrast to such positivity.

Federal-Mogul reported profits down 37% in Q1 2012 following already poor results in 2011. Perhaps this is why they put in place plans to reorganise their segments later in the year ?

Höganäs also reported profits down 2% in Q2 2012, but said that this was in comparison to a very strong Q1 2011. Meantime, in Europe, the automotive industry was still in the doldrums with passenger car registrations down 7.7% in Q1

There was some good news - Kennametal saw a 16% jump in Q3 profits due to increased sales and the Deloro Stellite acquisition. And Canada invested CA$34 million in automotive research and development. 

May ushered in the entrance of GTSO Resources as an investor in tungsten mining and production, in particular recycling. GTSO reported that it was in Canada, and later identified two tungsten mining entities for potential acquisition, joint venture and partnership in the US and one in the Canada. (Later in July, it would shortlist a number of companies, and recently it has formed a joint venture with Diamond V Associates.)

In other news, a new report suggested that the global aluminium market would reach 71.2 million tons by 2018, driven by increasing demand for the metal in developing countries and increasing applications of aluminium in various sectors, including automotive.

Meanwhile, Carpenter reported a 15% increase in its Q3 net income while Ceradyne profits decreased in Q1 2012 as the company was hit by a sharp decline in solar photovoltaic (PV) crucible shipments in a tough global solar PV market. 

In June there was more positive news. Epson Atmix built a new superfine alloy plant with the aim of tripling its current production capacity.

In another report, in contrast to Europe, The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reported that, in the previous month, car manufacturing in the UK had its highest level of output in eight years

And it was in June that China reported on its rare earth industry

Meanwhile, the International Titanium Association (ITA) stepped in, suggesting that PM is becoming increasingly of interest in the titanium industry, 

American National Carbide set out plans for a U$S25 million expansion, while EOS and Cookson Precious Metals signed a strategic partnership to develop precious metal-based applications for the jewellery and watch industry.

Finally, the MPIF doled out its Design Excellence Awards at PowderMet. Notable winners included: GKN Sinter Metals in the automotive – engine category for a copper steel rotor, and Smith Metal Products in the consumer products category for two 17-4 PH stainless steel MIM parts that make up the nose bridge of the frame of Superfocus adjustable glasses made by Superfocus, LLC. Also at PowderMet, Matthew Bulger stated that the resurgence of the powder metallurgy (PM) industry in North America which began in 2010 will continue through 2012 and beyond.

Another report foresaw double-digit growth for additive manufacturing (AM) over the next few years. 

As many were jetting off on holiday, July was the month for aerospace, with GE forming a joint venture to manufacture aircraft engine parts. Airbus also announced this month plans to manufacture A320 in the US. The facility will be located at the Brookley Aeroplex in Mobile, Alabama, and will be the company's first US-based production facility. GKN acquired Volvo Aero, the aero engine division of AB Volvo for £633 million following plans to become a world leader in both aero structures and aero engine components. in addition, GKN Aerospace opened a composite facility in Mexico.

Honda reported plans to reuse rare earth metals from batteries while GKN Sinter Metals China invested in new presses, furnaces and induction hardening machines. Arkema sold its tin stabiliser business to PMC Group, a US manufacturer of performance chemicals and plastics.

China and Asia figured prominently in August. Carpenter reported that it was to build a bar finishing facility in the country, while Mahle expanded its facilities in China and Thailand and built a new plant in Japan to meet growing local demand. In the same month, Tin industry organisation ITRI reported that China imported 3,125 tonnes refined tin in July, up by 333% year-on-year and 31% compared to June.

Many companies responded positively to the SEC ruling on conflict minerals, including Global Advanced Metals (GAM), GTSO, AVX, and KEMET.

In what turned out to be an exciting year for NanoSteel, we reported that GM invested in the steel alloy producer.

September was all about additive manufacturing, with the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) opening during the month. Following this, Höganäs took a big step by acquiring fcubic, a developer of technology for additive manufacturing. Meanwhile, Sigma and Morris signed an agreement for a JV to  commercialise 3D printing.

In hardmetal news, Sandvik said it was to invest SEK200 million in its Coromant business unit. “The investments represent part of our future strategy to ensure that the most efficient applications and training methods are used in our operations,” said Klas Forsström, president of Sandvik Coromant.

October gave us companies streamlining segments for 2013. PSM Industries acquired PM Engineered Solutions, a manufacturer of high precision PM parts, and AMG reduced its management board in order to “simplify the reporting systems and enable AMG to better focus on its operational improvement process,” according to CEO Dr Heinz Schimmelbusch.

Meanwhile, Cristal Global brought together a number of its subsidiaries under one name."Our goal is to unleash the brilliance of titanium through our pioneering innovation, constant product and process improvement and growing global footprint,” enthused Dr Talal Al-Shair, Cristal’s chairman and CEO. 

In November, we saw the lining up of the big guns. SKF inked a lucrative agreement with Audi AG to deliver SKF components for use on a range of vehicle models.

Meanwhile, GE Aviation bought Morris Technologies and its sister company, Rapid Quality Manufacturing, both AM specialists, to “develop state-of-the-art manufacturing processes for emerging materials and complex design geometry is critical to our future,” according to Colleen Athans, vice president and general manager of the Supply Chain Division at GE Aviation. 

In big titanium news, the world's largest titanium producer was the target of a management buyout, as Russian Technologies sold 45.42% shares of VSMPO-AVISMA Corporation.

As if that wasn't enough, Precision Castparts entered into a definitive agreement to acquire TIMET for around US$2.9 billion, and two of the biggest players on the market, Carpenter and Sandvik, looked at replacing their two-year old joint venture with a new supply agreement. Phew!

Carpenter Technology Corp’s subsidiary, Carpenter Powder Products (CPP), also formed a marketing and supply agreement with strategic customer SB Specialty Metals LLC (SB). 

December was also about looking to the future - following the appointment of an automotive specialist and a bid to improve its automotive segment NanoSteel named a new president of its automotive business with the appointment of Craig Parson. We predict 2013 will be another big year for NanoSteel...

In December, too, Umicore and Evonik formed a business partnership to supply lithium-ion cathode materials, and in other battery news, Bosch reorganised its battery operations

Finally, BASF reasserted its role in PM with the building of two new MIM plants for Catamold, its ready-to-mould feedstock.

So what will 2013 hold? Check out Thailand, which could give China a run for its money in terms of automotive – local vehicle demand is expected to grow from about 870,000 units today to more than one million units in 2017. Additive manufacturing, too, is predicted to grow at a AGR of 13.5% from 2012 to 2017 to reach US$3,471.9 million by 2017. 2013 may be the year of the electric car - the many companies gearing up to produce more Li-Ion batteries certainly think so. Also watch out for new watchwords, such as 3d printing and urban mining that could be currency next year.

Here's to a positive and profitable 2013!