Bulger said that traditional press-and-sinter PM, metal injection moulding (MIM), hot isostatic pressing (HIP), and other specialty PM technologies continue to thrive and that the undustry's recovery is sustainable.

Iron powder shipments soared in 2010 after a terrible previous year, and total iron-powder shipments grew modestly in 2011 to 363,831 short tons, a 3% increase. This increase was also achieved despite the shutdown of a major powder supplier's main plant for two months.

Shipments of copper and copper-based and tin powders gained almost 19% in 2011 to 17,002 short tons. Stainless steel-powder shipments increased about 5% to an estimated 7,000 short tons.

Shipments of North American metal injection moulding (MIM)-grade powders, including imports, jumped nearly 40% in 2011. The MIM process also continued to gain greater acceptance in the materials marketplace. Some interesting R&D programmes include developing MIM ultrasonic dentalscaler tips and endodontic tips, and titanium and cobalt-chromium alloys for medical-implant applications.

The hot isostatic pressing (HIP) business has also experienced robust growth in 2011 due to a general surge in manufacturing, and gains in the oil-and-gas, tool-steel, and aerospace markets.

Growth in 2012

Bulger said that 2012 began on a very positive note, with Q1 shipments of metal powders up, along with volumes of PM parts and MIM parts. U.S. light-vehicle sales are expected to top 14 million units, up substantially from the 12.8 million units sold in 2011.
 
Iron-powder shipments through April in 2012 rose by 11.25% to 134,925 short tons. Copper and copper-base and tin powder shipments have remained stable.
 

Need for experienced personnel

Bulger noted the industry’s need for experienced production workers and PM engineering professionals. Industry-wide employee reductions during 2008-09 have not been easy to reverse as the industry has rebounded. Another issue is capacity constraints - will the industry be ready to meet rising demands, particularly driven by the automotive industry, in the next several years? As was the case with staffs, rationalization moves during the same 2008-09 period included several plant closings and the scrapping of older equipment. Because it can take upwards of 10 to 12 months to build a high-end press and put it into production, Bulger cautioned, the equipment investment bandwagon must begin rolling sooner rather than later.
 

Automotive

Within the automotive sector, PM is approaching a saturation point in auto-engine content with existing technology, Bulger warned. The average auto engine now contains up to 50 PM parts weighing more than 18 pounds, including connecting rods, bearing caps, valve-seat inserts, and VVT parts. With the average North America-built engine containing up to 170 individual parts, PM parts currently represent about 30% of the content. Potential growth therefore appears more likely in transfer-case and transmission applications.
 
Educating automotive engineers about PM's benefits has always been an important aim of the MPIF industry development board (IDB). This year, the IDB launched a new automotive showcase programmeto bring PM's design-benefit-value message to PM's single largest market. More than 400 people visited the showcases and receihhved PM-design literature.
 

New developments

Bulger noted new developments in PM this year, including new additives that improve the machinability of PM materials. As mechanical property demands rise, so does the need to improve the machining performance of sinter hardened and heat-treated materials. Researchers are also developing new lubricants for high density applications.
 
The growing demand for lightweight materials is encouraging new attention aimed at PM aluminium, titanium, and magnesium structural applications. Boeing has recently qualified PM titanium alloy products for commercial aircraft use as an alternative to machining parts from bar, plate, castings, forgings, or extruded products.
 
Copper-powder products offer new opportunities for growth as well. Applications that take advantage of its conductivity properties, as well biomedical applications offer significant opportunities.
 
PM-equipment suppliers are striving to advance the technology with new products such as largertonnage CNC hydraulic compacting presses, more-stringent tolerance capabilities-in the micron range, upgrading controls on older compacting presses, and high-performance sintering furnaces. The updated PM Industry Roadmap, a project of MPIF's technical board, industry development board, and numerous additional industry experts, was recently released. Based on the first Roadmap completed in 2001, the update shows that the industry has made steady progress in high-density processing, new materials, 3-D forming systems, modelling, and advanced manufacturing methods.
 
Looking ahead, the new Roadmap identifies three main topics that will impact the industry's growth: high-density PM components, processing of lightweight materials, and electrical and electromagnetic applications. While the current PM industry is driven by automotive applications, growth in the next decade must be found in other markets. The overall need for alternative energy sources should open new markets and applications for PM.
 
In closing, Bulger noted that the PM industry is truly unique for its close-knit band of large and small companies who are devoted to promoting the entire industry and encouraging its growth. By being truly interconnected globally, the industry will continue to succeed and thrive in the years ahead.