The 2007 Powder Metallurgy Design Excellence Awards were presented during May’s 2007 International Conference on Powder Metallurgy and Particulate Materials in Denver. The winning parts are examples of conventional press and sinter powder metallurgy (PM) processing, metal injection molding (MIM) and hot isostatic pressing (HIP).

With the decline in domestic automotive manufacturing, some of this year’s inventions may be driven by the need to develop new parts in additional markets. Awards range from automotive transmission parts to handcuff components and orthodontic bracket parts. The handcuff application uses 14 PM parts, of which five are different designs. Due to the intricate designs of many of these parts, PM is often the most cost-effective solution because of its near-net-shape process. Depending on the part, customers can achieve cost savings of up to 50% over the next most competitive fabrication process.

Edul M. Daver, president of the Metal Powder Industries Federation (MPIF), reported that the future of the North American PM industry remains bright because of new technologies, improved PM material properties, innovative processes and globalization. While 2006 shipments of iron, copper and tin powders decreased, in large part due to the loss of market share of the Big 3 automakers, stainless powder shipments and nickel powder imports both increased. Also growing at a double-digit rate is the MIM market. The top MIM growth areas for 2007 are medical, automotive and electronics.

For the first time in a decade, the average 2007 content of PM parts in North American vehicles will decrease 2-3% to slightly below 43 pounds. New program launches – such as the Ford Edge – continue to breathe life into this part of the PM industry, however. One version of the 2008 Cadillac CTS and STS V-6 engine uses an estimated 32 pounds of PM parts.

Much of the growth in the PM market is overseas. China, Korea and India are seeing double-digit annual growth rates. It appears that this growth is presently due to the increasing usage of this technology in these markets. Opportunity exists for continued growth in the automotive markets in these countries as the PM content of their domestic automobiles ranges from 10-18 pounds.

Another way that the PM industry can grow its market share is through development. Metal-powder makers are developing new high-density steels and processes to achieve 7.5 g/cm3 with a single press and sinter operation. The Center for Powder Metallurgy Technology (CPMT) is focusing its current development program on obtaining full density in a single pressing operation. The first phase of this program targets high-velocity compacting, warm compaction and ultra-high-pressure compaction.

Returning to the awards the grand-prize winners were broken into categories with the Hand Tools/Recreation winner being a trigger guard for a muzzle-loading hunting rifle. Winners in other categories included an automotive clutch hub, forward-reverse actuator assembly for a golf cart transmission, a fire hydrant secure cap cover, orthodontic parts, a pump rotor and a cryomagnetic end cover.

The largest part awarded is an end cover used in the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland – the world’s largest and highest-energy subatomic particle accelerator. This part is made from 316 LN stainless steel powder and is HIPed to full density with a near-net shape of over 250 pounds. The part meets the equivalent mechanical properties of wrought 316LN, including internal toughness and high ductility.

Hopefully we have shed some light on this segment of our high-temperature thermal-processing market. As growth occurs through domestic development and innovation, the technology should be protected through all available means – patents, for example. Guarding the technological developments and design innovations that so often occur in the U.S. will help to ensure the future growth of this industry in North America.IH