The Powder Metallurgy Industry
The powder metallurgy (PM) industry is comprised of three major segments:
- Companies that produce the powders, lubricants, and other raw materials that go into making finished components
- Companies that manufacture and provide the tooling, process equipment, industrial gases, and related services used in the making of finished components
- Contract and in-house fabricators of finished components
Of course, the most important segment of the industry—one not represented above—is made up of the end users of PM components, the designers and specifiers for the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who take advantage of PM’s superior capabilities in a wide range of applications.
Where Are Powder Metallurgy Products Used?
Applications for powder metallurgy components fall into two main groups.
1. Components offering a cost-effective alternative to machined components, castings, and forgings. Examples include:
- clutch plates
- connecting rods
- camshaft lobes
- planetary gear carriers.
2. Components difficult to manufacture by any other method or are exclusively manufactured using PM, such as:
- tungsten carbide
- porous bearings
- many types of hard & soft magnetic components
PM components are used in a variety of markets, with the automotive industry being the predominant one, consuming approximately 70% of the ferrous products the industry produces annually. Other important markets include:
- recreation, hand tools, and hobby products
- household appliances
- industrial motors and controls
- medical & dental
- communications, electronics, & business machines
And, as designers increasingly learn about the superior performance, cost savings, and unmatched tolerances the PM process can offer, the trend indicates that PM components are continuing to expand into previously untapped markets.
Powder Metallurgy Industry Structure
The three segments of the PM industry are linked together and support each other.
Producers of powders and other raw materials
These are the companies that, using a variety of techniques, including atomization, chemical, electrolysis, and solid-state reduction, manufacture the powders that are the building blocks of the PM technology. The most common metal powders available are iron and steel, stainless steel, tin, nickel, copper, aluminum, and titanium, as well as refractory materials such as tungsten, molybdenum, and tantalum. Companies that make lubricants and other additives that are essential to the PM process are included within this segment of the industry.
Makers of process equipment and tooling
This industry segment consists of companies engaged in the manufacture of equipment and technology for the compaction and sintering of powder metallurgy components, including presses, dies, furnaces, and those that manufacture industrial gases that are essential to the sintering process. It also includes suppliers of specialized equipment, systems, and support services for powder handling, secondary machinging and finishing operations, control automation, robotics, and laboratory testing.
This segment embraces those firms that fabricate finished components using one of the compaction technologies available. Most companies produce these components while serving as contractors for OEMs who use them in their finished products. In-house suppliers consume their finished components internally at their facilities.