The powder metallurgy industry is comprised of three major segments:
To learn more about the current state of the powder metallurgy industry, read the "State of the PM Industry in North America—2015" report.
The applications for powder metallurgy components fall into two main groups. First are components that are difficult to manufacture by any other method, such as those made from tungsten, molybdenum, or tungsten carbide. In addition, porous bearings, filters, and many types of hard and soft magnetic components are made exclusively using powder metallurgy. The second group consists of PM components that offer a cost-effective alternative to machined components, castings, and forgings. Automotive clutch plates, connecting rods, camshafts, and planetary gear carriers are just some examples of these.
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; hardware; and business machines. And, as designers increasingly learn about the superior performance, unmatched tolerances and cost savings the PM process can offer, the trend indicates that PM components are continuing to expand into previously untapped markets—like metal additive manufacturing.
The three segments that make up the powder metallurgy industry are an unbroken chain extending from raw materials to finished components, with each link supporting, and in turn being supported by, the other links.
1. Producers of powders and other raw materials
These are the companies that, using a variety of techniques, including solid- state reduction, chemical, atomization, and electrolysis, manufacture the powders that are the building blocks of the PM technology. The most common metal powders available are iron and 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, and those that manufacture industrial gases that are used as atmospheres in sintering furnaces, are included within this segment of the industry.
2. 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, injection molding machines, dies, and furnaces. It also includes suppliers of specialized equipment, systems, and support services for powder handling, secondary manufacturing and finishing operations, control automation, robotics, and laboratory testing.
3. Component and product producers
This segment embraces those firms that fabricate finished components using one of the forming technologies available. Most such companies produce these components while serving as contractors for original equipment manufactureres (OEM) who use them in their finished products, although there are a few that are in-house suppliers to such OEMs.