What is Powder Metal?

The powder metal industry is complex. Here is a brief introduction to some of the basics.

What kinds of parts can be made from metal powders?

PMT’s core competency is helping powder metal manufacturers find new parts that will grow their business. Of all powder metal shipped globally, more than 70% is ultimately used for car parts. The majority of these parts are fabricated via die compaction and sintering. These include components such as steering parts and ABS sensor rotors; transmission parts, including synchronizer hubs, plates, and planetary carriers; and engine parts including sprockets, pulleys, rotors, plates, housings, valve guides, and valve seats.

While automotive applications dominate the industry, other areas of significant interest exist. They are often similar in design to those used in the automotive sector. These parts include components for power tools, white goods, small appliances, air conditioners, computers, locks, pumps, and more. In fact, there are many other processes and end uses that utilize metal particles in creative, non-intuitive ways, pushing the boundaries way beyond metal parts. New processes and applications are discovered every day. At PMT, we make it our business to stay abreast of technology trends across the industry and cross-reference these technical advances with new primary end uses.

Why use metal powders?

Traditionally, metal is formed and supplied as bar stock or sheets. These raw materials serve a purpose in specific manufacturing processes, such as when metal sheets are used for stamping, but they are not nearly as versatile as powder metal. Most metallic elements can be processed into metal powders (with a consistency similar to flour), and this opens up unique and far-reaching uses for metals in manufacturing and commerce.

Metal particles are utilized in a wide variety of applications, such as chemical, mechanical, and magnetic products, to name just a few, and the number of uses continues to expand. But creating and processing metal powders can be challenging, especially as more processes and applications are discovered. PMT stays on top of new applications, enabling its clients to capitalize on innovative opportunities as they arise.

Manufacturing method and morphology are critical.

In simple terms, there are about 10 methods used to create metal powders. Each creates a powder with a particular morphology (size, shape, and chemistry). A metal powder’s specific morphology dictates the applications and processes for which it is viable. PMT’s expertise helps manufacturers navigate through this complex landscape.

Methods used to produce metal powders include atomization (a physical process), reduction (chemical), and electrolysis (electrical), among others. Metal powder particle sizes range from smaller than the particles in cigarette smoke to the size of sand on a beach.

Generally speaking, powder shapes fall into three categories: one-dimensional, two-dimensional, and three-dimensional. The shape of the powder particle affects the applications that are appropriate. For example, flake-shaped metal powders are viable as additives in cosmetics and industrial inks, while spherical particles are optimal for selective laser melting (SLM), a form of additive manufacturing. Sometimes different powder shapes are mixed to create a specific attribute or to save money.

How can metal powders be used?

Metal powders can be utilized in two ways, in systems and in processes. In a system, they are used without additional processing, such as for fuel additives, catalysts, and cosmetic pigments. In a process, the powders undergo additional processing that influences them in some way, as in additive manufacturing, die compaction, or sintered porous metal filtration.

PMT has identified more than 150 systems and processes that use metal powders, with applications in a diverse set of industries from aerospace to consumer electronics. The list continues to expand as companies innovate, developing new products and applications that drive powder metallurgy to previously unimagined heights.

Global powder metal sales continue to grow.

Revolutionary powder technology, new systems and processes, and manufacturing equipment improvements have had a positive effect on the global commercial landscape for powder metals. On a global basis, more tonnes of powder are shipped than ever before. PMT tracks industrial trends and competitive technologies in this expanding industry, and makes it a priority to have timely, accurate data and trend information to help its clients make the best business decisions.

How can you become involved in powder metal?

PMT can help. We are uniquely positioned within the powder metal industry to help manufacturers find new applications and accounts for powder metal, especially parts, that will generate significant incremental sales. Our three-stage FLOW Strategic Sales System will guide you to success.