One of my favorite themes in recent months has focused on how engineers can fight rising materials costs with new designs. Metals costs are still about double what they were four years ago. It looks like steel prices will be rising another 10 to 20 percent in coming months based on what’s happening in iron ore and coking coal contracts. Contract prices for the coal used as fuel in blast furnaces are rising 200 percent.
One way to mitigate rising metals prices is to consider net shape forming processes, such as metal injection molding. This is still a relatively small business, mostly because of its newness. Specialist molders mold metal powder mixed with plastic in injection molding machines that are only slightly modified. Green parts go into a furnace where the plastic is molded out, creating a “nearly” isotropic part. Metal molding makes a lot of sense when it competes against mutli-step processes, say where you are welding to a stamping to a machined part. Metal molding is best suited for complex parts under 100 grams.
I’ll be writing about metal molding in detail in coming months. For now, a great resource is the Metal Injection Molding Association, which is one of six trade groups organized within the Metal Powder Industries Federation.
Most of the new 3D printers and 3D printing technologies in this crop are breaking some boundaries, whether it's build volume-per-dollar ratios, multimaterials printing techniques, or new materials types.
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