After five consecutive weak years, the North American powder metallurgy (PM) began growing again last year
Michael E. Lutheran, president of the Metal Powder Industries Federation (MPIF) attributes the dramatic rebound to an increase in light-vehicle sales as well as other end markets.
The industry’s turnaround began during the last quarter of 2009 when customer inventories were at their lowest point and the pipeline needed refilling. Total 2010 North American metal powder shipments increased about 35 percent to an estimated 451,021 short tons.
Total iron powder shipments in 2010 soared by 44.23 percent to 353,121 short tons. The PM parts share represented 315,192 short tons, a 50 percent increase over 2009 levels. The increase brought the industry to levels still below its peak year of 2004, when iron powder shipments hit almost 474,000 tons. “Nevertheless, we are back on the growth track, regaining momentum in nearly every quarter,” Lutheran said.
Copper powder shipments in 2010 also advanced to an estimated 18,000 short tons, a 36 percent increase from 2009. Stainless steel powder shipments jumped as well to an estimated 6,700 short tons, an increase of almost 50 percent.
North American metal injection molding (MIM)-grade powder shipments increased close to 29 percent in 2010 to over one million pounds. Shipments of PM tool steel, high-alloy materials, and tungsten also registered gains in 2010.
Internationally, PM industry production rose in Europe, Asia, and South America last year. China, South Korea, Brazil, Japan, and India enjoyed substantial increases.
And so far so good in 2011. Powder metal shipments remain robust.
First-quarter sales reports show increases ranging from 10 to 35 percent with strong back orders. While many companies have rehired previously furloughed production workers, they are still running with leaner workforces than before.
Through April, demand remained firm in PM’s largest market. PM parts found in new engines and six-speed transmissions use substantial amounts of metal powder. For example, GM and Ford six-speed models contain from 28 to 34 pounds of PM parts. Overall, the average U.S.-made vehicle in 2010 contained an estimated 41.6 pounds of PM parts, with a slight gain to almost 42 pounds forecast for 2011. In Europe, the average per vehicle in 2010 is estimated at 18.5 pounds.