Advanced powder metal manufacturing processes – and innovative new powder metal compounds – are worth a closer look, says Sinteris president Phil Goodwin


[one_half]Sinteris president Phil Goodwin
[/one_half][one_half_last] This Sinteris podcast is the second in a series of features from an interview with Sinteris president Phil Goodwin. You can listen to the interview here or read the transcript.

Can you give me an example of a specific product, that you replaced a process or another material?
Without being too specific, I think I could say that we’ve made pump components that were previously made from bronze, or brass that we’ve replaced with a comparable powder metal alloy. Not proprietary, but near enough. In the case of after-market sprockets, for example – many of those are still made by casting, and we’ve taken on some business where we’re making them out of powder, because they’re older components or they’re hobbed (machined from a solid puck). And certainly we can save a lot of money with that.
Are there a lot of them that we’ve replaced? In our product mix, there’s a few. We have a few left that have been converted. In some cases, they’re conversions from stamped or wrought material – not usually stamped, but occasionally, because you want different characteristics for the material. But in many cases they have been a casting, and the casting’s been replaced. Powder replaced castings quite well in a lot of cases. And there’s less lost material, less waste. Now, casting’s gotten more efficient over the years, but we’re still more efficient than they are.
In a lot of cases the applications have already been converted. ‘We did this transmission, or we did this engine, and we converted this engine sprocket.’ All the sprockets used to be cast and then machined – or they used to be a solid block, and they probably went from the solid block fully machined, which was a piece of forged material or something of that nature – and then it would go to extruded or whatever. It would then go to a casting and then they’d say, ‘Well, there’s got to be a cheaper way to do it, or a more efficient way to do it,’ so they went to powder metal. And, when it became possible, you’d see people switch, saying, ‘Okay well we’re going to assume that the sprockets are made out of powder metal,’ and that’s how it happens.
So more and more of the basic applications – carriers are a good example; transmission carriers used to be made out of castings and what have you.
The conversion rate, I would say, has slowed, but I think you’re seeing newer applications, like in motors, for example, where stators are now being looked at with power metal applications that end up being a savings in that they reduce the number of windings of copper. We’ve looked at some where a PM stator replaces a plate stack-up stator, which is the normal method of manufacture. And it may not be cheaper to make the powder metal stator, but that stator may use, in this case, 47% less copper. So if the price of copper is very high, that becomes a very attractive proposition. And certainly it’s less time, because they don’t have to wind it as much – you know, that kind of thing.
A lot of stuff is already converted. But there are a lot of people who don’t know about powder metal and they want to convert. That’s the way it works.
You told me at one point that there was X number of pounds in a typical vehicle and that number has consistently risen….
It has risen and it is rising – and globally. Europeans for example, they may have been about 35 pounds – and I could look up the stats, but let’s use the example, they were at 30 pounds per vehicle, and in North America they’re at 60 pounds per vehicle. The Europeans were a little slower to adapt and adopt. For example, connecting rods; connecting rods in Europe were, for the most part, still made from forged material, forged wrought material, forged steel or iron. Whereas in North America, the bulk of connecting rods are made out of powder – in some cases, aluminum powder.
In general, are you saying that increasing PM content in vehicles is still a growth trend?
Absolutely. It continues to grow. At one time the growth pattern was certainly faster, but now you’ve converted a lot, so now the next challenge is, what do you convert next. And the next challenge for the PM market is, with the move to hybrid and electric vehicles, where does powder metal fall? Do you still need transmissions? What is necessary?
With a hybrid vehicle you still have an engine, though it’s smaller, so there’ll be less con rods, for example; it might be a three-cylinder engine rather than an eight. And those questions – which is why you have to look at different markets. Now, that’s many years away, but it’s happening. We’re already seeing the push toward electric and hybrid vehicles, and some of that impact on the market… Some. But you still need an air conditioner in those vehicles, and that air conditioner is still likely mechanical. So that still has air conditioning components – hubs, whatever. You need the motors, obviously, and there’s components that can be made out of powder. And in larger vehicles like light trucks, for example, they’re still going to have engines and transmissions for a lot of years to come. That is not a market that is converting rapidly.
You also do brake parts, interior parts…
Absolutely. Doors; there’s gonna be a door on every car. You’ve got to have a latch, so, latch components for doors. Every seat needs components, that may adjust lumbar or what have you. So they’re all still there. Do we have pieces on a Tesla? No, but we could. It’s possible, if they decided that their motor needed to have whatever in powder metal for a function, then it’s possible.
We’ve done some hybrid components for hybrid vehicles – the dual material examples, you know, with two different distinctive alloys. We’ve done encapsulated material for electric vehicles and I think that’s a potential significant growth market, especially in mass transit, more so than private vehicles at this point. I think down the road 10 years from now probably…
Is powder metal a potential fit for your next development project? Sinteris welcomes the opportunity to discuss the options and possibilities – including materials, processes, prototyping and manufacturing solutions – that can significantly improve your cost, quality and performance results. For details, you can reach Phil Goodwin here
For an overview of recent innovations in advanced powder metal materials and applications, we also recommend a look at our webinar, “Making Powder Metal Magic”