POWDERMET2017: key takeaways for automakers and their PM suppliers
Sinteris president Phil Goodwin weighs in on the PM industry’s threats and opportunities and how they affect our OEM, Tier 1 and Tier 2 customers
POWDERMET2017, held June 13-17 in Las Vegas, was presented by the Metal Powder Industries Federation (MPIF), a US-based non-profit association that holds annual conferences that focus on the latest scientific and technical developments in powder metallurgy.
Phil Goodwin has been attending MPIF conferences regularly since 2000. “It’s an opportunity to network, which is really important given the great technical advances in powder metal. We’re really there on behalf of our customers, because they’re the ones who will ultimately benefit from our industry’s innovations.
“When you talk about improvements to the powder, these are things that can improve performance for the customer without adding significant costs – for example, improved lubricants, different techniques for improving dimensional control.”
Disruption is the auto industry’s new normal
In automotive circles, three issues have dominated this past year’s headlines: electric and hybrid vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and car-sharing. None of these developments will alter the auto industry significantly over the near term. But since this industry accounts for over seventy percent of the powder metal market, it’s no surprise to see that these phenomena got a lot of attention at this year’s conference. PM suppliers need to keep a watchful eye on them as they move closer to home on their radar screens.
Here’s Phil’s take on what makes each of them a game-changer not just for automakers but also for their powder metal suppliers:
Electric motors, and to a lesser extent hybrid engines, are smaller than gas or diesel engines, and require fewer of the components that are typically made with powder metal.
Autonomous vehicles, aimed initially at large urban centers, are likely to use electric motors, which, because of battery life and charger station availability, are best suited to short haul and commuter-style trips.
As the popularity of car sharing increases, vehicle sales – and manufacturing volumes – will decline.
Business as usual? Maybe not, but…
Innovations such as these will have a profound effect on the auto sector in general. Yet as POWDERMET2017 also made clear, the PM industry’s outlook remains bright well into the foreseeable future.
None of these disruptors will have much effect in rural and suburban markets, where the majority of drivers will still require cars and light trucks equipped with traditional fuel and diesel engines.
Engine and transmission component volumes might decline, but powder metal is used in many other applications, including brake and suspension systems, and body and interior components.
Gas and diesel engines, with their traditional PM components, will continue to power heavy duty vehicles – such as trucks, buses, construction vehicles, and agricultural implements – for much longer than they will be used in passenger vehicles.
Even in the case of faster-evolving passenger vehicle markets, it will still take from five to ten years to fully develop the new technologies, and perhaps another decade or more for electric, hybrid and autonomous vehicles to be competitive across all mainstream markets.