Sinteris podcast: How and why automotive engineers choose powder metal
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Sinteris president Phil Goodwin

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This Sinteris podcast features an interview with Sinteris president Phil Goodwin. You can listen to the interview here or read the transcript.

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How does a guy sitting there designing a new transmission or whatever, decide…maybe we should try powder metal…How does he arrive at that question or that decision and how then does that come back to you? What’s his mindset?
In the case of North American OEMs in particular, they tend more towards the use of power metal because it’s cost effective. Not always, but generally, it’s one of the lower cost solutions for putting a metal part in an engine or a transmission. And you get the ability to create complex components with relatively minimal waste. And that near-net capability is a factor.
How do we get in there? In some cases, it’s conversion. You talk to the customer and they may have something that’s currently made from casting, or from wrought machined, and they want to convert to powder metal – or they’ve thought about it because it’s more cost-effective. And you gain a lot of the capabilities that powder offers you, which is different alloys and the capability of that alloy…. And guiding people toward the right material can be the case.
But in many cases the customer has metallurgists on staff who know generally what powder they might want to use, or want the characteristics for. In some cases, they open up MPIF Standard 35, or in Europe, a DIN spec, and they look at the materials and they look at what that material can do. So in the case of a very standard material in powder metal, which is FCO208, FCO208 is a ferrous material with copper. The FC is ferrous with copper. The 02 is the percentage of copper, 2%. And the O8 is the percentage of carbon. That’s where the definition comes from.
The designation tells you what the material’s made of, or what the basic material’s made of, and then we can adjust within. For example, that 2% copper with .8% carbon is a standard material tbat’s used in PM everywhere. It’s a strong material. It’s relatively inexpensive, and it performs well in most applications. But on the other hand, you can also make sinter-hardenable materials that will give you the characteristics of heat-treated product with a single pass rather than having to send outside for heat-treat and all the affiliated cleanliness and damage [risks] that can occur.
Now is that something an engineer is going to know?
They could give you a specification for hardness. They need a part that’s made out of steel and it’s this hard. They may look at a standard – and often you’ll get the print, it’ll say we want a whatever, wrought material, specific wrought material. They would give us a standard. We’ll take a look at that standard for that wrought material and then we’ll say okay, what’s the comparative powder metal composition. And then we find something that meets the requirements – because there’ll be elongation requirements, and stress capability, impact resistance, or wear resistance, or ductility – and we can look at the specifications and do those comparisons.
And that’s where it’s best – if you can get something that’s not powder right now and convert it successfully, because that’s really the gem in powder metal. The goal in powder metal is to take something that’s currently made out of a material that’s forged or cast or some other form of metal working, and then machined to death, and then we take it and we can make it with less effort.
Engineers in today’s world today, certainly, also consider cost. That’s part of the job, is to keep that within the price. You know, if you’re building a new transmission, they’ll have a cost target. And powder metal often gives you configurations and cost – and they’ll know that, where it’s possible. And in some cases they don’t know, and we can educate them on that. In most cases, they have a feel for it and in many, many cases nowadays, people really do know – ‘I think I need to use powder metal here but we need to talk to somebody to figure out what we should use’ – if they don’t use somebody internally, or they may consult different suppliers.
Sinteris might not be their first choice. We may be their fifth choice. But they may get to us because the first four failed, didn’t want it, didn’t fit their profile, too expensive, not reliable, you know…. sourcing problems, not in our list. A lot of it is who’s in your supplier list. And in our case, we’re fortunate to be on some supplier lists that gives us the ability to quote business that other people never see.

For more about powder metal applications and criteria, you can reach Phil Goodwin here

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