Buying precompounded PIM feedstocks would probably be the last thing some veterans of the business would do. The founding fathers did it all, including mixing and blending their own. Some still find that their custom formulating experience gives them a sharper competitive edge. Such expertise allows them to formulate feedstocks precisely to a customer's properties specs, they say.
Still, some other industry vets say that they have begun to purchase their feedstocks, in limited quantities, of course, as well as making them in-house. Why? One answer is that some of their customers have begun specifying parts in the name-brand feedstocks.
Randall M. German, professor at Penn State University (University Park, PA) believes the growing popularity of premixed feedstocks is a sure sign of the PIM industry's budding infrastructure.
"They bring with them a greater degree of standardization, and standardization will grow in importance," he says. "Already, some medical firms will buy only from certain molders using certain feedstock because of standards they have established."
The Suppliers' Answer
Al W. Friederang is the manager of BASF's Advanced Materials business. BASF's truly in a win-win situation. It supplies carbonyl powders, which are quite popular, to those who prefer to compound in-house. BASF also supplies Catamold-brand MIM and CIM feedstocks. BASF is generally regarded as the largest feedstock supplier in the world, with most of its sales going into operations in Europe. Friederang says that even established PIM molders who are backward integrated into compounding are benefiting from the growth in materials options feedstocks provide:
"Making your own feedstocks can be advantageous, but no single company makes everything," he says. BASF can afford the investment required to develop new high-performance products. And it can test applications development at its lab in Wyandotte, MI and at facilities elsewhere around the world.
Advanced Metalworking Practices President Kishor M. Kulkarni has similar views on the subject. His company has been a feedstock supplier since 1988. Advanced Metalworking is dedicated 100 percent to high-volume MIM feedstock production, and is said by industry experts to sell a larger quantity in the U.S. than any other company. Still, Kulkarni believes precompounded feedstocks are of particular benefit to newcomers, increasing their chances for success.
"Feedstock production is one of the most critical elements in the process", Kulkarni argues. "There's nothing anyone can do afterwards to correct problems caused by poor feedstocks.
"New companies need money for capital equipment purchases and for hiring knowledgeable people. Field-proven precompounded feedstocks allow them to allocate scarce resources to parts production."
Kulkarni adds that Advanced Metalworking also can help newcomers get off on the right technological foot. "No front-end expenses like licenses are involved and our feedstocks can be purchased in small lots for sampling," he says. "We have no qualms about helping people get started, and we will work with them to help them grow."
Major PIM Feedstock Suppliers
Kishor M. Kulkarni
Phone: (317) 843-1233
Fax: (317) 843-1233
Planet Polymer Technologies San Diego, CA