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Growth Prospects Good for PIM

Editor's note: Randall M. German of Pennsylvania State University and Robert Cornwall of Innovative Material Solutions Inc. (both in State College, PA) have recently completed an industry and market analysis of the PIM market. Highlights of their findings follow. For a copy of the 1200-page, $2200 report, see the contact information at the end of this article.

Although the technology used to perform powder injection molding (PIM) is more than 70 years old, significant commercial success has been achieved only recently. Dramatic changes have taken place and continue to occur with more than 500 companies practicing the technology worldwide and several more entering each month. There is also a significant supplier base of more than 500 companies, including consultants, research organizations, and those that provide powders, feedstocks, raw materials for binders, mixers, molding machines, debinding equipment, furnaces, analytical and process controls, and instrumentation. A little more than half of the industry is in the U.S., with the remaining equally split between Europe and Asia; European and Asian PIM industries are growing more rapidly than in the U.S. A total of more than 1200 companies are profiled in the report.

The parts-producing industry is valued at just more than $700 million annually worldwide. Major consideration was given to parts producers that are top performers and that make up about 100 companies or 20 percent of the industry. In fact, these account for more than 90 percent of sales in the industry, 80 percent of the installed production capacity, and two-thirds of the workforce. Custom molders make up about two-thirds of the field with the remainder manufacturing for in-house consumption. The old 80/20 rule is very evident in PIM. Sales, capacity, profits, and sophistication are far from uniformly distributed.

Faring Well

Success factors for these companies include 24/7 manufacturing in multicavity molds, automated manufacturing, critical penetration in markets such as watch making, computer disk drive manufacturing, and orthodontics. Leading operations are characterized by attention to leveraging resources via unique business arrangements while leading technology developments. Further, industry leaders use intellectual property as a competitive advantage. Their facilities are modern and run at impressive levels of productivity. Most of the leaders are financially secure and work aggressively to develop new strategic markets. Finally, leaders characteristically have a focus on customers and high-quality products.

Although a wide range of materials is available for use in the PIM process, most popular are stainless steel, alumina, silica, steels, and various magnetic or electronic alloys. Some of the most profitable operations are involved in low-volume production of nonoxide ceramics (silicon nitride) and relatively small, but complicated stainless steel components. Metallic components dominate, accounting for use by two-thirds of all companies, nearly 60 percent of employment, and the majority of sales. Many new materials are possible via PIM, which will lead to a variety of new applications and broader market penetration.

New levels of process control will be required to respond to the rapidly emerging applications in optoelectronics, telecommunications, computers, and other forms of high-speed information transmission. Also, future R&D efforts need to focus on faster sintering cycles in existing equipment and development of higher sintered mechanical properties to allow direct competition with forged steels.

Contact information
Innovative Material Solutions Inc.
State College, PA
Robert Cornwall
Phone/Fax: (814) 867-1140
E-mail: [email protected]
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