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February 1, 2000

5 Min Read
Q&A:  Leading the way to a metal molded future

Editor’s note: Thixomat Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI) holds the exclusive rights to the patented TXM process, which it has trademarked Thixomolding, and provides education, technology, research, and sales and marketing support to parts manufacturers and OEM end users. Neil D. Prewitt, president and ceo, and Raymond F. Decker, chairman, recently found a few moments in their increasingly busy schedules to chat about the present and future state of the TXM marketplace.

IMM: How’s business?

Prewitt: Very good. We now have more than 40 licensees and there are presently anywhere from 130 to 140 TXM machines in the field. But that is not nearly enough to meet the demand. Meeting demand is the biggest challenge we face. There is a tremendous amount of business that we presently are unable to address because the number of machines delivered has not reached the critical mass required to service those market segments.

In any event, one of our licensees has 40 different parts running now and is prototyping and testing many more. Another has already invested some $80 million in capital expenses and has found it necessary to buy a local moldmaker to make its TXM tooling to keep up with demand.

IMM: What sort of new technologies are in the works?

Decker: New magnesium alloys are in development that will provide even easier moldability and greater heat resistance for applications like automotive transmissions. And even with all of the growth in the consumer electronics market, we have yet even to scratch the surface of the potential for magnesium TXM in EMI/RFI shielding applications.

There have been some investigations into using TXM zinc for high-volume applications, like molded door handles. And we have already seen some encouraging results from working closely with the DOE [Dept. of Energy] and Alcoa on aluminum TXM. It is a much more aggressive material, but we are confident that aluminum TXM will happen. We expect to see commercial TXM aluminum parts within a year’s time.

There have been some recent developments in machinery and molds to increase energy efficiency and part yield in magnesium molding to more than 90 percent. And work has already begun on what we call "macrocomposite manufacturing cells," which are designed to overmold plastics on TXM materials. It is a value-adding concept combining the best of both worlds.

Prewitt: There is also considerable work being done on the part design engineering front, especially when it comes to CAE mold flow simulation and analysis. Meanwhile, the first edition of our basic design manual is nearing completion. It will be a living document, perhaps a ring-bound manual that users can add to over time. We are also considering a CD-ROM format.

As you can see, Ray and our team are constantly working on new technologies and we are getting a tremendous number of calls and inquiries about the process. One thing we noticed is that there is still confusion about TXM compared with other metal injection molding processes. TXM is a one-step, closed- machine process where a metallic feedstock goes in and the part comes out. The process eliminates the need for feedstock compounding, binders, debinding, and sintering.

IMM: Earlier you spoke of aluminum. How will all the mergers and acquisitions among aluminum suppliers last year influence the TXM marketplace?

Prewitt: It is still too early to tell, but we do not anticipate that it will have any negative impact.

IMM: What kind of interest are you getting from automotive suppliers?

Prewitt: One plastics automotive supplier came to us to find out about magnesium TXM. He told us he refuses to put diecasting machines in his plastics plant and told his customers he would not get into magnesium unless it could be TXM magnesium, strictly because of the environmental problems with diecasting.

IMM: Do you foresee any raw material supply problems this year?

Prewitt: There has been a tremendous amount of recent activity among magnesium producers. Several new refineries are coming onstream all around the world, and existing producers are expanding because of increased demand for magnesium, particularly in the automotive sector. All of the major automakers have staffs dedicated to increasing usage of magnesium because it is such a strong, lightweight, and environmentally friendly material. Rossborough and JSW are our only licensed chip suppliers so far, but we are talking to others.

IMM: Have you been satisfied with JSW and Husky as your licensed machinery builders?

Prewitt: Yes, extremely satisfied. Both are gearing up their TXM operations and continue to show a true commitment to the technology and to the business. Both have guaranteed us that they can fill the market’s need for machines. We have mostly been involved with the small end of the market—companies with five to 10 machines. To date, we have not addressed the really big end of the market, companies that need turnkey systems involving 50 machines or more per sale. That requires more resources than we currently have on board. We are investigating various alliances along with JSW and Husky that would bring the resources necessary to address large turnkey operations.

Decker: We continue to support both with our R&D. We have added a metals laboratory manager, a project engineer, and a plant superintendent, and we plan to add more. We spent about $1 million this year on R&D and we are looking to spend more. Our R&D activities are mainly concentrated on the heart of the system, on screws and barrels, materials of construction, and processing. And we have entered into discussions with moldmakers to forge alliances so that we can avail ourselves of their expertise and recommend them to new licensees.

Also, we will have two TXM machines on the floor here in the not-too-distant future to help in process and product development efforts, and to assist licensees with pilot runs. We will have a 220-ton JSW and a 500-ton Husky.

IMM: Do you have any plans to intensify your sales and marketing efforts?

Prewitt: Absolutely. For example, we are planning a formal dedication of our technical center where we will have the two machines Ray has already mentioned on display. We will also have a conference seminar here in Ann Arbor in between the SAE show, which runs from March 6 through 9, and the NDES show, which runs from March 13 to 16. We will also be exhibiting at both of these shows in a booth of our own for the first time. And we plan to have licensees in attendance at both shows that will display some of their innovative TXM parts.

Contact information
Thixomat Inc.
Ann Arbor, MI
Neil D. Prewitt
Phone: (734) 995-5550
Fax: (734) 995-5558
Web: www.thixomat.com

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