November 14, 2000
Editor's note: Randall M. German of Pennsylvania State Universityand Robert Cornwall of Innovative Material Solutions Inc. (bothin State College, PA) have recently completed an industry andmarket analysis of the PIM market. Highlights of their findingsfollow. For a copy of the 1200-page, $2200 report, see the contactinformation at the end of this article.
Althoughthe technology used to perform powder injection molding (PIM)is more than 70 years old, significant commercial success hasbeen achieved only recently. Dramatic changes have taken placeand continue to occur with more than 500 companies practicingthe 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 thatprovide powders, feedstocks, raw materials for binders, mixers,molding machines, debinding equipment, furnaces, analytical andprocess controls, and instrumentation. A little more than halfof the industry is in the U.S., with the remaining equally splitbetween Europe and Asia; European and Asian PIM industries aregrowing more rapidly than in the U.S. A total of more than 1200companies are profiled in the report.
The parts-producing industry is valued at just more than $700million annually worldwide. Major consideration was given to partsproducers that are top performers and that make up about 100 companiesor 20 percent of the industry. In fact, these account for morethan 90 percent of sales in the industry, 80 percent of the installedproduction capacity, and two-thirds of the workforce. Custom moldersmake up about two-thirds of the field with the remainder manufacturingfor in-house consumption. The old 80/20 rule is very evident inPIM. Sales, capacity, profits, and sophistication are far fromuniformly distributed.
Success factors for these companies include 24/7 manufacturingin multicavity molds, automated manufacturing, critical penetrationin markets such as watch making, computer disk drive manufacturing,and orthodontics. Leading operations are characterized by attentionto leveraging resources via unique business arrangements whileleading technology developments. Further, industry leaders useintellectual property as a competitive advantage. Their facilitiesare modern and run at impressive levels of productivity. Mostof the leaders are financially secure and work aggressively todevelop new strategic markets. Finally, leaders characteristicallyhave a focus on customers and high-quality products.
Although a wide range of materials is available for use inthe PIM process, most popular are stainless steel, alumina, silica,steels, and various magnetic or electronic alloys. Some of themost profitable operations are involved in low-volume productionof nonoxide ceramics (silicon nitride) and relatively small, butcomplicated stainless steel components. Metallic components dominate,accounting for use by two-thirds of all companies, nearly 60 percentof employment, and the majority of sales. Many new materials arepossible via PIM, which will lead to a variety of new applicationsand broader market penetration.
New levels of process control will be required to respond tothe 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 sinteringcycles in existing equipment and development of higher sinteredmechanical properties to allow direct competition with forgedsteels.
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