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Powder injection molding (PIM) is a technology for manufacturing complex, precision, net-shape components from either metal or ceramic powder. The potential of PIM lies in its ability to combine the design flexibility of plastic injection molding and the nearly unlimited choice of material offered by powder metallurgy, making it possible to combine multiple parts into a single one (Hausnerová, 2011).

Furthermore, PIM overcomes the dimensional and productivity limits of isostatic pressing and slip casting, the defects and tolerance limitations of investment casting, the mechanical strength of die-cast parts, and the shape limitation of traditional powder compacts (Tandon, 2008). Due to the demand of high performance materials and the miniaturization of complex components in various fields, PIM market has exceeded the $ 1 billion mark in 2007, becoming approximately six times larger than 15 years before (German, 2008).

This impressive growth rate is not expected to slow down in the next few years, as a recent report from Global Industry Analysts announced that together, world metal and ceramic PIM market is forecast to reach $ 3.7 billion by the year 2017 (Global Industry Analysts [GIA], 2011). Metal powder injection molding (MIM) is still considered the largest segment of this market, accounting for more than 70% of global output. Although PIM is globally widespread, Europe and Asia-Pacific account for a major share of MIM segment, while USA is still the largest market for Ceramic Injection Molding (CIM) (GIA, 2011).

In Europe, the MIM production is dominated by automotive applications and the so called consumer market (which includes watches and eyeglasses), while the North American production is mainly applied to the medical/healthcare field. On the other hand, the Asian production, considered the largest one, is dominated by consumer electronics and information technology applications.

The consumer electronics market is, indeed, one of the drivers behind MIM, whose growth is largely taking place in Asia, specifically in Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Singapore and South Korea. Another growth factor is the expansion of medical component production also in Asia, as a larger population gains access to improved health care (German, 2008).

A recent increase in MIM sales has generated a need for new equipment, with a simultaneous investment in research and development. Typically, leader companies invest an average of 10.5% of sales in the combination of capital expansion and research. Besides this, several contract electronic assembly firms that used to purchase MIM components from custom molders have now elected to make from MIM a captive operation (German, 2008). This could lead to rapid growth for those operations since the relationship between design and production can be improved.

Stainless steel continues to dominate MIM applications, accounting for around half of the global production, reflecting the capture of components that would have otherwise gone to investment casting. Nevertheless, other materials as copper, nickel alloys, bronze and more recently tungsten alloys and titanium also represent important markets (German, 2008). On the other hand, the CIM market is mainly dominated by products made out of alumina, zirconia, and silicon or aluminium nitride powders (Ruprecht et al, 2002).

Typical components produced by PIM, either MIM or CIM, range from 0.002 to over 100 g (German, 2008). Furthermore, in both segments it is clear the progressive move towards smaller products, demanding improved technologies regarding machinery, process, and materials, hence leaving a still open field for applied research.
Continuation of the article is available on the ResearchGate

Authors: Gustavo Beulke, EIgor Emri, Joamin Gonzalez-Gutierrez
Source: In book: Some Critical Issues for Injection Molding. March, 2012


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