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POWDER METALLURGY ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES

Powder metallurgy is the process by which fine powdered materials are blended, pressed into a
desired shape, and then heated to bond surfaces. It is typically used when large amounts of small,
intricate parts with high precision are required as it has low material wastage and unusual mixtures
can be utilized for making parts in the automotive industry, household appliances, and recreational
equipment, etc. It is used for fabricating components by compacting both powdered metallic or
non-metallic materials. It is solid state fabrication technique which can be used to blend two or
more metallic and/or non-metallic powders together in a machine and then compacted at very high
pressure using a die. The compacted powder will be still in the green state such that the green
compact is taken out of the die and sintered at very high temperature to get a hardened mass having
the desired configuration with enhanced strength and other mechanical properties.1 Figure 1
demonstrates the typical processing stages of powder metallurgy.

Figure 1: Processing Stages of Powder Metallurgy2

Production of Metal powders


Any fusible material can be atomized. Several techniques have been developed which permit large
production rates of powdered particles, often with considerable control over the size ranges of the
final grain population. Powders may be prepared by crushing, grinding, chemical reactions, or
electrolytic deposition.3 The methods normally used for the production of metal powder are
a. Atomization.
b. Reduction
c. Electrolytic deposition
d. Pulverization
e. Mechanical alloying
Figure 2: a) Atomization process; b) Reduction process
using the Rotating Electrode method5

Blending and Compaction of Powder


Blending is mixing powders of two or more metals having different size & shapes to get a uniform
mixture. The ideal mixture consists of particles having uniform distribution. Powders of different
metals are mixed to improve physical & mechanical properties as required. To improve the flow
characteristics, lubricants are mixed with the metal powder. Mixing of powder must be carried out
under controlled conditions to prevent contamination.4
Compaction is the process in which the blended powders are pressed into shapes in dies using
presses activated by hydraulic & mechanical means. The pressure is around 70-800Mpa. By
pressing, the required shape with the desired density, with good particle to particle contact can be
obtained. The pressed powder is referred to as green compact as discussed. Pressing is generally

done at room temperature, but can also be carried out at elevated temperature. The density of the
green compact depends on the pressure applied. As the compacting pressure is increased, the
density approaches that of the theoretical density of the metal in the bulk form. If the size of the
particles is the same then there will always be some open spaces between the particles. This space
is referred to as porosity. In general, the porosity is around 24% by volume. Introducing smaller
particles will fill the spaces between the larger particles and thus result in a higher density of the
compact. The higher the density is, higher will be the strength and elastic modulus of the part.
The following are the methods of compaction. Powders are compacted by any one of the methods:

Using a punch and a die

By Rolling

By Extrusion

By Injection molding

By Isostatic pressing

Figure 3: Pressing of powder using a) Injection molding


process; b) Punch and Die method3

Sintering of Powder
In the sintering operation, the pressed-powder compacts are heated in a controlled atmosphere to
right below the melting point. There are three stages of sintering which are conducted in oxygenfree conditions

Burn-off (purge)- combusts any air and removes lubricants or binders that would interfere with
good bonding.

High-temperature- desired solid-state diffusion and bonding occurs.

Cooling period- lowers the temperature of the products in a controlled atmosphere

The main driving force is excess surface free energy in solid state sintering. The surface energy
can be reduced by transporting material from different areas by various material transport
mechanisms so as to eliminate pores which trap gaseous impurities.6
Characteristic Advantages and Limitations
The benefits of using Powder Metallurgy for processing or manufacturing is mainly due to the
unlimited choice of alloys and non-metallic with associated properties that are available for use
from which a variety of metal or non-metal powders can be made. Due to long term reliability it
gives close control of dimensions and physical properties as seen in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Dimensional control along with desired physical


properties5

The process is very economical for mass production in the range of 100,000 parts. There is very
high material utilization i.e. loss of material very less which minimizes or even totally eliminates
the requirement of machining. Very good surface finish can be easily obtained from various
different processes. The major advantage of using powder metallurgy is it can be used to form
parts with complex geometries. The method of flow process is used to form parts using such
complex geometrical shape. Mixed powder of good liquidity is used for flow compaction that gives
craft precision forming workpiece a fine outline.4
With the traditional method of powder metallurgy forming parts in the direction perpendicular to
the suppression of grooves, cross hole shape, need to design complicated mold or through sintering
after secondary machining to finish. Although the injection forming technology in the aspect of
forming parts of complex shape almost is not subject to any restrictions, but because of the large
number of adhesive added, in heating process can make the workpiece deformation occurred
because of gravity, therefore often require additional a more complex and more expensive special
degreasing process, compared to the conventional powder metallurgy technology makes the
injection forming technology cost is high, so the parts of injection molding will not be able to
replace can meet the conventional powder metallurgy parts of its design function, which makes
the application of the injection molding technology is limited by a certain range. Therefore, flow
pressure forming process is used for threading. With external thread core mold after compacting,
the core screw out from the semi-finished products, and then sintering thread can be obtained.
According to choose a suitable shrinkage of core diameter can be pressed out the screw without
the need for secondary machining required. This is perhaps the most significant technological
processing flow applications.3

The limitations of using the Powder Metallurgy (P/M) process is that its initial investment cost
high is quite high. Some methods have limited part size and complexity that can be processed thus
limiting the types of parts that can be processed using it. Sometimes, high cost of powder material

Figure 5: Comparison of the powder processing methods5

and high cost of tooling make the process inviable. Also, the processed product part is less strong
than wrought ones along with the fracture toughness being low in some cases. There, are many
health hazard associated for the operator due to very fine powder size being processed with the
risk of inhalation which could result in fatal consequences.6
Thus, there has to be a trade-off between on characteristic for the other while production. From
Figure 5 we see that if the process opted is conventional press and sinter then there has to be a
trade-off between cost of the overall process for density of the material.

References
1. Angelo PC, Subramanian R. Powder metallurgy: science, technology and applications. PHI
Learning Pvt. Ltd.; 2008 Mar 3.
2. Upadhyaya GS. Powder metallurgy technology. Cambridge Int Science Publishing; 1997.
3. Froes FH, Eylon D, Eichelman GE, Burte HM. Developments in titanium powder
metallurgy. JOM. 1980 Feb 1;32(2):47-54.
4. Klar E. Powder metallurgy: applications, advantages, and limitations.
5. http://eng.sut.ac.th/me/box/1_54/435300/powder.pdf
6. Kuhn H, editor. Powder Metallurgy Processing: The Techniques and Analyses. Elsevier;
2012 Dec 2.