Passmore, Baker Suggest More Innovation for Powder Metallurgy Manufacturing
by Melissa Kaye (July 2009)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Most people don’t think about the metal parts that make up things they use daily, from car parts to appliances to medical equipment. The manufacturing of these pieces (called powder metallurgy parts) has historically been a large, unique industry in Pennsylvania. However, like many industries, it is facing job loss and global competition.
In a new report, Penn State researchers have explored what can be done to support and maintain this industry, particularly in light of weak car sales.
Nearly half of the nation’s powder metallurgy part manufacturing facilities are located in Pennsylvania. Vehicle parts constitute about 70 percent of the market for powder metallurgy manufactured parts from the region. The industry’s revenue from 2007 has been estimated at $2.3 billion. In Elk County, the epicenter of powder metallurgy part manufacturing, 500 jobs were lost, and there was a 36 percent increase in the number of unemployed residents in the second half of 2008, the highest percentage of job loss in Pennsylvania in that time frame.
The researchers say that the industry needs to be more involved in new and emerging markets to stay competitive.
“The downturn in auto sales spells trouble for powder metallurgy parts manufacturers and other suppliers for auto producers,” said David Passmore, who wrote the report with Rose Baker, both of Penn State’s Workforce Education and Development Initiative, an alliance between Penn State Outreach and Penn State’s College of Education.
In the first half of 2009, 7.2 million vehicles were sold, down 36 percent from 2008 and 46 percent from 2007. The researchers suggest that the industry explore different uses for powder metallurgy manufacturing and that there be investment in additional training for industry workers to take their "art" to a higher level.
“This industry is at the tip of the iceberg in terms of its applications,” said Baker. “It replaces traditional metal working that is more expensive, creating parts more quickly and with less waste."
In addition, the researchers said the manufacturing industry could benefit from the enhacement of its "green" standing: The runoff from old mines can be used for functional metal parts, so the industry would be able to help to clean up environmental disturbance.
“This manufacturing industry has been a jewel for Pennsylvania,” said Passmore. “There’s a statewide interest to make sure that we don’t lose this industry.”
The report is available online.
The Workforce Education and Development Initiative supports the development of the workforce in Pennsylvania through the utilization of Penn State resources to conduct various types of workforce assessments for employees, industry partnerships, not-for-profit organizations and government entities.