CLEVELAND – According to a new study by the Freedonia Group, a Cleveland-based industry market research firm, demand for metal powders is expected to remain steady in value terms at about $3.5 billion in 2012, as prices for many of these materials are expected to decline from elevated 2007 levels. In volume terms, metal powder demand (including flakes and pastes) will increase 1.8 percent annually to 1.2 billion pounds in 2012, an improvement over a flat 2002 to 2007 performance. Gains will be supported by new applications for many types of metal powders, including iron and steel, stainless steel, aluminum and tungsten. In some instances, such as the spread of powdered metal parts in motor vehicles, these applications represent an ongoing evolution. However, completely new applications and new products such as nanoscale metal powders will also support increases in demand. A rebound in motor vehicle production and continued growth in industrial machinery shipments will also support increases.
In 2007, iron and steel, aluminum, zinc, magnesium, and copper-based powders represented more than 90 percent of total metal powder volume demand, with iron and steel powders alone accounting for more than 60 percent of the total. However, due to the relatively low prices of iron and steel powders compared to most other metal powders, iron and steel powders only accounted for 21 percent of metal powder demand by value in 2007.
Demand for iron and steel powders is heavily concentrated in parts production, particularly for motor vehicles. On the other hand, the two major markets for aluminum powders and flakes are chemicals – where they are used as catalysts, reducing agents and fillers – and paints and coatings, for use as pigments. Most demand for the costliest metal powders – tantalum and precious metals – comes from the computer, electronic components, and electrical and electronic equipment markets. Because of their high cost, these powders represent a fairly large share of the metal powder market in value terms, despite their small volumes.