More stories related to SAE DETROIT - Use of powder metal, the material that makes up an increasing number of precision components in engines and drivetrains, will grow slightly in 2005, from 42.97 lbs. (19.5 kg) per vehicle to 43.45 lbs. (19.7 kg).

This, despite a somewhat uncertain light-vehicle production outlook, says Eric Boreczky, manager of automotive applications for Hoeganaes Corp., the world's largest PM producer.

Boreczky says powder metal applications in North America are growing at the rate of 1 lb.-1.5 lbs. (0.45 kg-0.68 kg) per vehicle annually and are on track to hit an average of 50 lbs. (22.7 kg) per vehicle by 2012.

The ability to produce precisely shaped metal components that reduce or eliminate the need for secondary operations, such as machining, makes PM attractive to auto makers, particularly Detroit's Big Three.

The fall in U.S. sales of large SUVs will impact powder metal use.

Asian and European auto makers have been slower to adopt the technology. Globally, Boreczky says PM content now is around 23 lbs. (10.4 kg) per vehicle and will increase only about 3 lbs. (1.4 kg) by 2010.

The shrinking market share of General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., and the possible slowing popularity of thirsty 4-wheel-drive trucks and SUVs with big V-8 engines, could have a negative impact on powder metal use, Boreczky says, because these vehicles are heavy users of PM parts.

However, he quickly adds the growing popularity of all-wheel-drive systems in cars, which use many PM parts, will help counter possible marketplace changes.

In a speech to the Metal Powder Industries Federation automotive suppliers luncheon here, MPIF President David Schaefer says PM content in European cars stands at 19.8 lbs. (8.9 kg) and 17.6 lbs. (8 kg) in Japanese cars.

Most new engines contain powder-forged connecting rods and PM bearing caps, and PM continues to replace a variety of cast and stamped metal parts.

But planetary carrier housings used in automatic transmissions and transfer cases are pushing PM towards higher per-vehicle poundage. PM carriers withstand very high torque loads and offer cost savings to auto makers, proponents say.

The complex, sinter-bonded transmission components are produced at net shape, eliminating much of the labor and additional machining processes needed to produce conventional cast-iron carrier housings.

PM engine variable valve timing (VVT) components also are growing in popularity among OEMs. The VVT systems optimize engine valve timing to enhance torque and fuel economy.

Japan-based auto makers began heavily adopting VVT in the 1990s, but domestic OEMs, led by early adopter Ford Motor Co., are well under way with a shift to VVT for many of their engine families. VVT systems potentially can use 2 lbs.-6 lbs. (0.9 kg-2.7 kg) of PM parts.

Hoeganaes' Boreczky says the PM market will continue to grow in its two largest vehicle areas: powertrains and transmissions. Applications such as connecting rods, valve guides, engine bearings, oil-pump gears and complex drive and driven sprockets all are projected to see stable, and possibly increased, usage in upcoming model years.

dwinter@primediabusiness.com