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Industrialization of Metal Injection Molding MIM: Materials, Production Equipment and Standards

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The success of metal injection molding MIM industry over past two decades, particularly recent phenomenal growth in Asia, has been largely due to the advent of commercial MIM feedstock and the development of continuous debinding and sintering furnaces (as opposed to batch debinding and sintering furnaces). In the early 1990s, BASF introduced Catamold feedstock to market and promoted the development of a matching continuous sintering furnace. Today, BASF remains the largest raw material supplier in MIM industry

The fact that BASF produces its own carbonyl iron powder is certainly the driving force behind the development of CATAMOLD feed. At the same time, however, the growth of metal injection molding industry has stimulated efforts by powder manufacturers such as Epson Atmix (Japan), Carpenter (USA) and Sandvik Osprey (UK) to develop aerosolized and water-atomized powders for MIM processes, typically stainless steel 17-4 PH powder.

The maturity of raw materials and production technologies has brought in well-known new producers for MIM industry. Swatch, the Swiss watchmaker, was one of the earliest users of Catamold, using metal injection molding technology in its Irony series in 1994. The company's continuous "lights out" line at Grenchen in Switzerland, which is still in operation, was seen at the time as an example of the potential of MIM.

By the mid-1990s, the world was struggling to create a common standard for metal injection molding. The north American association for powder metallurgy (MPIF) first published materials standard 35 for metal injection molding parts in 1993, covering a variety of stainless steel and soft magnetic alloys. The standard has been revised several times, with the latest version released in 2017.

In 1997, European association for powder metallurgy (EPMA) established European dedicated network for metal injection molding standards (MIMNet), which was funded by European standards, measurement and testing programme, and published a draft metal injection molding standard in 1999, which was later converted to the international standard, ISO 2206:2012. Japan powder metallurgy association (JPMA) also sets MIM standards for Japan.

All of these early standardization activities have been instrumental in encouraging design engineers in the application field to embrace and adopt metal injection molding technologies, making a strong contribution to the continued development of global MIM industry.

Keywords in the article: MIM industry metal injection molding
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