Competition is fierce in the expanding hand tool and lawn & garden products industries. As an engineer or purchasing agent for these industries, are there enough advantages of powder metallurgy to warrant a switch from traditional machining? While the end use of well over 80% of PM parts goes into automotive applications, powder metallurgy also produces small metal parts for hand tool manufacturers, as well as lawn and garden equipment.
The main challenge in component manufacturing for small metal parts is figuring out how to facilitate energy and torque in a cost-effective way. As engineers learn more about powder metallurgy advantages and advanced capabilities, more industries are looking to build off what automakers started.
Standard Powder Metal Parts in Home & Garden and Tool Markets
Powder metal components are blazing new paths in hand-operated and electrical equipment industries. Powder metal companies are providing solutions that offer more density, tighter tolerances, and reduced waste. That said, many of the current offering from lawn, garden, and tool makers merely feature commodity-type PM parts.
Examples of the same-old include:
Lawn mower blade adapters
Structural parts and generic gears for lawn equipment
But what if you used powder metal’s inherent benefits to take your product to a new level? There may be hidden opportunities:
More robust battery life
More on those later.
Beyond Conventional -- Leveraging Powder Metallurgy Advantages
Much of the lawn and garden industry is made up of conventional powder metal parts. But to Those who dig deeper and take a unique perspective you will find additional possibilities with powder metal.
Power tools and lawn & garden products have done a solid job of converting parts to powder metal when possible. But there’s more out there:
Believe it or not, there is a tool company that makes a drill with a transmission in it, which relies on dozens of powder metal parts. The small transmission contains a planetary gear set that can be made very quickly with PM, with almost zero scrap waste versus machining. PM eliminated the high costs associated with traditional machining methods, and cut the total manufacturing cost of the drill by over 50%. The end result was a high-end, affordable drill that stands up to rugged use.
Another drill manufacturer learned PM was the better choice versus cutting and machining. When drilling deep holes, the material tends to build up around the drill bit. Powder metal part was designed to have a gear form on the outside and a ratchet face detail on the inside that bounces the drill up and down ever so slightly (like a jackhammer) to clear debris away from the cutting tip.
Another interesting case of using powder metallurgy for power tools is the ramp feature on a component, which rotates using a cam follower. Since cam followers can come in a wide array of configurations, PM is perfect for the production process.
3 Powder Metallurgy Advantages
Manufacturers of tools and lawn/garden products who want to improve performance should consider a switch to powder metal -- or revisit current designs to see whether things could be even better. There are three main benefits of making the switch to powder metal (PM):
1. Design Flexibility
Manufacturers always strive to make tools or lawn/garden products that look great but, more importantly, are comfortable and effective to use. Powder metal allows more design flexibility, so engineers can easily create unique features or specify multiple features on the same part without worrying about burdensome cost increases.
2. Net Shape
Thanks to the design versatility of powdered metal components, very little secondary machining is required. This reduces waste and saves a great deal of production time.
3. Cost Savings
Powdered metal manufacturing is a quality, low-cost alternative to other metal forming technologies for any project. This truth is both in terms of component cost and final assembly costs. Because powder metal is so much better at forming rounded shapes than competing methods, you can dramatically reduce the number of parts per assembly.
Higher Performance, Creative Designs
What are new ways that you could take advantage of powder metal? We in the PM industry have already made your product cheaper. Now, how can we improve it further?
The electrification of the hand tool and land & garden industry could use some additional support from powder metallurgy. Warm weather will be back soon (yes, even in the Northeast U.S.). With it comes the construction and yard/garden seasons.
We’re pleased to see that electric mowers are on their way to prominence. But there still may be more you can do.
Remember, you can take a lot of the modern thought processes in the automotive industry and apply them to tools and lawn/garden products. Can you make your tool lighter? Better?
Here are some of the unique solutions you can bring to tomorrow’s product:
What about new emissions rules in your area? How can powder metallurgy influence or affect your ability to meet those standards?
Some communities limit number of hours per day you can make certain levels of noise, and creating a more quiet product may be possible with the right design decisions.
Let’s say your current power tool has a run life of an hour before the battery needs a recharge.
Is it financially worth trying to achieve an hour and 20 minutes of run time with a switch to powder metal? The customers for your line of string trimmers may think so.
Are your connecting rods still made of cast aluminum? What if you compare them to a high-performance powder metal product? You might gain 2.5x the performance just by switching materials.
Depending on shapes and designs, soft magnetic composites may be a solution in the electric motor world. This type of powder metal material is great for building super-efficient electric motors that save space in your design.
A more compact design, with fewer parts in the assembly, can greatly reduce total weight. A push mower or hand drill that’s lighter will put less strain on the user.
What More Can You Bring to Your Customers?
A strategy that includes powder metal parts can help bring along that “electrification.” Consumers and contractors will turn to innovative manufacturers who can provide them with durable tools at the lowest possible price. Now’s the time of year to consider incorporating powder metallurgy into the design of your product line.
Now is the time for the hand tool and lawn & garden industries to benefit from the many advances PM has realized.