Sintering Process Produces Repeatable, Hardened Metal Parts
Western Sintering, an ISO 9001-2008 certified contract manufacturer that has been in business since 1968, specializes in forming powdered metal parts with high-pressure presses and sintering furnaces that are automated with robotic loading and unloading devices. The Richland, Washington-based company uses rigid tool-steel dies and punches to cold-compact a variety of metals into parts with exacting specifications--most often in powdered steel, stainless steel, and copper-based alloys. Additionally, inasmuch as the company's material feedstock can be traced to recycled materials, it has achieved recognition as a Certified Green Technology manufacturer through the Metal Powders Industry Federation.
The contract manufacturing company is often approached by new customers that need small quantities of a given part, maybe a few thousand parts per year. "Before being considered for our process, there has to be enough quantity to offset the cost of tooling," says Western Sintering Vice President Dave Morasch. "Generally speaking, our sintering process really shines when part quantities get into the tens of thousands of parts per year requirement range. Powdered metal manufacturing is a mass production type of process, and that's where it finds efficiencies--when a customer needs a highly engineered, very precise, reliable, and repeatable method for making a lot of parts."
Sintering is a manufacturing production process that utilizes powdered metal that is pressed into a steel die to create the necessary part geometry, according to a video on the company's website (www.westernsintering.com/closer.html). The formed parts are then heated in a sintering furnace to initiate a bond between the metal particles, and the result is a repeatable, hardened metal part.
Process tooling costs run anywhere from $2,500 on the low end, to $40,000 on the high end, Morasch explained. Most tools that it produces, however, run in the $3,500 to $8,000 range. "We have presses ranging from 5 tons to 280 tons in capacity, so we have the ability to make a vast size range of parts," Morasch continues. "We have extensive secondary operations on-site for adding value-added features to the parts we make. We have the ability to secondary machine part features and heat-treat parts on-site, as well as an oil impregnation capability to give parts self-lubrication properties when desired."
While Western Sintering provides parts for a variety of industries and applications, the top three industries that it serves are shooting and recreational sports, knives, and industrial equipment. For the shooting sports industry, the company manufactures functional parts for shooting accessories and internal operational components. Parts produced for knives include knife liners, spacers, bolsters, and internal components for operational mechanisms on folding or assisted knives.
The sintering company also makes many gears of differing varieties for recreational and industrial equipment, bronze bushings and bearings for both industries, and stainless steel filters for a variety of applications. Western Sintering employs about 12 full-time employees on any given day, with the ability to churn out large volumes of work. The company reportedly does business with about 30 to 35 customers on a weekly basis, pressing and sintering a large variety of parts.
"Customer service is at our core, and we pride ourselves in working effectively with our customers both old and new," Morasch remarks. "Being small, like we are, allows communication to flow quickly and effectively throughout our organization, from top to bottom, and we are quick to problem solve and get customer issues resolved in a timely manner. When a part is a good fit for our process, we are able to offer precise, repeatable, highly-engineered components at a significant cost savings over competing manufacturing methods."
Engineering assistance is more real than virtual at Western Sintering, so the company reportedly works very hard with clients to come up with highly engineered part solutions while falling within or under the proposed budget.
"When a customer comes to us with a part sourcing need, we evaluate their component and its requirements to determine whether or not it is a good fit for our process," Morasch affirms. "If it is, we move forward with quoting. We often find ways to improve a part or an assembly that the customer may not have considered. If it is not a good fit, we will work with the customer to point them in the right direction of a manufacturing method more suited to their particular application."
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