Capstan Atlantic recently won the Metal Powder Industry Federation (MPIF)’s Award of Distinction in automotive chassis operations for a six-level, iron-copper drive pulley used in the electric power steering systems of Ford’s Escape small crossover and Focus compact car. Mike Smith, vice president of sales at the company, says investing in new technology has helped Capstan produce such parts.
“The drive pulley produced by Capstan requires much tighter tooling clearances than expected for powdered metal components. This allows us to hold precise tooth profiles and run-out tolerances,” Smith explains. “Secondary operations include welding of flanges and machined threading of the ID.”
In addition to the pulleys, Capstan and its affiliates provide high-density gears, chain sprockets, driven and drive gears, steering column cams, fuel plates, engine components, ignition parts, and shock-absorber components for automotive and commercial truck customers. All are based on powdered metals (PM).
The continued push to small, more-precise components throughout vehicles should drive more demand for PM parts, Smith adds.
“The challenge for the PM market will be the ability to produce the steering gears with the tight tolerances required in a mass production and to remain competitive. Capstan Atlantic is completing a new 30,000ft2 addition which will include automated manufacturing cells to meet the complex demands of the automotive industry,” Smith adds.
As with many PM companies, Capstan executives are keeping a close watch of the growth of additive manufacturing (AM) technologies. Capstan uses traditional and hard sintering – the use of heat and pressure to fuse powdered metals – not the selective laser sintering (SLS) of most additive systems. But the general principle is the same, so the technology bears watching for high-volume production.
“In our experience, we see AM & SLS used to quickly produce functional prototypes without the expense of creating hard tooling. This allows for accelerated design and fit/form testing to validate designs,” Smith says. “It’s reasonable to expect that with recent developments, additive manufacturing and selective laser sintering could find high-volume and cost-effective applications in the next 5 to 10 years.”