Metal injection molding
Metal injection molding (MIM) is a metalworking process in which finely-powdered metal is mixed with binder material to create a "feedstock" that is then shaped and solidified using injection molding. The molding process allows high volume, complex parts to be shaped in a single step. After molding, the part undergoes conditioning operations to remove the binder (debinding) and densify the powders. Finished products are small components used in many industries and applications.
Due to current equipment limitations, products must be molded using quantities of 100 grams or less per "shot" into the mold. This shot can be distributed into multiple cavities, making MIM cost-effective for small, intricate, high-volume products, which would otherwise be expensive to produce. MIM feedstock can be composed of a plethora of metals, but most common are stainless steels, widely used in powder metallurgy. After the initial molding, the feedstock binder is removed, and the metal particles are diffusion bonded and densified to achieve the desired strength properties. The latter operation typically shrinks the product by 15% in each dimension.
The metal injection molding market has grown from $9 million USD in 1986, to $382 million USD in 2004 to more than $1.5 billion USD in 2015. A related technology is ceramic powder injection molding, leading to about $2 billion USD total sales. Most of the growth in recent years has been in Asia.