Success in heavy-duty applications leads to new opportunities
With the exception of the commercialization of beryllium, which was the basis for the Company’s founding, ToughMet® is among Materion’s most successful innovations. Developed primarily for use in petroleum exploration and drilling, the copper-nickel-tin alloy has gone on to find great success as a bearing, bushing and fastener material on the new Boeing 787 and Airbus 380 and 350 platforms and in other heavy-duty bearing applications such as mining shovels, excavators, coal mining draglines and industrial transmissions.
ToughMet sales to these markets are expected to continue to grow at double-digit compound annual rates for the foreseeable future. Now, two newer applications are providing a further boost: camera stabilization systems in smartphones and tablets, and “wrapped bearings.”
Consumer electronics companies are continuously looking to shrink size, cut weight, reduce costs and improve the performance of their products. When it comes to the critical voice coil motor (VCM) component of camera stabilization systems, there is little disagreement: No material performs like ToughMet.
“We have more than doubled our business to the smartphone and tablet camera market in each of the past two years,” says Jason Maher, Marketing Director for Strip, Rod and Wire Products at Materion Brush Performance Alloys. “We now supply strip at a thinness of 0.00118 of an inch, and we are getting it down to less than 0.001. Because any dust on the coil can leave an impression, we produce it in clean room-like conditions. This capability is opening up other opportunities for us in consumer electronics.”
The rolling technology developed for the super-thin VCM application is also now being used to make thicker strip that is formed and rolled to produce wrapped bearings.
“Before the development of ToughMet strip in bearing thicknesses, we did not have an economical way to reach the thin-walled segment of the bearing market,” notes Dave Krus, Director of Marketing for Engineered Products in the Performance Alloys segment.“Wrapping bearings from strip can reduce material yield loss by a factor of 8 or more compared to machining from solid bar or cast tube. It turns out this is a perfect application for ToughMet.”
Materion is working with U.K.-based Bowman International Ltd., a leading European bearing manufacturer,to develop a new line of BowMet® wrapped bearings manufactured with ToughMet in various forms, sizes and thicknesses.
Bowman, in collaboration with Materion, is testing the bearings with manufacturers of marine engines, race car engines,roll-on/roll-off ferries, construction equipment, pumps and compressors, and defense equipment, among others.
“Bowman is a good fit for us, broadening the reach of both companies,”adds Krus. “They are offering ToughMet as a premium product to their wrapped bearing customers, and we are offering a new product form to our current ToughMet customers.”