About AFS and Metalcasting

An End-User's Perspective on Selecting a Caster

By David Charbauski, Caterpillar, Inc., Dekalb, Illinois

When it comes to selecting a casting supplier, consider the three-legged stool and the risks associated with legs of different lengths. In casting supply speak, the stool legs are cost, quality and delivery. Risk management—deciding what you are willing to take as acceptable risk—is finding the best combination of legs that create the sturdiest stool at the height you require.

Not sure how tall or stable you want your stool? Read on for more tips covering what you should look for when choosing a casting supplier.

Experience. A difference exists between ability and experience. Experience—knowing what it takes to produce a casting—is important because it shortens the learning curve. Ability—having the equipment and personnel to do the job—can be just as important. How much experience is a matter of risk management—visit the foundry to see what they know and what they can do and match that up to what you need.

Communication. The more information you provide a metalcasting facility, the better price quote and final product you will receive. Keeping the facility well-educated on where the casting goes, what it does, what environment it will exist in and how you want it finished will help to eliminate surprises.

Appreciate a metalcasting facility that recognizes and identifies problems early on. Strength comes from addressing a weakness or potential problem up front because it allows you to work with the supplier to eliminate the concern.

Customer history. Learning about the metalcasting facility’s other customers can provide insight into working relationships. A company with a large customer base probably has more experience in varied applications. Long customer-metalcasting facility relations often indicate a good relationship. If a customer wasn’t satisfied, it would move its business to another metalcasting facility. In general, look for plants that have no more than 20% of their business with one customer. Customers that occupy a high percentage of a metalcasting facility’s work may leave you with less leverage in a rush job situation.

Location and size. A location convenient to you definitely makes a casting job easier if you want to be highly involved with the metalcasting facility while it works—face-to-face communication is always the easiest. However, with today’s technology, the ability to email files and models makes distance less problematic.

Cost analysis includes the price of the casting delivered to the line, so a more remote metalcasting facility may have some trouble competing. Size-wise, both small and large facilities have advantages. Small companies may be able to offer more flexibility (prototypes, custom jobs), a direct line to top management, and potentially better prices because there’s less red tape to go through and more personal relationships can be formed.

However, larger metalcasters can be more in tune with production and often have greater depth, including a larger engineering staff. Larger plants also may be able to offer lower prices because overhead costs are more spread out.

Housekeeping. When you visit the metalcasting facility, is it neat and organized? A neat shop means that systems and processes are organized, which usually extends to recordkeeping and procedures. Don’t get caught up in the white glove test, though—in a metalcasting facility, housekeeping does not always equate to cleanliness, but includes organization, layout, packaging and records.

Cost. Everything does not revolve around cost; it is only one of the three stool legs. Choosing a casting supplier based on cost alone can hurt quality and delivery. Finding a balance between these three will keep the stool from tipping. Through good communication and cooperation with the metalcaster, problematic issues can be worked through to achieve a cost that gives the best value for what you require without sacrificing quality or delivery.

In addition to balancing quality, cost and delivery, focus on what is needed. Choose a metalcasting company that can respond to requests, whether they are for flexibility, short turnaround or daily contact. Remember though, to keep the stool balanced as risks are weighed, and consider the foundry a partner.