Finding a Supplier

Whether you are seeking your first casting supplier or looking to find additional suppliers to protect your product flow, finding a metal casting source can take time and legwork. And you’ll need to know a lot about your product before you start: the mechanical and physical requirements, size, projected ramp-up volumes and timeline, and budget.

The process seems daunting, and Metal Casting Design & Purchasing aims to help inform and encourage designers and purchasers in this quest. In this issue, the feature article, “Appraising Your Casting Supplier” on page 22 discusses a few of the main criteria to review in an existing or potential supplier. This is not meant to be a checklist. Rather they are areas of focus that you should hone in on when developing a good casting partner. These areas should be reviewed and evaluated for the processes in place to ensure continuous improvement and problem solving. If you’d like a more in depth look at casting supplier auditing, a class on this subject is offered this June in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Register at www.afsinc.org/courses.)

For those readers still in the stage of finding a supplier, the AFS and MCDP online metalcaster directory is a good first stop. This is an interactive tool using the data collected for the print Casting Source Directory. You can search for a supplier by material, casting process, part size, and geographic location. As part of this database, you can narrow your casting process choices down based on weight, section thickness, surface finish and estimated annual production volume.

This tool also has a link to a web-based program that can help designers select the appropriate alloy they’ll need for the application based on a variety of factors including section thickness, service temperature, fatigue, impact or flexural strength, and safety factor.

Finally, sometimes you are faced with a decision of whether to export the cast component from overseas or source it domestically. Often the driving factor in this decision is cost. The Total Cost of Ownership Estimator from the Reshoring Initiative (www.reshorenow.org/tco-estimator) can help calculate what the ultimate cost difference would be between an overseas and domestic supplier. Often, the domestic metalcaster is more competitive than originally believed when factoring in risk, corporate strategy, overhead, etc.

Search engines can be helpful in delivering long lists of websites with potentially good information, but the tools mentioned here can help narrow down the sourcing process and save you time.  

Click here to see this story as it appears in the March-April 2018 issue of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing

Encouraging Employee Innovation

Successful foundries rely on innovation from every member of the company, which is no different from many other manufacturing businesses. After all, each employee typically has more constant contact and intimate knowledge of their tasks than employees “above” them on the company organizational chart.

This intimate knowledge often sows the seeds of innovation whether through necessity or simply mentally visualizing process improvement.

For example, a molding machine operator might see the need for new safety equipment or develop an optimized coring design. Perhaps maintenance personnel finds a new way to quickly replace a hydraulic cylinder. This type of innovation frequently happens, and manufacturers need to capture these innovations to help the company maintain its quality mission and sustain a competitive advantage. Foundries can put systems and programs into place to help capture these ideas and make the most of them. Moreover, management teams certainly do not want to see these innovations leave the business to benefit other companies.

Many innovations come from employees during the regular course of their work. Most employees are generally paid only for their work, and they might not be motivated to be involved in extra efforts that could derive from innovations in their work equipment and methods. As a result, there can be an expensive gap between the innovation taking place in the company, and the status of the gathering of innovative ideas to improve the business as a whole.

One helpful tool for some organizations is easing the process for ideas and innovation to come to light. Some employees are shy about suggesting new things, and we have to find ways around that obstacle. It is often helpful to invite ideas and reward successful innovations to transform the operation and develop the competitive advantage that your company has developed. Acceptance of new ideas from every level can gain buy-in from greater numbers of employees, which then helps to boost morale and dedication to foundry work. Think, too, about whether your foundry makes it easy for an employee to develop good ideas and process improvements. You certainly do not want employees to scrap valuable ideas because the process is too difficult.

Additionally, make sure good ideas are valued in your foundry. That does not require bonuses or cash rewards, but could take the form of celebrating and internally publicizing teams and individuals who develop innovations. This, in turn, helps make sure employees understand what benefits their improvements mean for the company and the employees on an individual level.

Many of these ideas can remain protected within the foundry, but some innovations may be significant enough to seek patent or trademark protection. Most employees appreciate the notion that the company values their innovations enough to pursue that type of protection when it is warranted. Along those lines, it is often valuable for many employees to understand the basics of intellectual property protection.

Capturing these innovations can be another issue, but one with plenty of solutions. Many companies have developed formal and informal systems to report innovations. It may be important to enable employees to report any kind of improvement or innovation from a relatively small idea with respect to the workflow on the foundry floor to technical improvements in the foundry equipment. Innovation reporting allows the company to capture any kind of innovation and also helps to lower the psychological hurdle that some employees feel when considering reporting their innovations and ideas. Some companies also conduct regularly scheduled recognition ceremonies for the “best improvement,” where employees can win awards for their ideas and innovation. In other cases, an automatically generated letter or email thanking the innovator can suffice. As you likely already know, the impact of non-financial recognition plans can differ from foundry to foundry and different plans should be applied across the organization as needed to encourage innovation in all areas. Often, if a simple mechanism for the employees to report their bright ideas does not exist, the ideas will never be heard.

Your engineering team is also a great resource, and can be the eyes and ears with regard to the innovations that are developed, particularly in the foundry. For example, if a core machine operator develops an innovation, the operator may approach an engineer to apply their engineering skill to effectively implement a mechanical change to the core machine. In other instances, the engineering staff could be asked to calculate a time savings for a process of the core machine. At times, the engineering team can be the first point of contact for any management team that is seeking new innovations, no matter their source.

In the end, your business likely relies upon the innovations, ideas, and inventions of a wide array of employees. Help keep your competitive edge by encouraging these developments through a notification plan, recognition, and appreciation of these internal developments. If the innovators know that the extra work undertaken to assist the improvement process matters to everyone else, and is noticed, a culture of innovation and improvement can be fostered to benefit the foundry in a multitude of areas.   

Click here to see this story as it appears in the March-April 2018 issue of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing


Please Join Us in Fort Worth

Our reader surveys consistently tell us the same thing. Metal Casting Design & Purchasing readers appreciate the a) casting innovations and conversion case studies, b) articles on process and material selection and c) practical design information they receive in MCDP and nowhere else.

Similarly, casting designers, purchasers and specifiers will be gathering in Fort Worth, Texas, from April 3-5 of this year, for the annual AFS Metalcasting Congress. They will be there—and I hope you will be there as well—because it makes them better in the work and profession.

“Wait,” you might say, “isn’t Metalcasting Congress only for foundries and foundry suppliers?” The truth is that many, many successful casting buyers and designers make it a point to attend Metalcasting Congress every spring, for some of the same reasons they read MCDP.

Dozens of foundries will be exhibiting in the Cast in North America section of the show floor. Each exhibit will be staffed by technical and sales personnel who are able to respond to the full range of inquiries and questions you might have. In some cases, you’ll be able to strengthen a relationship with a foundry you already buy from, while in others, you can develop new relationships or explore the benefits of converting a project to a casting.

Your floor pass will also serve as your ticket to several compelling addresses. Renowned economist Stephen Moore, who advised the Trump campaign in 2016 and counseled congressional leaders on the recent adoption of tax-reform legislation, will be the Keynote Speaker on April 5. He will provide insight that will benefit you and your company’s financial planning for the year to come.

AFS Vice President Jean Bye, the President and CEO of Dotson Iron Castings, will provide a Keynote Address on April 3, describing her firm’s experience in recovering from a major fire. On April 4, Dan Oman of Haley Aldrich will deliver the annual Hoyt Lecture on environmental, safety and health matters.

Moreover, the AFS Institute will be providing a session on effective practices in a diverse workforce. Other topics and speakers will be presented at the Hub on the show floor nearly every hour. An optional tour of Midland Manufacturing Co. foundry in Fort Worth will be offered, as well.

Those purchasing an Exhibits & Education pass will be able to attend a number of sessions of interest specific to them, including topics on material and process developments, casting design advancements, simulation software, and identifying casting defects. All of this will occur in one of the nation’s top destinations for business travel, the intriguing community of Fort Worth.

For more information, please contact Ben Yates, AFS Vice President for Business Development, at 800-537-4237, or byates@afsinc.org. We look forward to seeing you in Fort Worth!  

Click here to see this story as it appears in the January/February 2018 edition of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing

Patent Trolls Exist

Many readers may have been introduced to the term “patent troll” and wonder exactly what a patent troll is and whether they really exist. If you are a viewer of the HBO series Silicon Valley that debuted in 2014, you might have noticed a character named Stuart Burke. Stuart makes money by using patents as legal weapons through lawsuits and the mere threat of lawsuits. Another common definition of a patent troll includes people and businesses that own patent rights but do not produce any goods or innovation based upon those patents. Some refer to these parties as non-practicing entities, or NPEs.

NPEs often gain patents through purchase agreements from individual inventors and corporations who feel that payment of maintenance fees to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are no longer worth the cost. Other patents are purchased in bankruptcy proceedings. After gaining the patents, the NPE evaluates how closely other businesses are practicing to the claimed invention of the purchased patent(s). If the NPE can make a business case for action, they will threaten to sue for patent infringement and may even eventually make it to a courtroom.  Because the cost of patent infringement litigation is quite high, many accused infringers simply bow to the pressure of the threat of a lawsuit and sign a license or a settlement agreement. These agreements can often earn the NPE a relatively large amount of money, thus providing an incentive to continue.

Unfortunately, patent trolls still exist.  Patent trolls were put in the spotlight in the May 2017 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in TC Heartland v. Kraft Food Brands Group. Patent cases generally don’t get a lot of media attention, such as the Heartland case, but characters in media such as Stuart Burke can help many people understand many of the issues at hand.

The TC Heartland case addressed venue for patent infringement litigation cases, which many hoped would deal a potentially huge blow to the Eastern District of Texas (EDTX) and its “rocket docket,” the long-favored venue for patent infringement plaintiffs. The EDTX has long been known to be friendly to patent infringement plaintiffs, and the docket schedule tends to move a good bit faster than many other district courts around the U.S.

While the TC Heartland case has provided a ruling that may seem to give some relief to alleged infringers from unscrupulous NPEs, many issues remain unsettled. Clearly, it will take more time to settle the issues involved with venue and how district courts will interpret the Supreme Court’s ruling. Because a majority of American corporations choose to incorporate in Delaware, and because patent suits there typically rule in favor of NPEs, a large number of cases could move to Delaware. Some experts have predicted that filings in the EDTX will decrease by roughly 70% (about 1,000 fewer cases per year), with the majority of those cases instead being filed in Delaware or the Northern District of California—home to many frequent patent infringement defendants.

Another bright spot on the horizon has been the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Intellectual Property subcommittee. The chairman, Darrell Issa (R-California) is a holder of 30-plus patents and indicated that his subcommittee would consider new legislation to address litigation venue issues. This remains to be seen, and true venue clarity will take some time. Indeed, the EDTX asserts that it will remain a powerhouse of judicial rulings in patent suits, regardless of the TC Heartland case. Some associated with the court indicate that fewer cases may even provide some benefits to the court. In the meantime, there are countless opportunities for litigation thanks to global innovation, particularly in the areas of digital technology. Historically, NPEs have capitalized on large digital shifts that create new opportunities to make money. This was seen in the 1990s with the rise of the internet, when NPEs purchased and asserted large numbers of internet patents. NPEs may do so again, seizing upon emerging opportunities and vulnerabilities created by the cloud, artificial intelligence, the “internet of things,” and so on.

With the patent troll situation still in flux, companies cannot afford to let their guard down in regard to intellectual property protection and business strategy. Technology shifts provide nearly limitless new avenues for NPEs to assert infringement, and it is becoming clear that protection from the courts and Congress may be a long way down the road. As hopeful as some practitioners were about TC Heartland, it certainly hasn’t stopped NPEs. Intellectual property owners must acknowledge this and adjust accordingly—it remains a murky situation for characters like Stuart Burke, at least for now.  

Click here to see this story as it appears in the January/February 2018 edition of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing

Anticipatory Organizations Know the Future, and So Can You

If you could learn a business method that let you know the future with greater certainty, would you be interested? We’re not talking about the kind of predictive analysis that sounds more like fortune telling by your local psychic with the carnival images on the hand-painted sign out front.

If certainty about the future interests you, consider The Anticipatory Organization by Daniel Burrus.

Burrus’ approach is valuable because of his analysis of hard and soft trends. Since Burrus assumes exponential change is already at work in your industry, he explains why we need to be looking past the usually frenetic present and into the future.

Agility is about the present, and it is, emphatically, not enough. Agility is reactive, and the anticipatory organization must be proactive. To be proactively looking at the future, you must know how to analyze the right data, the right way.

We’re talking about knowing the future based on reason and data.

That’s the purpose of this book. Burrus offers new lenses through which to see the future of your business, with certainty. That’s a brash assertion, considering that uncertainty has been lurking around every corner for companies big and small for at least the past decade.

Burrus, a technological futurist, has worked with large companies, including Microsoft, GE, Deloitte, IBM, ExxonMobil, and Visa. In the interest of full disclosure, I have read Burrus’s TECHNOTRENDS newsletter for years, and almost always found it valuable.

From the first pages, this book resonates of other futuristic analysts, such as Ray Kurzweil, Salim Ismail, and other high-profile technology futurists.

Since the book is written in the context of unstoppable exponential technological change, Burrus argues that his anticipatory method, properly applied, will allow a greater degree predictability than you’ve ever had before.

Does he make his case? The short answer is yes.

Burrus makes it clear from the beginning that he is challenging an existing mindset. Death and taxes are not the only two certainties. Another certainty is the speed of change, also known as exponential change. Companies that fail to intentionally plan with an eye on exponential technological change will find their planning will fail them.

At the heart of the anticipatory method are hard trends that will happen, and soft trends that might happen. The three categories of hard trends are technology, demographics, and government regulation. Technology is going to continue developing at full throttle, the 78 million Baby Boomers will keep aging, and government regulations will continue expanding.

Because of these inescapable hard trends in technology, demographics, and government, no industry will remain static.

Think about what mobile phones were like 15 years ago. Now look at the super-charged computer in your hand you call your cell phone. That’s the exponential growth of the hard technology trend, and that trend is going faster and faster. We know that exponential growth is certain.

Soft trends are trends that might happen. Burrus cites Facebook, which is the dominant platform now, but wasn’t always, and could be knocked from its perch by a rival platform. Social media and its uses might be a hard trend, but within the category, what’s hot, like Facebook, is a soft trend. You must learn to tell the difference between hard and soft trends.

The book is clear and direct, but the mindfulness of the writing is not as exacting as the thinking about ideas. The terms “game changer” or “game changing” are used on both dust flaps, for a chapter title, and at least 26 more times in the text. Okay, we get it. Anticipatory thinking is a fresh, energizing way to approach business.

One of my favorite parts comes in section three, “Shape the Future - Transform Culture.” Burrus talks about “Futureview,” a term for which he has a registered trademark.

“How you view the future impacts much more of the present than many of us realize. In developing and leveraging an Anticipatory Mindset, it’s important to understand that the future doesn’t function in a vacuum. Rather, it’s something of a two-way street. While how you act in the present determines your future, so, too, does your view of the future impact how you think and act in the present,” Burrus writes.

Our futureview determines how we will live today, and who we will be in the future (a place we will all be spending a lot of time).

A key to managing an Anticipatory Organization is persuading employees toward the same shared futureview, instead of looking in the rearview mirror and focusing on just the present.

I recommend this book. Because of my own “futureview,” I’ll probably read it again. 

Another Point for Casting Conversion

In Metal Casting Design & Purchasing, we share many stories and examples of casting conversions. These are engineered components originally produced with another manufacturing method that are redesigned for the metalcasting process. Typically, the cases involved a multiple part weldment or fabrication re-engineered as a single-piece casting.

The casting process offers many benefits to the designer that centers around the freedom of shape, making it a good choice for intriate parts. The designer can manipulate a component to meet multiple functions, place material and strength where needed, and remove material where it is not for lower weight and cost.

Still, metalcasting is not always the first manufacturing method considered for a new part and it might not be until after production and some time has passed that the case for metalcasting starts to surface. Cost reductions might be sought, or better repeatability is needed.
Metalcasters can be pretty good at spotting potential conversions to metalcasting and often work with customers to do a cost benefit analysis, pinpointing which pieces would decrease costs and improve value the most.

Even after considering the benefits to converting to metalcasting, designers and purchasers have another hurdle: tooling cost. Investing up front on the patterns to make the castings for a component already in production? It is not an easy pill to swallow, and traditional tooling can be expensive.
However, metalcasters are making inroads in reducing those costs. Rapid manufacturing has been building steam and includes CNC machining patterns, 3-D printing sand and wax molds, and now, 3-D printing plastic patterns.

This past year I have visited three metalcasting facilities that print their own patterns in-house, and they report it has been game-changing. The article, “Jump-Start Tooling With 3-D Printing” on page 22 explores the opportunity this technology has for metalcasting and the designers who can take advantage of the process with lower tooling and development costs. 

In recent years, 3-D printing equipment and material has become more widespread and less expensive, so the barrier to entry is lowering. Printing patterns is quicker and cheaper than producing them the traditional way, particularly when going through the design and development phases. Often this method is used for very low volumes, such as between one or two pieces, but that is changing. One foundry I visited this summer is using its 3-D printed patterns in its automated green sand machine for up to 500 molds.

As someone who is a customer of foundries, you have the power to encourage your casting sources to further explore 3-D printing their tooling. It can lower your costs and time to market, as well as remove a little bit of the hurdle for redeveloping a part to take advantage of the casting process’ design freedoms.

Click here to see this story as it appears in the November/December 2017 issue of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing

Patent Protection Pointers

Product development is difficult enough, whether it is a new invention from the proverbial drawing board or a modification of an existing product. One of the key issues facing corporations today is how to protect developments for new machines, products, foundry processes, etc. 

Additionally, there are times that the “when” question is just as important as the “how,” because obtaining patent protection includes a number of statutory deadlines.

Patent protection is essentially a grant of a right to exclude others from practicing an invention in exchange for providing a full disclosure of how to practice the invention. In almost all cases, patent protection extends 20 years from the original filing date. In other cases, the inventor or business can use trade secrets in search of longer lasting, perhaps perpetual, protection for the invention.

Two types of patent applications that are most used in the manufacturing world are “non-provisional patent applications” and “provisional patent applications.”  The non-provisional patent application provides a full disclosure of an invention, includes claims that define the invention, and can eventually lead to a patent after claims are found allowable during examination by a patent examiner. 

In contrast, provisional patents do not require claims, are never examined, and are often used to hold a date of application at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

The differences here are significant, as the America Invents Act of 2011 changed the U.S. patent system from a “first to invent” system to a “first inventor to file” system.  As such, many businesses and inventors prefer to file a provisional patent application with a brief disclosure in order to more quickly plant a flag in Washington D.C. to obtain an earlier filing date, thereby gaining superior rights to others who later file applications for the same or similar inventions. 

Subsequent filing of non-provisional patent applications within one calendar year claim priority to the provisional patent application to maintain the filing date claim.

While this system change has the good intention of simplifying the previous system of determining who was the first to invent a particular machine component or casting process, patenting decisions are now accelerated along with the research and development decisions and commitments.

This timeline acceleration can bring manufacturing operations into a legal minefield of confidentiality and disclosure rules. Keep in mind that in both the new and old patent systems, there is a twelve-month window after disclosure for the applicant to file the patent application at the USPTO. 

After the 12-month grace period, American patent rights are extinguished. Perhaps more problematic is the fact that most foreign countries require that there be no previous disclosure prior to filing a patent application. As a result, even an errant disclosure on social media or at a trade show by an eager and well-intentioned employee can sink hopes of foreign patent protection.

With these pitfalls, it is important to remember that protection of your inventions is not all that difficult to put into place.  Here is one example of how an operation can provide better protection for its inventions:

First, have every applicable employee in the company sign an appropriate confidentiality agreement, a non-compete agreement, and an assignment of “inventor’s rights” to the company so there will be no questions in the future as to invention ownership and confidentiality.

Second, if vendors are involved in the development project, it is best to have an agreement between the two parties to define both confidentiality and non-disclosure.  The agreement should also make the vendors specifically acknowledge and agree that every part of their contribution to the project is assigned to you (the manufacturer or the casting supplier), along with any present and future patent rights.  These agreements should include not only the products and inventions being developed, but also any follow-on products and inventions that might be future offspring of the project.

Third, any “field testing” programs are designed and implemented with trusted customers who also agree in writing to confidentiality. Results of the field testing must be used to judge the product in question.

Finally, if there is not a way to develop and test a product without a public disclosure, you have exactly 12 months from the disclosure date; therefore, make sure your patent lawyers are involved as early in the project as possible.  This will help ensure that when the product gains commercial viability, a solid patent application is already in the works.  

Click here to see this story as it appears in the November/December 2017 issue of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing

Paradigm Shift Ahead for AFS Online Library

The American Foundry Society’s Online Library is an amazing repository of past research. In this treasure chest are more than a century of research and development made by metalcasters for the metalcasting industry, with some research articles dating back to 1896. The library contains publications such as: AFS Transactions, International Journal of Metalcasting, Modern Casting, MetalCasting Design & Purchasing, AFS conference proceedings, industry-wide trade journals and various technical publications. The collection is also being constantly curated and updated by our staff librarian. Our library currently boasts more than 14,000 digitalized articles, making it the largest specialized metalcasting library in the world.

The online library was first launched in 2008, allowing visitors to search and purchase individual articles for download. It persisted in its original form for many years. However, technology does not stand still, and the foundations the online library is built upon are outdated. To give you some context, the original Apple iPhone was first released just six months prior to the online library being launched. In 2008, mobile was not a factor, unlike now where mobile is a primary consideration when building a web presence.

AFS is in its third year of information technology renovations. We have modernized our membership database and staff work stations, launched the social forum CastingConnection, and rebuilt the corporate network infrastructure. It is now time we re-envision the AFS Online Library.  The AFS Library is moving from its current home to a dedicated library management platform. This is a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform, meaning AFS pays a modest fee for its very own instance of the library platform. This platform is continually updated and improved by our partner as technologies evolve.

AFS IT Project Manager Katie Matticks led an exhaustive search of dozens of library system platforms.  The platform we have selected for our re-envisioned library is the Liberty System by Softlink. Softlink specializes in knowledge, content, and library management systems, as well as request management systems for special, education, government and corporate information libraries. Some of its clients include the World Wildlife Federation, American Academy of Family Physicians and The Appraisal Institute. Its Liberty platform enables vital information to be discovered and delivered anywhere, anytime, through modern digital devices. Liberty combines advanced functionality with ease of use.

Some of the new features and functionality you will see when the new library is launched are:
Responsive design: The new library system is being designed to dynamically scale and change its user interface depending on the size of your device’s screen. This will give the you a great experience whether you are on a desktop or mobile device.

Faceted search: Faceted search is a way to add specific, relevant options to your results pages, so that when you search for an article, it can see the classification of the articles you’ve ended up with. This is very similar to your experience when shopping on Amazon. This can help you expand what you’re looking for to include other related topics.

Library navigation: For the first time ever, the AFS Library will have a true navigation setup. We are building this navigation on an in-house metalcasting industry taxonomy.

Predictive text searching: Predictive text searching will display possible search terms in real-time as you type, just like Google.

Catalog of physical resources: The online library will also include a catalog of our physical collection of industry-wide trade journals and technical publications, which is currently located at AFS Headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois.

That is not all! The AFS online library has been hampered by a complex pricing model that has limited its usefulness to members and required many technological work-arounds to implement. These work-arounds degraded the user experience. The most exciting news about the vision for the library is that it will now be a true member benefit. That means that American Foundry Society’s vast online archives will be accessible to AFS members, both individual and corporate. This is a significate value add to membership. If you are an AFS member or work for an AFS Corporate Member look for the library to appear as an option on your community hub profile after logging into AFS.

Look for the new and improved AFS Library coming to your membership later this winter.  

Tracking Growth in Business and Houseplants

There is a leafy houseplant in our office here at Metal Casting Design & Purchasing.  It was adopted by Mark McGowan, one of our coworkers, a couple of years ago. Since then, it has flourished and grown, with one long, viney arm stretching across his cubicle office and now snaking its way to the neighboring space. 

We’ve begun to measure that vine’s progress, like a parent marking their children’s height on the wall.

On Aug. 23, it had grown 28 inches since July 5. In a few months, it will reach my office. I cannot wait.

The funny thing is, none of us really paid much attention to the plant, besides maybe Mark, until he stuck a post-it note on the wall, marking the date. Now, we can visually tell how far that vine has come. We can state for fact: this plant has grown X inches since X date.

I recently visited a metalcasting facility that takes measurement and data analysis seriously. As the president told me, “Anything that is measured improves.”

The company has applied this mantra across its whole business, from workforce development to scheduling, and the results have been positive. This analytical approach helps make business decisions, as well as track a decision’s impact and give the chance for course correction or redirection. Any business seeking improvement can benefit from this attention to measurement.

Sometimes there is fear in measuring, because what if that first data point is not what you want it to be? Anyone who has avoided stepping on a scale might understand. But measuring ultimately can be rewarding, especially as goals are approached, met and then exceeded.

Measuring something, like a part’s scrap rate, delivery record or pick-and-place time, doesn’t just indicate the current data point. It shows what is possible, what more can happen.

As for our pet office plant, I don’t think we’ll be developing any Excel spreadsheets tracking its progress. We don’t have any specific goals for its growth. But we are invested in it just the same. If it starts to brown or stops growing, we’ll notice and discuss what we should do to keep it healthy. I’m rooting for it to make it to my desk.  

Click here to see this story as it appears in the September/October 2017 issue of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing.

Trade Secret Protection

The American Bar Association estimates the market value of S&P 500 companies can include as much as 75% of intangible assets. This is quite an increase over a 1975 estimate indicating less than 20% of these companies’ collective market value consisted of intangible assets. A good portion of these intangible assets is intellectual property which includes patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. As you might be aware, there is now federal jurisdiction for trade secret theft. The Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA) was signed into law on May 11, 2016, after unanimously passing in the Senate and ratification in the House by a vote of 410-2. The DTSA became immediately effective for all trade secret misappropriation taking place after the bill’s signing date.

While many of us might not think of trade secrets (such as the formula for Coca-Cola) as being commonplace, the National Science Foundation estimates that corporations actually employ trade secret protection perhaps two times as often when compared to patents. As such, trade secrets certainly constitute a significant amount of value of intangible assets for American corporations. Trade secrets can include a formula, practice, process, design, instrument, pattern, commercial method, or compilation of information.  To fit the federal definition of a trade secret, the information must include information, reasonable measures taken to protect the information, and information which derives independent economic value from not being publicly known as defined under 18 U.S.C. § 1839(3) (A), (B) (1996).

A paper co-authored by create.org and PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that trade secret theft ranges from 1-3% of the Gross Domestic Product of the U.S. and other advanced industrial economies. As such, the federal government chose to create a federal cause of action for trade secret misappropriation in the DTSA. This legislation includes a three-year statute of limitations, and it authorizes remedies similar to those found in current state laws. The DTSA also creates a seizure procedure for use in extraordinary circumstances where the offender “would destroy, move, hide, or otherwise make such matter inaccessible to the court, if the applicant were to proceed on notice to such person.”  While the seizure may be carried out immediately, the new law provides that the court shall set a hearing not less than seven days after the issuance of the order. Finally, the law protects whistleblowers from retaliatory accusations of trade secret misappropriation, so long as the whistleblowers disclose the trade secret information to government or court officials in confidence.

The DTSA does not preempt existing state law, which will preserve options for metalcasters in regard to whether to file federal or state claims and court selection. It also notably omits any requirement that a trade secret plaintiff describe its trade secrets with particularity, which helps to protect the sensitive trade secret information after prosecution of the offender. The criminal provisions of the DTSA increase the penalties for a criminal violation from $5,000,000 to the greater of $5,000,000 or three times the value of the stolen trade secrets to the organization, including the costs of reproducing the trade secrets.

As a result of the legislation, your business may wish to consider four responses to the DTSA after consulting your business attorney:
First, you may wish to update your employment and confidentiality agreements to disclose the whistleblower immunity provisions in the DTSA. If you do so, your company may be eligible to recover double damages or attorney fees in trade secret litigation.

Second, reevaluate your company’s tolerance for bringing trade secrets claims. Many companies have been deterred from making claims in the past because of the uncertainties and delays in state courts. Federal courts, however, have smaller case loads, allowing them to more directly and efficiently manage such litigation.

Third, take inventory of your company’s trade secrets and evaluate the protections in place to maintain the confidentiality of those secrets. Preventative measures are far more effective and less costly at keeping your secrets safe than trying to “re-secure” a trade secret after it is disclosed.

Fourth, develop response plans for suspected misappropriation and for receiving a seizure order. Trade secret litigation tends to move relatively quickly. Having a plan for what to do in the event your secrets are stolen will prevent unnecessary delays that can compromise your rights.   

Click here to see this story as it appears in the September/October 2017 issue of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing.

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