Vodka Ad Uses Casting to Speak to the People

Metalcasting is transformative.

That’s at least one thing you can take away from a new advertisement by vodka producer Smirnoff. In the ad, a metalcaster takes the awards and trophies the company has allegedly won for its great tasting product and melts them down in an electric furnace. The foundryman then pours the molten metal into an open mold, where it solidifies into words that spell out what the company really wants to win: “The People’s Challenge.”

Whether the creative team at Smirnoff intended some deeper meaning or not, the advertisement speaks to the utilitarian nature of metalcasting. The process takes something virtually useless, like scrap metal, and turns it into something useful, like a butterfly valve. Smirnoff uses this transformative power to turn its awards, which “look great on a shelf,” into a symbol of something useful: how people think the product tastes.

Another thing you can take away from the advertisement is that Smirnoff is quite proud of its vodka. But that’s a subject for a different blog entirely.

Intern’s Blog—The Five Senses of a Foundry

The time had come to see a metalcasting facility, and I was amped for my first tour.  I had only seen pictures and videos, and this in no way, shape or form could substitute for visiting the real thing. I had a vague idea of what to expect, but that idea was quickly turned upside down.

Although seeing pictures and watching videos was handy for learning the basics of metalcasting, I was only using my eyes. On my first plant tour, the rest of my senses were stimulated. The sights, smells and sounds were overpowering at first, but I was ready to be fully immersed in it and experience the real thing. The burning of the molten metals and chemicals could be smelled throughout the place. This was something the videos couldn’t prepare me for, a tough smell for a tough industry. 

Another thing I wasn’t expecting and couldn’t experience viewing videos or pictures was the heat emanating from the molten metal. It was so hot, I thought I would leave with a sunburn or a tan. The workers handling the molten metal were decked from head to toe in safety outfits I thought resembled spacesuits—they were fully protected and safe, and I was given an idea for my Halloween costume. 

Something that immediately caught my eye upon entering the work floor was the hypnotic glow of the molten metal. I couldn’t turn away from the beautiful, bright gleam. A gooey glowing river of molten metal flowed effortlessly into its assigned mold, and I was mesmerized.  If you looked too long, your eyes would sting, but it was hard not to stare. 

Taking in a metalcasting facility’s sounds offered another adventure. Loud booms, screeches, pops and buzzes rang in my ears. The only sense I didn’t experience was taste. I think that’s for the best.

The environment was noisy, hot and laced with smells, and I truly tip my hat to the hardworking metalcasting men and women who provide us with the service of making castings. Having gone behind the scenes of the metalcasting process, I was impressed by all the workers and steps it takes to go from concept to finished casting. The entire facilityworks together to manufacture the perfect part, and all the sights, sounds and smells are added perks.


What Is Made in America?

This past Fourth of July one of our editors was hanging an American Flag and noticed a “Made in China” label on its edge. If our country’s own flag was made somewhere else, we couldn’t help but wonder, what is made in America anymore?

An article on Yahoo News recently touched on this idea, discussing 10 American industries just barely scraping by. One of the industries the article mentioned was sparkler production. According to the article, only one sparkler manufacturer is left in America. If sparklers, another icon of Independence Day, can’t survive in the U.S., how can any U.S. industry expect to stay afloat?
Nevertheless, MODERN CASTING census data shows the U.S. is still holding its own in casting production- it is still the world’s second largest producer of castings.
But with China having taken over as the world’s largest producer of castings in the past decade, will the metalcasting industry burn out much like the sparkler industry? Probably not. The industry still operates more than 2,000 facilities producing more than 12 million tons of castings per year. While the industry did take a hit in 2008 because of the recession, what industry didn’t have to make adjustments? If metalcasting facilities are still alive- thriving at an average of 73% capacity- despite China moving into the industry leader position and the recession, then it looks like the U.S. casting industry is here to stay.

Tougher Standards For Bay Area Metalcasters

It’s the ongoing battle between the air we breathe and the world we live in. Environmentalists and people of industry often seem to butt heads on finding middle ground between the demands of a culture that is both post-industrial revolution and environmentally conscious.

The argument this time takes the form of clean air advocates vs. metalcasters. 
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) is proposing stricter rules for the metalcasters in the San Francisco area in hopes of reducing air pollution. Although still in its infant stages, the proposal has people heated up. 
Metalcasters already follow strict environmental standards, and the new rules would mean another significant financial investment, an estimated $20 million per plant, said Pacific Steel Casting worker Barry Scott in a Fox News Oakland KTVU report. This could force some metalcasting facilities to close or at least cut back their staff.
The rules, which can be read in full at the BAAQMD website, aim to reduce the impact of steam emissions on the surrounding community. Although air quality in the bay area has improved over the years, it isn’t up to the new U.S. government standards, thus the new proposal, according to the report.
The BAAQMD report sites specific techniques and practices it wants the metalcasters to adopt, as well as listing the specific plants the proposal would influence. 
The next step is for the BAAQMD to conduct one or more public workshops to receive input and public comments on the proposal before the final proposed amendments are brought for consideration at a public hearing before the District’s Board of Directors.  
The workshops should draw people of diverse backgrounds lobbying for sustainability for one of two platforms: sustainability for an industry that has provided every day conveniences that people rarely think twice about and sustainability for the environment and the pleasure of being able to take a deep breath of fresh air.

Intern’s Blog—Cooking and Casting

This week’s adventure had me examining the metalcasting process from start to finish, as I learned the steps to creating the perfect metal casting. Going into it, I pictured…well, nothing really. I had never stopped to think about how metal castings were made. To be honest, until I started interning for Metal Casting Design & Purchasing, I didn’t know what metal castings were or that they are all around us in items we use daily. Now, I find myself looking more closely look at these objects and thinking about the work involved in making the castings.

I first learned a little background information about the metalcasting industry. As a history buff, I was excited to learn metalcasting dates back to 5,000 B.C. Of course, a lot has changed since then, and modern metalcasting operates according to a strict science. The different techniques and materials that combine to create a mold, which is ultimately used to produce a metal casting, showed me how versatile and complex the process is.

When I started to grasp the intricate metalcasting process, I couldn’t help but think of its similarities to cooking or baking.  Different ingredients are mixed together, “cooked” or “baked,” and then left to be cooled. Once they have cooled to room temperature, they are ready to be used, or “eaten.” Baking requires special preparation time, as does metalcasting. If the right ingredients are chosen and the recipe is followed correctly, the end result is a delicious casting that can range in shape, size and color.

Relating the metalcasting process to cooking has allowed me to wrap my mind around the complex procedures it takes to make castings. Hopefully, it has made you think about how these tasks are alike and will allow you to appreciate a metal casting as much as your next slice of chocolate cake.

The Foundry Files—An Intern’s Blog

The following is the first installment of a series of blog posts by MetalCastingDesign.com’s 2011 summer intern Amanda Zarate.

A college student can take two different roads during summer vacation. One is choosing the proof of SPF to apply before going out to the beach, lake or pool. The other road winds towards finding a job via an internship. My roadmap pointed towards an internship this year.

I began my search and stumbled upon an internship posting for the American Foundry Society (AFS). I had no idea what a foundry was, and naturally, as any inquisitive person near a computer would do, I typed it into Google. Wikipedia defined foundry as “a factory that produces metal castings,” and some of the fog started to clear (but just a little). I continued to research before my interview and learned AFS publishes two magazines about the metalcasting world, MODERN CASTING and Metal Casting Design & Purchasing, to inform readers about the latest news, products and trends related to the industry. The picture in my mind of factory workers was growing, and yet another layer of foggy confusion was being lifted away.

The time had arrived to begin my journey into the world of foundries and metal castings, and I was still uneasy about what little I knew of the industry. Within my first week—no, within my first day—I learned so much just by flipping through MODERN CASTING magazine and looking at pictures of different castings.

When I thought I had the hang of it and could explain to my friends and family how I would be spending my days interning for AFS, I tried to enlighten them and show off my newly acquired knowledge. I explained to them that it’s a society that deals with metal castings and foundries that are in some way, shape or form involved in creating 90% of the things we encounter in our lives.

But as my knowledge of the industry grows, I will have to go back and tell everyone there’s a lot more to it: different processes, different systems, molds and materials, and the list is growing. I was overwhelmed at first thinking I would never get through the cloudiness, but metalcasting is a truly interesting subject. Now, I look at things around me, and I know they are related to the foundry: wheel chairs, pots, pans, artwork, car engines and so much more.

I walked into this world of foundries as a novice, but I’m determined to proudly strut out an expert— well maybe not an expert, but closer to it than I am today. Will you follow along with me into the world of metal castings? No sunscreen is required.

Lady Liberty’s Favorite Look? Bronze.

Thanks to the meshing of old and new metalcasting techniques, a bronze casting of the plaster model Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi used to create the Statue of Liberty is now up for sale—at least to those who have money to burn, according to the New York Times.

One bronze replica of the model costs $1.1 million, and so far, two of the 12 bronzes have found homes with private collectors.

The plaster model was too fragile to be coated in silicone to make a mold. So a French company, 7Dworks, scanned the model and made a digital reproduction. This was sent to Fonderie Susse, Arcueil, France, which is using the investment casting process to make the finished bronze sculptures.

Each bronze replica is 9.4 ft. tall and weighs 1,000 lbs. It takes 600 hours to create just one.

Check out more details and photo galleries at the New York Times’ website.

Casting Is Cool

But don’t take our word for it. Watch this video about a metalcasting restoration project being conducted by Winston-Salem-based Famiano Design Group and Penumbra Design Studio.

Not enough casting in that one? Try this one.

We love it when the ancient art is co-mingled with modern technology, and these casting projects take it to the next level. Not only are the design teams using laser scanners to build patterns for their castings, the products themselves are little bits of history.

And with the right combination of coolness and technical know-how, perhaps the metalcasting industry can effectively tell its story and create some interest in casting as a career.

“If we can get the best and brightest into manufacturing positions and allow them to use their brains to figure out how they’re going to beat the overseas competition, we can win in a global marketplace, despite what people say about having to compete with 25-cent an hour labor,” Mike Klonsinski, Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Project, says in the second video.

Coming to a Class Near You

Whether you are a casting buyer or a fifth grade student, a field trip to a metalcasting facility can be eye opening. Unfortunately, making that trip is not always possible. A college project has found a way to bring the casting facility to the student.

We recently witnessed a Foundry in a Box demonstration at a Cast Metals Institute intro to metalcasting course. In the time it takes to zap a baked potato, the demonstrator melted tin in a small crucible using a household microwave revamped for this special purpose. Students were able to make their own sand mold and have a go at pouring in the liquid tin.

Foundry in a Box has been developed by casting engineering students over the past several years. Now the kit is available to the public. If learning is doing, this certainly is an effective way to understand the casting process. 

By the way, the whole “foundry” does indeed fit into a 31.50 x 22.87 x 19-in. shipping case.


Traveling Across Continents to View Castings

An interesting news item from the Dayton Daily News appeared in early March. Metalcasting industry equipment and technology supplier Palmer Manufacturing  & Supply Inc., Springfield, Ohio, had 15 potential customers fly in from South America (on their own dime) for a conference and to visit several area metalcasters and view the equipment Palmer supplies.

The news item struck a chord because we are thinking about the 2011 GIFA trade shows, including NEWCAST, a show dedicated to bringing metalcasters from around the world together with prospective customers. For those of you not familiar with this show, to be held in Dusseldorf, Germany, June 28-July 2, it is the world’s largest dedicated to metalcasting. Typically, 80,000 attendees descend on Dusseldorf for the five days to see the latest and greatest technology from across the globe. The problem is that the last two GIFAs we attended in 2007 and 2003 haven’t been attended well by U.S. metalcasters and casting buyers. Some would say we were noticeably absent.

While we agree that the every-three-year CastExpo is THE North American metalcasting show, we must keep abreast of all the happenings around the world, and GIFA is the perfect place to accomplish this goal.

Palmer’s customers flew from South America to learn about potential technology. We can fly to Germany to do the same.

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