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.

Have Your Heard This From Your Metalcaster?

In our experience, metalcasters aren’t a smug lot. Reserved maybe, but not the type to rub it in when you get something wrong.

Of course, they may have a hard time biting their tongues when they read this article from the Feb. 16 issue of the Los Angeles Times.

According to the piece, aircraft manufacturer Boeing is late and over budget on its 787 Dreamliner at least in part because of components it has outsourced to overseas companies.

“The 787 has more foreign-made content — 30% — than any other Boeing plane, according to the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, the union representing Boeing engineers,” reads the article. “That compares with just over 5% in the company’s workhorse 747 airliner.”

The article goes on to say that managing this foreign made content has turned out to be more difficult than managing in-house production—rather than easier, as the company first assumed. What’s more, many of the suppliers with which the company has contracted have turned out not to be able to produce the parts with the level of proficiency they claimed.

Metalcasting, Beautified

Leave it to a French company to make the metalcasting process feel like a ballet.

From the delicate accent of the narrator to the tinkling melody that accompanies her description of the process, this video from Le Creuset is metalcasting beautified.

But hiding under the elegant veneer of the video is casting in all its grit and glory. The narrator tells us that if a piece of cookware is scrapped, “it will be returned to the furnace to start life again.” And each pot or pan Le Creuset produces is “one of a kind…truly individual,” owing to the inherent variations in casting.

Whatever the inherent variations in the process, the video teaches us at least one thing is certain: an iron cookware producer like Le Creuset wouldn’t be what it is today without metalcasting capabilities.

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