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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.  

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