Where's Your Innovation Coming From?

The word innovation gets tossed around a lot in business, but keeping innovation in focus is difficult when you’re in the day-to-day grind of meeting customer orders. The result is that a majority of a company’s innovation comes from its suppliers, but if you’re relying on your suppliers to provide your only source of innovation, you’re missing the pearl in a bag of marbles.

A press release that came across our desks earlier this week reminded the editorial staff that many of the best innovations come from people within an organization. In the release, L A Aluminum Co. recognized one of its employees, Scott Solomon, for originating, creating and implementing a device that allows a molding operator to install multiple threaded steel inserts into a mold simultaneously. Previously, each insert was place in the mold one at a time, forcing the operator to expose himself to an 800F mold for several minutes while placing between 5 and 36 inserts. The line produces castings on fuel cells for military and commercial use, accounting for 15-20% of the company’s annual sales. The new device improved the efficiency of that line by 30%.    

L A Aluminum awarded its employee with $500 and proudly sent the word out about the accomplishment.

How are you encouraging your employees to innovate?

Unforgettable Oscar

While attending an Oscar party this year, one of our staff members brought up the fact that the coveted golden statuette, awarded to the world’s best film personnel, is made through the metalcasting process. Crickets.

The editor mentioned that the award is cast at a facility not 30 minutes from the Chicago home where they were watching the awards show. A bit of response, but still not enough to drown out the sound of bugs rubbing their legs together.

The experience was eerily similar to the annual deluge of articles that appear in the popular press about the manufacturing process used to make the Oscar. (For the record, it’s hand-cast, a variation on traditional permanent mold work, at R.S. Owens, Chicago.)

Each year around Academy Awards time, a few news outlets run a story detailing how the Oscar starts as molten metal, is poured into a mold, and solidifies to form the shape you see on television. It’s as if they’ve just discovered metalcasting.

This is one of the oldest manufacturing processes in the world. It produces parts for indispensable industries—automotive, aerospace, oil and mining, the list goes on. And yet, the most attention it gets in the popular press is when it makes an appearance in Hollywood. As with so many subjects, the media would do well to get the stars out of its eyes when covering manufacturing in America.

No Peaceful Resting Yet

It’s always frustrating to run across an article in the mainstream media that breezily references the U.S. metalcasting industry, or manufacturing in general, as an endangered species, so a recent Popular Mechanics article that takes an opposite stance is worth mentioning.

Caterpillar and Case IH both are featured in the article, which touts five American manufacturing facilities that are experiencing success despite foreign competition. That these two companies were included echoes the strong casting forecasts for farm equipment and mining machinery industries.

The gist of the article is that it’s not time to write the epitaph for American manufacturing just yet. U.S. businesses still hold advantages in expertise, innovation, flexibility and speed.

When the magazine staff visits end-user trade shows, it’s not uncommon to hear the comment, “I didn’t think there were any U.S. metalcasters left.” But this industry, like the rest of U.S. manufacturing is still alive and kicking.

Your Weekly Metalcasting Fix

Whenever one of us here in the ECS office comes across an interesting metalcasting-related item, we’ll pass along the info to each other—whether it’s a url link, a clipped magazine story or a quick recap of what was seen on television. We know you do it, too, because many times we’ll receive emails from you, our readers, with similar commentaries. Sometimes these exchanges spark a discussion. Sometimes they lead to an idea for a feature article or news item. Sometimes they receive a short “huh,” and that’s it. But these communications have become an important way to stay keyed into the metalcasting industry.

Our new Metalcasting Design Blog is an extension of that everyday, watercooler exchange. Here you’ll find thoughts on industry trends, highlights of metal castings found in the every-day world, analysis of news items, reactions to facility tours, industry events and conferences, and our general musings.

We welcome comments to our entries. Point us to some news you’ve come across on your own, or bring up a discussion that’s been weighing on your mind. This is our way to involve you in our daily approach to covering the metalcasting industry. Visit us often to see what’s new in the industry. We’ll keep you posted.

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