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Think About Communication

The annual casting competition is a showcase for metalcasting’s latest and greatest.  And this year’s winner, the oil pan for John Deere cast by Aarrowcast Inc., Shawano, Wis., is no exception.  By incorporating multiple components to increase performance and reduce cost, this cast component is another shining example of what can be accomplished when the designer and metalcaster work together to secure a solution.

And that really is the story with this oil pan casting. Both John Deere and Aarrowcast brought their expertise to the table during the product development process to solve design, production and quality issues.  Even though the process required a couple years and several iterations to achieve a final component, the result validates their efforts.

“This part took us out of our comfort zone, and as a result, we’ve changed our entire system to work with our customer up front to ensure success at launch,” said Aarrowcast engineering manager Jim Olson.

In today’s marketplace, the push for open, up-front communication is critical, especially in the product development stage for castings. The lack of strong communication between buyer and supplier in global sourcing situations is one of the reasons many firms have returned to localized sourcing as much as possible.

But the reality is not all casting buyers have read the headlines and realized the offshore sourcing movement isn’t as perfect as everyone once thought. Your firm may still enforce a corporate-wide edict that a certain percentage of sourcing must be from low-cost countries. Or maybe your firm is similar to one I encountered recently at which I heard the following statements:

“U.S. metalcasters have a lot of catching up to do.”

“U.S. metalcasters have to improve to compete with plants in China, India and Mexico.”

While these two phrases aren’t exact quotes, they are paraphrases of a discussion with a group of experienced casting buyers.  These buyers said they want to purchase in the U.S. but they just weren’t able to find suppliers offering the total package (price, technology and/or capabilities). Even though these buyers require smaller runs of many different materials and sizes, global sourcing is the more attractive option to them.

If you are one of the firms still thinking like this group of buyers, ask yourself if you could achieve what John Deere and Aarrowcast achieved with your global suppliers.

In the last few years, manufacturing in the U.S. and North America has seen a resurgence in both production and reputation as most firms have refocused on regionalized sourcing, reshoring castings with regularity back from low-cost sources. Many of the conversations appear to have turned from casting price to total cost of acquisition, so costs like defects, shipping and engineering time are being factored into the final decision. These are the conversations that lead to innovation.  These are the conversations that lead to a Casting of the Year.


A Resurgence Continues

The continued discussion of the resurgence in North American manufacturing is music to my ears. While there was a slowdown in the second half of 2013 for many of us, orders appear to be strengthening and economic indicators are poised for a good 2014.

But the key question for me is if the foundation of our manufacturing, and specifically our metalcasting industry, is poised enough to keep pushing forward 10 and 20 years from now. Another recession at some point is bound to cause a wave of belt tightening. Low cost country sourcing pressures aren’t going to disappear. Health care and regulatory costs will continue to rise throughout the Americas.

In a big announcement in February, President Obama gave a resounding yes to the question of whether the metalcasting segment of our manufacturing foundation is ready for the future as he detailed two initiatives to develop regional manufacturing hubs that will connect private business (including metalcasting) with research institutions as part of his National Network of Manufacturing Innovation. This is coupled with the January announcement that metalcasting is part of the America Makes initiative on additive manufacturing.

Below is a recap of these three projects: 

American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute-Based in Canton Township, Mich., this regional hub will focus on the manufacture of aluminum, titanium and high-strength steel, while working with universities and labs on research and development. The American Foundry Society (AFS) is part of a consortium of 34 companies, nine universities and 17 other groups including Boeing, General Electric (GE) and The Ohio State University.

Digital Labs for Manufacturing (or Digital Lab)-Led by University of Illinois labs in Chicago, the Digital Lab will bring together manufacturing and software companies from Boeing to GE to develop compatible software and hardware for supply chains to reduce manufacturing costs. AFS will work with the other partners to use Digital Labs as a resource, focal point and network for resolving technical barriers currently limiting the application and integration of digital manufacturing and innovative design technologies.  

Accelerated Adoption of AM Technology in the American Foundry Industry-This project was awarded funding from the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation’s pilot program and is led by the Youngstown Business Incubator, with partnership from AFS. The research will support the transition of binder jet additive manufacturing to the small business casting industry.

Review the focus of these initiatives-additive manufacturing, lightweight materials and supply chain constraints. These are forward-thinking initiatives that will translate to practical results in the near future.

These initiatives are focused to help the entire supply chain in metalcasting manufacturing.These initiatives are another brick in the foundation of metalcasting manufacturing resurging before your eyes. As you continue to look to U.S. suppliers as part of your answer to global supply demands, we will need this foundation to remain strong.

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