Found Casting: Iron Horse Hotel

A new hotel has opened up in Milwaukee that caters to the motorcycle enthusiast and business professional alike. Located across from the new Harley Davidson Museum, the Iron Horse Hotel features a masculine, yet modern design, complete with aluminum sculptures in every room meant to represent molten metal in a metalcasting facility.

From its website:

In keeping with its theme of fusing industrial aesthetics with cutting edge amenities, The Iron Horse Hotel commissioned Milwaukee sculptor Amber Van Galder to create unique works of art out of recycled aluminum. The original pieces are displayed above beds in the concept hotel’s guest rooms.

Van Galder created the pieces to resemble industrial metal spills commonly found on the floors of metal foundries. The artist melted down 40 pounds of recycled aluminum for each piece, pouring the spills into sand, and then hand polishing them to a brilliant patina.

An Evansville, Wisconsin native, Van Galder graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 2007.  While studying art there, she developed a close relationship with Professor Dan McGuire, who trained her in traditional foundry work. This discipline re-united Van Galder with her Evansville roots; the rural community boasts an industrial foundry that has been operational for more than 130 years. 

We’re not thrilled with the exaggerated phrase “metal spills commonly found on the floors of metal foundries,” but the end result is cool. A quick look in our directory has us thinking the metalcasting facility in Evansville they are referring to is Baker Manufacturing Co., which has been around since 1873.

Saving American Manufacturing

The cover story in the June 30 edition of Business Week asks a question on every manufacturer’s mind: “Can the U.S. Bring Jobs Back from China?” Oil prices are driving up transportation costs, wages in China are increasing 10-15% a year, and the American dollar is falling against world currencies. This could be a good time for the American manufacturing industry to make a comeback. But, as the article points out, it won’t be easy.

Most of us are familiar with this scenario: A company wants to cut costs. It explores ways to source its parts for less. Its American supplier can’t compete with China’s low costs, so a Chinese supplier wins the contract. Two years later, the cost savings aren’t nearly what were expected, and the company turns back to its American supplier. But that manufacturing sector has shrunk due to closings, and available capacity is hard to find.

For the optimistic, this could be an opportune time for metalcasters, as well as other manufacturers, to invest in increasing their capacity as more OEMs are looking to source domestically. However, after several years of watching job after job head offshore, it’s understandable that suppliers are a little gun-shy.

In the article, iron metalcasting facility Donsco is offered as an example of the impact offshoring has had on the American manufacturing industry:

Despite growing demand, [Donsco Chairman Art] Mann says Donsco will be "real cautious" about spending the $30 million and two years needed to build a new foundry. The impact of this reluctance is being felt in Belen, N.M., where CEMCO, a maker of rock-crushing and farming equipment, is looking to cut costs and logistical headaches. The company today imports many metal parts from Asia but would prefer to buy domestically because of rising shipping rates and the weak dollar. "American foundries now can compete head-to-head on cost, but there aren't many foundries, welders, machinists, and quality-control engineers," says James B. Turk, CEMCO's chief financial officer. "What we had 10 years ago is gone." Where did all the capacity go? Mainly to China, where modern foundries are proliferating.

Suppliers are in the tough situation of turning away customers that two years ago they would have loved to have. So what now? As the article points out, China’s wages and transportation costs may be increasing, but so are productivity, research and development. And large corporations that have already invested chunks of money in establishing a supply base in Chinese cities will be slow to abandon them.

The good news is that OEMs may be having second thoughts about sourcing their newest product lines to foreign locations. Inflation and increased commodity prices have helped even out the price balance between Chinese and American metalcasters. And the “survival of the fittest” theory seems to have held true for the metalcasting industry. Perhaps the American manufacturing industry is primed for a revival.

Metalcaster Makes the Radio

An employee for May Foundry and Machine Co., Salt Lake City, Utah, recently was featured on a local radio program about the lives of Utahans.

According to the story on KUER FM90, a public radio station licensed to the Univ. of Utah, David Thomlin has been working for May Foundry for more than 38 years. He got a job at the plant shoveling coal from railroad cars and began his career as a molder nine months later. Today, he is the ferrous nobake shop’s lead molder.

Thomlin hasn’t become rich working in the metalcasting facility, the story tells us, but he has all the things he needs and provides for his family.

“I still enjoy coming in, and I still enjoy making something,” he told the radio station. “I’m taking a raw material, sand, and putting it with some chemicals and taking junk, basically, and creating something, and it’s going to be used by thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people—if I did my job right.”

The radio spot also goes into some detail on the metalcasting process itself, indicating it can be used to make a variety of items, including parts “for a snow blower” or “a carbon regenerating plant that makes briquettes.”

“I think it was rather nice and a testament to the kinds of workers and employees we have here [at May Foundry],” said Mike May, customer service and safety manager.

New Tool for Choosing an Alloy and Processes Available

From time to time, we’ll field calls from casting buyers trying to make a decision between alloys or casting processes. We can’t make that choice for them; we can only provide information that willlead to an educated decision. But, really, that’s a lot of information, and the number of different ways you can produce a casting can make the process daunting.

In conjunction with the American Foundry Society and Product Development & Analysis, we’ve developed a Casting Alloy and Process Selector tool to help casting buyers and designers determine which casting alloys and process(es) may be suitable for their specific metal casting designs. All you need to do is enter basic data about the metal casting (if available, alloy, weight, wall thicknesses, surface finish, production volume), and various processes will be presented to you.

The information contained in the tool represents industry averages and cannot be considered absolute. Every manufacturing facility offers different capabilities, so for specific information, you should contact your metal casting suppliers. But the tool will help you narrow down your choices. Good luck!

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