The Artist Is the Engineer

When discussing the sales dollars or tonnage of castings generated by the metalcasting industry, the focus is on engine cylinder blocks, valve bodies, compressor housings and thousands of other mass-produced engineered components that are the lifeblood of this job-shop industry’s production.  But when discussing the elegance, beauty and creativity embodied by the metalcasting process, the discussions may shift to a niche portion of the industry known as art casting.

Within the pages of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing, we typically don’t dedicate as much ink to the art casting segment of the industry as we could (it regularly appears on our Shakeout or In a World Without Castings pages). Since our goal is to illustrate the opportunities with engineered cast metal, our focus is on showcasing ways to improve design and purchasing practices that can have the largest impact on manufacturing. But, the reality is that art casting provides an opportunity for metalcasting and manufacturing as a whole to demonstrate our capabilities with products that are understood by all segments of society.

This is embodied in our cover story, “Restoring the U.S. Capitol Dome,” on p. 20. When working with our legislators and regulators in Washington, D.C., examples like the work being performed to bring the Dome back to glory showcase the importance and skill of metalcasting (and manufacturing) in a way they can relate to. But for you, as a designer and buyer of castings, art casting and this Dome story can offer you an additional level of food
for thought.

“What I find most astonishing is the amount of detail that went into crafting the ornaments.  It is incredible to see the intricacy. … There are little lines and indentations the size of your pinky fingernail.”—Joe Abriatis, construction manager of the Dome Restoration Project.

“(Original Cast) Pieces that can’t be repaired will be melted, re-alloyed and poured into new castings, so the original pieces will remain part of the Dome’s historic fabric.”—Abriatis

The ability to achieve intricate design detail, as well as almost infinite geometric complexity with metal castings (especially when combined with additive manufacturing), is one of the key areas that separates this manufacturing process from other metal component forming methods. In addition, the recyclability of the process, with our society’s focus on sustainability, is critical to its longevity as a manufacturing technique because metalcasting takes scrap metal (iron, aluminum, copper-base, etc.) and creates new engineered components.

Inspiration must come from all areas of manufacturing.  Take the opportunity to look at the art castings all around you—from plaques and statues to architectural reproductions—to summon your inner artist and unleash the opportunities with metalcasting.

Novel Solutions: Fun With Economics?

It’s no secret that human beings can be and often are irrational. (This point is especially evident if you’ve ever dealt with a customer who needed a few thousand castings yesterday.) But, for some strange reason, economics has been slow to accept this otherwise obvious truth. In this most applicable of the social sciences, humans were thought of as rational, reasoned and logical.

“Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics” by Richard H. Thaler is the story of one man’s crusade to change this fundamental assumption. The very term “behavioral economics” tells you that this book is dealing more with the human mind than the invisible hand.

Told in chronological order, from Thaler’s early work as a graduate student to a quick peek at what’s next, “Misbehaving” is simultaneously technically dense and easy to read. This is not to say you’ll be cracking this open while lounging by the pool. Rather, information is packaged and delivered in a way that’s easily consumed by relative novices.

If you’re looking for step-by-step instructions to better the bottom line, this isn’t your blueprint. But “Misbehaving” delivers more than a few eye-opening lessons for the business owner or manager. In the chapter on game shows—what better illustrations for people’s tendency for mental hiccups?—Thaler puts a few contestants from “Deal or No Deal” under the microscope.

For example, one unfortunate man was left with five possibilities: four relatively low payoffs and the highest payday possible. As it became evident he was nearing an all-or-almost-nothing proposition, he appeared ardent on going for it all—and he didn’t make it. Would you believe how the game progresses affects a contestant’s probability of accepting a particular offer? Of course it does, which is why it is an effective indictment of why economists have banked on the rationality of the individual for decades.

Beyond lessons for yourself and your business, “Misbehaving” is simply an interesting read in terms of psychology. Whether specific points change how you view yourself and your workforce, the book veers away from esoteric concepts and theories. The research is evident and the discussion is grounded in everyday examples or easily understood hypotheticals.  

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