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What's in a Number?

The January/February issue of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing is one of my favorites of the year because it lays out the statistics of the current industry and looks at what we can expect for the coming years.

The annual World Census of Global Casting Production (p. 22) charts the trends in production and sales of major metalcasting nations, the U.S. census (p. 36) breaks down the types of plants and capabilities at home, and the U.S. metalcasting forecast (p. 27) shares how the industries that use castings might be faring in the future.

It’s a lot of numbers, and for someone who would go home and do pages of long division on her own in grade school, they are fun to explore and stack this way and that to see what kind of story it tells us.

This year, the tale that interested me most, although it was nothing new, was the extent of markets in which castings are used. In our forecast, we share data for the main industries for each metal, but in the full forecast, markets for iron, steel, aluminum and the other alloys go far beyond the four or five listed. There is a NAICS code for the totalizing fluid meter and counting device market, and it buys castings. Office furniture is a metalcasting market, so is electromedical and electrotherapeutic apparatus manufacturing. You, the readers of this magazine, are a collective group of makers that keep our society rolling in an expanding network of industry.

The variety of markets that metalcasters serve is also notable. Unless it is a captive plant, rarely is a foundry tied to a single industry. The chart on p. 31 of the U.S. census shows this breadth of markets. Metalcasting businesses serve niches. This makes them flexible to meet new customer needs, apply new developments, or, as in the case of Goldens’ Foundry and Machine Co. (p. 17), create their own product.

Enjoy exploring the numbers and stories in this issue, and as always, I invite you to share your thoughts or stories of what you are making with metal castings.

Click here to see this story as it appears in MCDP.


Manage Your Time

Time management is one of the biggest issues facing employees and employers today. Whether it’s because of a growing list of tasks, increasingly complicated duties, non-work problems that need to be taken care of, or just an inability to get off Twitter or Facebook during business hours, it feels like managing those precious minutes gets harder by the month for anybody who has even a modicum of responsibility during work.

In his book “Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time,” New York Times bestselling author Rory Vaden writes knowingly and seems all too familiar with time crunches. He spells out in plain language ways to make your time matter more, and how not to waste it with surprisingly simple and intuitive ideas.

(Not that it matters, but the title of the book is ironic and catchy. It’s not iconic like “Steal This Book,” but certainly memorable.)

To get his points across to the reader, Vaden breaks up his advice into five “permissions” on what he calls a “Focus Funnel.” They are:
• Eliminate: The Permission to Ignore.
• Automate: The Permission to Invest.
• Delegate: The Permission of Imperfect.
• Procrastinate: The Permission of Incomplete.
• Concentrate: The Permission to Protect.

All of these ideas have value and Vaden gets them across impressively efficiently. The part that had the most relevance for me (of course, your mileage may vary) was on concentration. I have a habit of, well, wasting time until I need to get on deadline and have to accomplish something. Sometimes that means I’m rushing a lot more than I should be. And even though I end up getting things done, it’s more stressful than necessary.

It turns out, this is healthy, albeit in the reverse. In the chapter that focuses on this topic, Vaden goes into detail about working double-time at the start of a task when necessary, so you can have free time later. He also effectively mentioned farmers and how they harvest when they have to harvest, that at times there’s nothing they can do to avoid it and how it has to be a priority for them.

(Trust me, this makes sense in the context of the book.)

In general, “Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time” is a valuable book for any professional who struggles with managing their precious minutes. I certainly fall into that category and will take many of the lessons with me as I continue my writing. And maybe I’ll be more efficient on my next deadline.  


New Normals. Better Futures

In the late 1990s, dot-com companies that had yet to generate a profit were trading at astronomical valuations. Traditional measures like price-to-earning ratios, we were told, were obsolete in an era when eyeballs and clicks were the metrics du jour. It didn’t take long, though, for the market to crash. It turned out that the longstanding investment rules developed by the likes of Benjamin Graham and Phillip Fisher were timeless and trusty, not outdated and crusty.

Over the past seven years, there has been another new normal. Over that time, the U.S. has failed to enjoy even a single year of 3% economic growth. Not surprisingly, this lackluster performance has led to diminished economic opportunity and reduced tax revenues. Even as the unemployment rate gradually inched back to 4.9 percent, the numbers of people who dropped out of the workforce has been staggering.

This has been the slowest economic recovery over the last 75 years. Some people have bought into the argument that we are destined to perpetual growth rates of 1 to 2 percent. Yet, this seeming new normal need not be a permanent reality. With the right public policies, robust growth is again possible. With that growth would come more demand for goods and services, better opportunities for entrepreneurs, and more jobs. In a phrase, a better future.

For buyers and designers of castings, the American Foundry Society plays a key role in assuring a better future. AFS is waging an aggressive government advocacy program that advances policies conducive to economic growth and opposes unnecessarily burdensome regulations. That work helps to control non-production costs that would otherwise have to be added on to the price of castings. Corporate memberships in AFS—by metalcasters, suppliers, and casting purchasers—make this advocacy work possible.

On the workforce development front, many OEMs and other casting buyers take advantage of AFS classroom courses. A total of 38 classes have been redesigned over the last several years. Moreover, in July 2016, the society introduced a series of e-learning modules on key casting-related topics, with many more still to come. This makes professional training more affordable and convenient than ever.

AFS is also playing a leading role in technology development and transfer, which positions the casting industry to meet the ever-evolving technology needs of its customers for many years to come.

This issue of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing features two articles on designing and cost estimating for additive manufacturing, plus a look at the steel lost foam and iron pipe markets. Finally, a look at casting technology development on page 34 illustrates how metalcasters use engineering and knowledge to eliminate defects and provide quality castings to their customers. All of these contribute to a better future for casting purchasers.

Click here to see this story as it appears in MCDP.


Leading Where?

In the book “You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader,” author Mark Sanborn tries to lay out how anybody in any company can be a leader, regardless of shiny title, fancy business card or even a large salary. He does this by not following a single narrative, but brief vignette after brief vignette after brief vignette after...

Well, you get the point.

This isn’t really a knock against Sanborn, but his writing style in this very brief book of 102 pages didn’t help me to see what he was trying to get across. As I read this book, I kept waiting for repeated extended narratives (even one that would be a few pages), where I could see how somebody took some of the lessons in this book and improved their career and also the life of the business where they work. At least for me, that would give me time to see some parallels in my life and career, and perhaps see how they could be applied to make things even better for myself and my employers.

There are a couple very strong examples of this, and I won’t ruin them, but a few more would have been helpful for the reader.

That said, there are reasons to pick up this book.

Though it didn’t do much for me, Sanborn’s writing style could be helpful if you’re not looking for one story but numerous small snippets and examples of lessons. He breaks down his theory into “six principles of leadership” and then pings rapid-fire stories at the reader one after another.

Some valuable lessons can be learned in the pages of this book. Perhaps the most important is a very early passage in the book. It reads “It doesn’t matter what your position is, or how long you’ve worked at your job, whether you help to run your family, a PTA committee, or a Fortune 500 company. Anyone at any level can learn to be a leader and help to shape or influence the world around them.”

That’s pretty good, and something every employee of every company should take to heart. The six principles also provide value and the snippets do bring strong advice and tips. One that is especially strong is the chapter on the power of persuasive communication. During the nine-page section, Sanborn highlights how to communicate effectively, and stresses the importance of word selection.

In the end, there is a value to reading this book. Leadership is a tricky thing to define. It’s not tangible, and probably falls into the “you know it when you see it” category, and Sanborn does go a long way in illuminating some very helpful and important tactics. They are tactics that may seem obvious but aren’t, and they are tactics that are surprisingly easy to implement.


Finding the Fun

Each October the last few years, our office has hosted an event for National Manufacturing Day activities.

Manufacturing Day’s goal is to celebrate careers in manufacturing and share with the community and students how these industries support our economy. It’s a chance for companies to share what they do with the public. Your organization might even hold an event. We host an open house with a hands-on metalcasting demonstration.

Man, it is fun.

In your jobs and industries, the pressure is on to deliver safe, economic, and attractive parts, and it may not feel like any fun much of the time. Manufacturing Day is the chance to take a break from the deadlines and show others what you thought was so much fun about manufacturing and engineering in the first place.

Designing something, making a part that has a purpose in the world, is gratifying. The smiles on grade-school kids’ faces after pouring their first small casting is proof of that.

Like most issues of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing, this one features a wide range of cast parts that met deadlines, reduced cost and were a little fun, too. On page 22, you can read about a niche industry any sports fan will enjoy—cast iron seat components for ballparks and stadiums. Our case study on an electronics enclosure on page 32 shows how creative engineering can achieve results when the wiggle-room for design changes is slim. Perhaps most fun of all, our Shakeout on page 56 takes us to the final frontier.

Once again, I’m looking forward to our Manufacturing Day open house this October. I enjoy seeing the community and students learn and be excited about manufacturing and engineering.

Even more, I like watching those from the industry explain metalcasting and the opportunities it offers as a career and a manufacturing method.

If you are looking for an audience to share what your company is making or how you are utilizing castings in your projects, you’ve found the place. Not all projects are headaches—let us know what’s got you smiling.

Click here to see this story as it appears in MCDP


Transforming Energy Into Profit

Energy might not be a tangible thing, but it can be felt throughout a person’s life. It certainly can be felt in a business, and sometimes it needs to be turned around.

Energy Leadership: Transforming Your Workplace and Your Life from the Core by Bruce D. Schneider, a life coach, tells the story of when he is brought in to help a failing company turn around. Bruce quickly notices that Richard, the company’s owner, is setting a downcast and negative tone for his employees.

The company, once thriving, is beset by office politics, a losing trajectory and looks headed for the end unless drastic action is taken.

Schneider writes about recognizing seven different energy levels and how some leaders create positive energy and how some create negative energy. Both permeate through a business and can have major impacts.

I won’t spoil what those seven different energy levels are or how they can be improved or changed, but this is a story that should resonate for anybody who’s worked in an office. The characters are well-sketched and each one presents different challenges for Richard as he tries, with Bruce’s prodding, to get them in line and save the business.

The story itself is well-written. Though the ending is telegraphed early in the book, it’s an enjoyable journey to see how the company reached its destination. Not to sound cliche but there are twists and turns and the characters get more and more interesting as the story unfolds. You begin to understand how the characters became what they are and, even though they exhibit some onerous behavior, you begin to cheer for them as they move back into being team players and productive parts of a cohesive unit.

As you might have guessed by now, this book is not about a metalcasting facility and does not have many obvious ties to the industry.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant to metalcasting.

The principles of a healthy business and healthy energy are universal. It’s hard to be successful and profitable if nobody’s working together, and if they have to try it becomes a challenge. Leaders, whether in the boardroom, the office or on the floor set the tone for their employees. That’s true in any industry.

Energy Leadership: Transforming Your Workplace and Your Life from the Core is not a necessary read, but if you feel like something’s off with your corporate culture, it will help you find solutions and keep you entertained.


Thank You, Goodbye & Good Luck

It is with a heavy heart that I pen this last editorial for Metal Casting Design & Purchasing. By the time you read this column, I will have left the magazine to pursue a new career.  After 19 years in metalcasting, a new challenge awaits me.

So let me start by thanking you, our loyal readers of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing.  I was lucky enough to be part of the team that started this magazine in 1999 (it was titled Engineered Casting Solutions back then). Our focus was serving a niche—buyers and designers of metal castings—that needed information on how to better source and design engineered metal components.

Through the years, we have grown our qualified circulation tremendously and built a name for ourselves by being a resource to you. You have attended our summits and trade shows, you have participated in our casting competition, and you have submitted articles and ideas to help educate your peers. You have helped to build a community of buyers and designers looking to support a casting supply chain. That was our dream when we started the magazine and you are helping us fulfill that dream.

Goodbyes are always difficult.  We all invest sweat equity in our professions. But I can leave knowing the casting supply chain in North America is better than when we started this magazine.  There is greater communication, an increase in education and knowledge exchange, and a stronger appreciation for local sourcing.  The basic foundation of a magazine is the strength of the information it shares, and Metal Casting Design & Purchasing shines in that exchange.

But the advancement of the supply chain is not done.  Everyone is always looking to do things better, faster and stronger.  Additive manufacturing is changing the way all manufacturing conducts business.  Metalcasting has been one of the early and significant adopters of this technology from its first appearances in the 1990s to its full development today. New technologies and processes await to steal the headlines as the wave of the future.

To those of you battling in the trenches every day, I truly wish you good luck. Manufacturing is the backbone of our economy and our society. The next generation is beginning to understand that fact. And metal castings serve as the foundation of most manufacturing.

Be proud of who you are and what you accomplish every day. Creating and building incredible machinery is an awesome accomplishment.

Thank you, goodbye and good luck.

Click Here to see this article as it appears in Metal Casting Design & Purchasing


Enhancing My Perspective

Standing on the CastExpo exhibition floor last month, I made a 360-degree turn to see all the sights before my eyes. The shiny equipment.  The bright lights. The networking. The potential for the future.

The best of metalcasting was on display at the once-every-three-year showcase, and I was in awe. To understand where this industry was in 2009-10, to see where it is today and to think where it is going is amazing. Many had expected North American metalcasting to go the way of the dinosaurs. Instead, it is now a beacon of success the rest of the world points to.

Yes, we have significant challenges:
•    Critical markets like agriculture, energy and mining are significantly down.
•    Finding skilled labor (or any labor at all)
is difficult.
•    You, as casting buyers, continue to demand more and want to pay less.
•    Today’s regulatory environment is stifling to manufacturing.

But look at just a few of the headlines we have run in the magazine in the last year:
•    Waupaca Unveils New Growth Strategy
•    Linamar, GF Automotive Choose North Carolina for New Operations
•    Fritz Winter to Build Casting Facility in Kentucky
•    Sahkti Breaks Ground on Aluminum Casting Facility in Detroit
•    Kamtek to Invest in New Diecasting Facility in Alabama
•    Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Purchases Precision Castparts

Hopefully, these headlines and the other regularly occurring positive news can finally put to rest the misnomer that new casting facilities and expansion aren’t happening in the U.S. Couple this investment with the tremendous expansion and adoption of additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping that is occurring, and you have an industry poised to handle the future. When the down markets return to some normalcy, watch out for North American metalcasting.

While my messages in this editorial space tend to cheerlead the positive, I am calling it like I see it. In your production-driven world, you must focus on finding the proper supplier for a family of parts or improving the performance of a single aluminum component. My responsibility is to scream from the mountaintops a 10,000-ft-view that examines the trends in the industry.

I gained some additional perspective on the state of metalcasting while on the CastExpo show floor. Hopefully, you have as well.

(Click Here to see this story as it appears in the May/June issue of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing.)


In Search of Lightning Bolt

(Click here to see the story as it appears in the March/April edition of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing.)

Lights. Camera. Action.

The spotlights will be on the metalcasting supply chain during the upcoming CastExpo extravaganza in Minneapolis in April. With thousands of attendees and hundreds of exhibitors, I will feel like a kid in a candy store throughout the four-day event.

Castings…ooohhh…Advanced Technology…aaahhh…Industry Experts.

Every way you turn on the show floor or in the education arenas, something will capture your eye. This once-every-three year happening is the one and only time the entire supply chain comes together to discuss the present and future of metalcasting

Yes, I am a little excited. My hope is that you are as well.

Even in today’s mobile-device driven world, the value of face-to-face communication is priceless. Whether you engage a casting supplier on the show floor, an expert in an interactive education session or a colleague in the hotel bar, the opportunity to have that verbal and nonverbal exchange of ideas is what can help lead to the breakthroughs that propel you into the future.

The development of these lightning bolt ideas is discussed in a blog post at www.metalcastingdesign.com and in our Blog Roll column on p. 1. In his work titled, “Originals,” author Adam Grant tries to combat the misconception that ground-breaking advances are somehow the result of fate. Rather, they are the result of hard work, character and, more often than not, previous failures.

“When you remember that rules and systems were created by people, it becomes clear that they’re not set in stone—and you begin to consider how they can be improved,” wrote Grant.

This proposition underlines the importance of a trade show with the expansive exhibit floor and education opportunities of CastExpo. This is the chance to discuss successes and failures without the pressure of the day-to-day staring you in the face. This is the chance to examine and dream about additive manufacturing, self-healing alloys and optimized supply chains that might revolutionize your business.

As you walk around the convention center in Minneapolis, keep your eyes open for the lightning bolts as they strike. My guess is that it will be an electrifying four days.


Novel Solutions: Color Outside the Lines

If cartoons have taught me anythi… Wait a minute. Of the many lessons I’ve learned from cartoons, one concept that’s clear is inspiration strikes quickly. The light bulb goes on above your head and the great idea seems so simple.

In “Originals,” Adam Grant argues, while such lightning strikes may happen, they aren’t as common as people think. His take on “how non-conformists move the world,” as the book’s subtitle reads, examines in depth what goes into these memorable innovations. Using social science studies combined with telling anecdotes, Grant tries to combat the common misconception that ground-breaking advances are somehow a result of fate. Rather, achievement is the result of hard work, character and, more often than not, previous failures.

The most resonant message of “Originals” focuses on how organizations can excel by fostering creativity and nonconformity in its individuals. These lessons are also the most applicable for managers and executives. Grant’s critical examination of platitudes like “thinking outside the box” is enlightening in distinguishing between lip-service and real strategy. Commitment to the cause is important; groupthink is destructive.

Attention is paid to improving one’s own ability to foster and harness originality. In this, “Originals” can be an interesting work that forces the reader to examine thought processes and actions. Grant dives into what goes into becoming an effective risk-taker, which includes less glamorous things like research and hedging. It also takes work, which is evidenced by describing how many failures were left in Thomas Edison’s wake, for example. We remember his successes, but the hundred of patents that fill filing cabinets show it’s not only about quality. The best idea cannot be the only idea.

Grant’s stories about Jackie Robinson and Steve Jobs are delivered in novel fashion, even if the cliffhanger delivery relies a bit too much on a final reveal. But for those in the business, specifically metalcasting, this book does more to improve performance at the office than elsewhere.

A professor at the Wharton School of Business, Grant writes with an ease and authority that makes “Originals” readable. The book hopes to foster creativity in the name of advancement. To that end, it delivers a few lessons worth learning—at least as many as you’ll glean from Tom & Jerry reruns.


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