Lessons of Agility

Like the software it develops, Red Hat is run with open source management. CEO Jim Whitehurst explains how in “The Open Organization,” a business management book that describes the open, engaged workforce philosophy behind Red Hat and provides strategies for leaders to implement in their own company in order to be more flexible in meeting customer demands.

Software and metalcasting are vastly different types of businesses, and its difficult to draw parallels for some aspects of the book. Whitehurst can use his company’s internal memo network and web-based forum to foster communication, imput and engagement with his employees; such a system rarely would be in place for an entire metalcasting company, from sales manager to molder. However, the metalcasting CEO can take smaller steps by simply communicating more openly about the context of the company within its niche of the industry.

“When people are given information, they begin to see the big picture as it relates to meeting their targets, earning their bonus, increasing the value of the company’s stock and protecting their jobs,” writes Whitehurst. Red Hat does this by opening up the decision-making process to the employees closest to the area it will impact. The CEO makes the final decision, but the ideas can come from anyone. Good ideas win in this meritocracy.

After each chapter, Whitehurst provides five or six leadership tips, and these are the best parts of the book. They provide clear ways to implement an open-source philosophy into your management style, such as “Before making your next decision, ask yourself whether others will be surprised. If so, think about including them before finalizing it,” which was at the end of the chapter, Making Inclusive Decisions.

Whitehurst also suggests giving teams the room to determine ways to improve the company rather than always providing direction from the top-down. Tell people where progress is needed and give them the freedom to come up with their own ideas to meet the goals, he writes.

While not all principles in “The Open Organization” will fit a metalcasting organization, it provides plenty of ways the CEO can use better communication with employees to more quickly adapt to changes in the operation. It also gives food for thought in how much could be advanced if the whole industry was open source.  

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.  

Metal Printing: A Tool in the Casting Supply Chain

What is the future of the metal casting supply chain? This is a great question. As a buyer of castings, maybe you would like to know how your casting suppliers are going to advance to make your life easier? What processes or technology will be employed to improve your component quality and time to market?

Having just returned from the AFS Metalcasting Congress in Columbus, Ohio, in April, where members of the entire metal casting supply chain had gathered, I saw an increase in the presence of additive manufacturing technology on display on both the exhibition floor and in the education sessions. Over the last several years, the conversations in metalcasting on this technology have shifted from “what is additive” to “how do I design this component for additive” as the industry has shifted from learning about the opportunities to capitalizing on them.

This brings us to the feature article, “Sparking Change? Advances in Direct Metal Printing,” on p. 30 that examines the segment of additive manufacturing referred to as direct metal printing. This is a process in which metal components are built layer by layer often by fusing together a metal powder.

“Right now, it’s moving from a prototyping past to a production future,” said Tim Caffey, senior consultant for Wohlers Associates. “It’s in the process of growing up.”

When I first learned about the development of this process several years ago, my reaction was fear for metalcasters. If this new process advances enough, it will put an end to the metalcasting industry as everyone will just print their metal components. But then I took a step back, realized the true capabilities of this technology and analyzed the stakeholders involved. The metal casting supply chain has the opportunity to embrace this technology and make it a tool to reduce time to market by providing a manufacturing portfolio that offers opportunities—with and without hard tooling—for prototypes and production.

“A lot of people have this misunderstanding of additive manufacturing that it’s going to be a technology that will displace many of the traditional manufacturing processes,” said Andrew Snow, EOS of North America. “But it’s the exact opposite…We don’t see this as a threatening technology…It’s a complementary piece of equipment that’s another tool on the factory floor.”

The more tools you have at your disposal, the greater the opportunity for success. This is especially true as you work to help shape the future of the metal casting supply chain.

Developing Passion

In February, seven student teams competed as part of a Great Lakes-area college casting competition.  Teams from Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech), Muskegon Community College, Purdue University, University of Northern Iowa, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Platteville and Western Michigan University designed and manufactured an engineered cast component to showcase their capabilities. Serving as a judge for this competition, I had the privilege of talking to each team about their casting and the development process behind the design and manufacturing of their entry.

Through these discussions, the excitement and passion these students had for their projects was evident. These teams utilized additive manufacturing, casting process modeling software, computer-aided engineering and design, finite element analysis and CNC machining to complement traditional pattern building and casting production techniques.  They engineered and manufactured cast components for customers ranging from other students and university-based facilities to a racing team and a home restoration firm.

The criteria for judging each casting entry was focused on: benefits delivered to the casting customer, use of the unique capabilities of the casting process, and quality and workmanship.  Based on these factors, the team from the Univ. of Wisconsin-Platteville came out on top with its three cast part assembly that draws the windows shut at the former personal home and studio (named Taliesin) of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  The team was tasked with producing these historic reproductions as a replacement for the originals, installed in the home in 1910.

While interviewing each of these student teams, I caught myself reflecting upon my years in school.  Did I have anywhere near the passion toward a potential profession these student groups were showcasing? Then, taking this a step further, how did this passion begin and, subsequently, develop so quickly in these students?

The reality is that the passion (for whatever profession they pursue) is developed differently for every individual.  For some, it is following in the steps of their parents.  For others, it is following in the steps of their idols or what Hollywood has spotlighted for them. Still others are influenced by a teacher or a fellow classmate.

After my interviews for the competition, I thought about what initially sparked my passion for journalism.  It was the movie All the President’s Men. While in high school, I rented it from the video store at the urging of my father (because I had little interest in watching a 20-year-old movie). News reporters were just like spies and secret agents...so cool. That was the profession for me.

Hopefully, a few of those 30-plus students representing those seven schools at the competition are thinking similarly about manufacturing and metalcasting.  This would result in industry being the real winner.

Industry Wins in Casting Competition

One of my favorite parts of the year is the annual AFS/Metal Casting Design & Purchasing Casting Competition. The submissions start arriving in December and continue rolling in through the first part of February, and it feels a little like Christmas. The castings come from a range of processes, materials and markets but they all have something in common—they illustrate the capabilities of metalcasting technology. 

Many of the submissions are conversions from another manufacturing method and/or material. Some are the result of the adoption of new technology. Others display obvious design engineering skills. 

The casting competition is an important chance to allow the industry to shine a light on its ingenuity, collaborative spirit and customer service. Innovation isn’t only happening at the research level, but in the engineering offices and shop floors, as well. 

Metalcasters are in the business of making better parts for their customers. Sometimes the customers push for improvement; many times metalcasters approach customers with cost-saving ideas. The result just may be the next Casting of the Year.

Judging has closed, and the 2015 Casting of the Year will be announced in the May/June issue of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing and on display at Metalcasting Congress April 21-23 in Columbus, Ohio. In the meantime, browse through all of last year’s casting submissions here.

Take a Look at the Numbers

We have the numbers for you.

U.S. metalcasting forecast data. Domestic census. Global casting production.

If you need information on the state of the domestic or global metalcasting industry, you will find much of what is available anywhere within this issue of Metal Casting Design and Purchasing (MCDP). This is our home-grown data that we utilize to better understand the industry in which we operate.  We are providing it so you can better understand one of your most critical supplier industries.

The U.S. forecast shows continued moderate growth for the next few years. Uncertainty in the oil, farming and mining markets is a cause for concern, while the automotive and various construction markets give us reasons to smile. With the diversity of end-use markets served by the metalcasting industry, an overall forecast almost always is a mixed bag.  The key for you as a buyer of castings is to understand the markets that are critical to your casting suppliers so you understand the implications of fluctuations

For our domestic census, the underlying theme is the diversity of casting capabilities present in the U.S. industry. The key when designing and sourcing metal castings is to marry the proper material with the correct process to unleash the power of metalcasting. The diversity in manufacturing capabilities makes this a difficult task. Rely on your existing suppliers for new components being developed.  They are the casting experts who can guide you on your design and sourcing decisions, even if they aren’t the ones that will ultimately produce the component.

The global census report paints the picture of the global supply chain for castings. The global sourcing dynamic has changed dramatically in the last five years as the belief that all casting production would leave North America for low-cost countries has now shifted to many wondering if North America is the low-cost global sourcing option for all castings. This census also provides comparative data for how countries have evolved in the last few years. With economic recovery different across the globe, the various casting markets reflect that trend.

While the high-level data in these reports won’t provide you with the whole story, it should be a good start.  Greater detail more specific to your end-markets and the types of castings you buy is often a necessity.  But the key is to secure the data so you better understand one of your critical supplier industries. Without that understanding, you may lose sight of your key metalcasters and, ultimately, your product quality.

Share Your Interest in Manufacturing

We really do change as we age. Our opinions evolve. Our tastes develop. Our interests change.

One example from my life is the role of sports.  In my teens and early 20s, I was an avid watcher of college and professional sports, spending entire days consumed by the action on the screen or on the field in front of me.  Today, while I still watch my teams and follow the news, I prefer to be an active participant by coaching my daughters and practicing with them (usually missing the games that were once can’t miss).

The reason this discussion is pertinent to manufacturing are the two pictures you see at the bottom of this Editorial.  The photo on the left is a metal casting that connects the chain for a swing to the horizontal support bar on a swing set. The photo on the right is an arm that supports the kettle where popcorn cooks in a carnival-style popcorn maker. These are photos I took of metal castings just because it was cool to see castings-in-action that I have never seen before.

During a presentation I give on the current state of the metalcasting industry, I often say that when you stand in the middle of an average American city, you are never more than 10 feet from a metal casting.  The reason I state this is to emphasize the importance of manufacturing and metalcasting in our everyday lives, even if we don’t see it. While I have made that statement hundreds of times, it is hard to hide my excitement when it comes true before my eyes.

Eighteen years ago, I didn’t care about manufacturing. Today, I take pictures of manufactured components because I am excited to see them.

To this end, we have set up a Facebook contest for casting buyers and designers as well as metalcasters.  Post your photos of castings you encounter in use in everyday life (outside of your work) to the American Foundry Society (AFS) Facebook page.  All photos entered by January 31 will be judged to determine the most unique casting-in-action and the best casting spotter.

We all know manufacturing is part of our professional lives.  But for many of you, your interests have evolved to a point that manufacturing is a passion in your personal lives as well. Now is the time to let the industry see it.

Metalcasting’s Scientific Formula

The science of designing and sourcing a metal casting is tricky.

You may be somewhat familiar with the manufacturing process of metalcasting, having seen some videos, read some material and maybe even toured a supplier or two.

You probably are familiar with cast materials (iron, steel, aluminum, etc.), but metalcasting-specific terminology, like 356 aluminum, class 30 gray iron and austempered ductile iron, is unique.

Welcome to Metal Casting Design & Purchasing (MCDP), the magazine exploring the science of metalcasting to enhance your understanding of its capabilities. I say welcome because our magazine always has new readers. For those who have been with us for a while, our door is always open to you.

Our goal at MCDP is to make your professional life easier by helping you with anything and everything related to metalcasting, including that formula to design and source the optimal casting.

If you are a designer and you need to design a cast component from scratch, convert a fabrication to a casting, improve the manufacturability of a casting defect and/or rectify a defect occurring in production, we have resources for you.

If you are a purchaser and you need to find a casting supplier, qualify a new supplier, understand a material specification and/or decipher a quote for a casting, we are here to help.

We want to be your casting resource. Since we don’t produce any castings, our skin in the game is to make sure you are provided a cast solution every time it makes sense.

In your quest to further understand the science of castings, this issue of MCDP offers a variety of help for both the novice and experienced designer and buyer.

Take a look at our feature, “When to Cast, When to Machine,” on p. 29. All designers face the dilemma of whether to cast a feature or machine it. Typically, designers default to machining because that is what they understand best.  But, opportunities exist for casting to reduce costs.

“As you go from sand casting to permanent mold to diecasting and investment casting, you want more as-cast features because you achieve better tolerances,” said Jiten Shah, president of Product Development Analysis, Naperville, Ill. “But the dimensional tolerances are not as great as machining, no matter what process you use.”

In our feature, “Casting Sourcing: Choosing Between Green Sand, Nobake,” on p. 33, the hope is to further your understanding of selecting the proper combination of material and casting process to ensure the best source for your engineered cast component. As stated in the article, “While the green sand process is one of the most economical metal manufacturing methods, when an application requires the process to reach beyond its normal capabilities, it can become more expensive.” The key for casting buyers is to try to work within the realistic realm of the capabilities of a manufacturing process and the supplier performing it. When suppliers are asked to perform outside their comfort zone, the results can be more prone to fall short of expectations.

Metalcasting is a science. When designing and sourcing cast components, you must have the correct scientific formula to ensure success. MCDP is your cheat sheet to developing that formula.

Castings Equip Amazing Work in Chile

VLTAstronomers from all over the world share resources in the Atacama desert of Chile, the driest place on the planet. Its lack of airborne water vapor is among the factors that make this region one of the best places for telescopes to view the night sky, and it is home to many of them. 

MUSE instrumentation on the Very Large Telescope The technology employed by the European Southern Observatory at Paranal is under continuous development. A telescope dubbed the VLT (for “very large”) uses cryogenics, lasers and other specialized equipment to enable unprecedented feats of astronomy.

New metal castings on the VLT include two 3D print-enabled components. Using a printed thermoplastic pattern, German firm voxeljet AG produced a complex, investment cast sensor arm for use with the telescope’s MUSE instrumentation. Metalcaster ACTech GmbH investment cast a ductile iron “spacer” component using a laser sintered pattern.A team of astronomers prepares to begin MUSE Science Verification observations as the new instrumentation debuts.

The MUSE instrumentation is on its second generation, recently installed on the VLT, which has now undergone a series of successful tests performed to ensure its operation. "It enables us to see a greater field, allowing the study of multiple objects at one time," explained Cristian Esparza, VLT telescope and instrument operator. The culmination of approximately 10 years of research and development, MUSE exponentially increases the VLT users' ability to study everything from black holes to entire galaxies.

Check out the view from the VLT site in this video.
The VLT is moved into position as the night’s work begins.

Displaying 31 to 40 of 149 records