Honk if You Love Castings


I was given an up-close tour of my car’s brake assemblies the other day.  It gave me a new reason to appreciate metal casting purchasers, designers and suppliers, as well as professional mechanics, one of whom said I’m lucky to be alive.

I took that as a joke.

But, for the sake of argument, it’s all thanks to the quality and performance of the brake rotors, wheel bearings and calipers that were dutifully clinging to their last moments of serviceable use. After more than 10 years on mean city streets, bad brake lines were the culprit. The brake drums merely needed to be remachined, no doubt thanks to the quality standards of the casting buyer and the supplier who produced them.  You saved me a few hundred, and possibly much more.  

I frequent a reputable shop, and I’ll take their word on that.

Manufacturing--And Metalcasting Still Thrives


It’s not hard to find an article online today about manufacturing’s return to the U.S. But to borrow a turn of phrase from the musician Prince, whoever is claiming they are bringing manufacturing back: manufacturing never left.

The attention to the industry is nice, and the hopefully helpful policies being set in place during this push for American manufacturing have been a long time coming. But one of the struggles of manufacturing has been to recruit qualified, dedicated workers to industry. The public perception that America is making a big push for the return of manufacturing holds with it some connotation that it is a risky industry to be in. After all, what if that push for a return, fails?

But manufacturing is not a startup company, nor is it an industry on its last legs. The same can be said for the metalcasting industry, although end-users have voiced their doubts due to a consolidation of the industry and drastic drop in the number of plants in the last 50 years.

But just as U.S. manufacturing as a whole still makes up a considerable portion of the U.S. (and global) economy, the metalcasting industry also pumps out a significant amount of the world’s castings. Some facts to remember:

  • The U.S. metalcasting industry employs more than 200,000.
  • The U.S. is the global leader in casting application and ranks second in casting production.
  • The U.S. produces 12 million tons of castings annually at a value of more than $30 billion.
  • Metalcasting has been an important facet of American manufacturing since before the Declaration of Independence was signed.
  • It’s true some casting production was moved offshore starting in the late ‘90s, but that seems to have plateaued in 2007, and since then casting imports have remained relatively stable at about 22%.

Manufacturing is having a resurgence in public opinion, but let’s not forget manufacturing’s longevity.

Keep those home fires burning


Here’s an entertaining website for those who love metalcasting and just don’t get to see enough of it at work: backyardmetalcasting.com. DIY hobbyists can try small-scale casting techniques in their own backyards (and at their own risk).  

Some of the casting equipment projects featured include flowerpot and coffee can furnaces, a mini iron melting cupola, homemade refractories and aluminum flask building.

Have fun and don’t forget to wear your safety gear!

Knowledge Is Power


More and more, metalcasters are sharing their knowledge with the next generation of metalcasters. A quick look at the AFS website will provide news stories of chapters utilizing tools such as Foundry in a Box to interest youngsters in the field and provide them with hands-on knowledge.

Buyers, designers and casting end users should be privy to the same treatment and take advantage of time spent with their casters. If you do not meet with your metalcaster, consider it. Not only is it a mark of a good relationship, but asking questions and learning metalcasting terms and technology can provide you with the tools to explain exactly what you need in your cast component.

Those less familiar also can take advantage of courses offered through the AFS Institute, such as An Introduction to Metalcasting. The more you know about the process, the easier it will be to create and design the casting of your dreams. As the phrase goes, knowledge is power.

Collaboration Starts With Partnerships

MCDP Blog Nov. 27

Our editorials and blogs often talk about the need for casting customers to reach out to their metalcasting suppliers to establish a partnership in which both parties can benefit from design and engineering collaboration. Many of you are already doing this. In the last couple of months, I’ve spoken at length with three end-users from three different industries on real casting projects that were made possible and/or profitable thanks to collaboration with their casting supplier. Two of these instances were casting conversions, and two were unique rapid tooling developments. (One was both). The customers’ approach to these projects is commendable, from the initial creative spark to try out something new and unfamiliar, to the patient development work conducted between metalcasting supplier and customer.

On the flip side, the metalcasters involved in each project were up to the challenge of trying out something new. Some casting suppliers may be satisfied with accepting a finished design and supplying it in the same proven casting method, even if it means higher scrap rates and longer lead times. End-users hoping to push the envelope, however, will want to establish relationships with casting suppliers who wish to stand out from the group and are willing to collaborate.

In my conversations with the end-users, it was evident that collaboration was mutually beneficial. The customers ended up with casting designs that were less expensive, involved fewer parts, and had lower lead times—all of which gave them an edge over their competition. The metalcasting suppliers cut their own internal defect and machining costs, lowered their lead times, and gained more business and trust from their customers.

Both metalcasters and end-users rely on each other to succeed, not just in a dollars and cents way but also when it comes to innovation and product and process development.

Students Inspired to Cast

An industry like metalcasting is constantly conscious of its reputation. So, it’s nice to see when an event comes around involving metalcasting, the younger generation of metalcasters and even a local AFS Chapter. It’s just icing on the cake when the same event draws attention from national, large-scale news outlets.

Recently, Calera High School Engineering Academy pre-engineering teacher Brian Copes was chosen by PEOPLE Magazine as one of five teachers of the year, for the spark he’s ignited among his students. In the classroom, Copes inspires his students to create. Under his direction, they created prosthetic legs from used car parts and even traveled to Honduras to fit amputees with the legs. Another trip is in the works for this summer. Check out PEOPLE Magazine’s article and video on Brian Copes! (begins at 3:24).

The AFS Birmingham Chapter also recently donated a metalcasting kit (Foundry-in-a-Box) to Calera High School. These students are no strangers to the manufacturing world and have already designed and produced their own metal castings. Their Foundry-in-a-Box will further ignite the spark these students have to pursue a career within the industry. You may even find yourself face-to-face with one of them, down the road, as you look to purchase a casting from them.

A big pat on the back to Brian Copes and the AFS Birmingham Chapter for rising above and helping to inspire and mold the future generation of metalcasters.

Aces for Missouri S&T

The Metallurgical Lab at Missouri University of Science & Technology, Rolla, Mo., is staffed with qualified, knowledgeable Missouri S&T graduate students as trainers and mentors.  They ensure safe, continued operation of the lab facility, which enhances the hands-on education of those pursuing degrees in Metallurgical Engineering.  

The St. Louis Chapter of the American Foundry Society recently donated $10,000 to the Robert Wolf Foundry Account at Missouri S&T, to support the lab’s continued staffing and operation.  The funds were raised through private donations and supplements from the AFS treasury.  In addition, AFS member organizations contributed by sponsoring holes at the First Annual AFS/Rolla Alumni Golf Tournament held June 1.

St. Louis AFS chapter donation Missouri S&T“The St. Louis AFS Chapter is pleased to make this contribution to ensure the future talent of our industry personnel, and looks forward to future opportunities to support the endeavors of Missouri University of Science & Technology,” said Tom Rhoads, chairman.

The chapter presented the donation at a joint meeting with Missouri S&T on September 20.  Pictured (l. to r.):  Doug Imrie, Southern Cast; Von Richards, Missouri S&T; Tom Rhoads, American Railcar; Barry Craig, MetalTek; Bill Howells, St. Louis AFS board member.

Cast Iron Adds a Touch of Class

iron fence public domain picThe Chicago Transit Authority is in the process of renovating many of its subway and elevated train stations.  In some cases, the improvements are long overdue and those of us locals who have to adjust our travel plans accordingly are only too happy to do so.  

This week, the CTA announced plans to renovate the 70-year-old Clark/Division stop on the city’s north side.  The Chicago Tribune reported that subway station hasn’t undergone a major renovation since it opened. Perhaps it suffices to say the $50.6 million estimate sounds about right.

Among the many updates the CTA plans for its sixteenth-busiest rail stop are cast iron street-level entrances, which will be a significant improvement in terms of both practicality and aesthetics.  The present entrances are (is it just me?) perpetually slippery clay-tile stairways lined with tubular railings coated in thick, flaking red paint.   

The entire renovation will take until mid-2015, and it promises to be well worth the wait.  

That Must Be One Big Cup of Coffee

spoon sculptureThe “Viseum” in Wetzlar, Germany, is featuring a 7.5-ft. cast bronze, nickel-plated spoon—the largest utensil manufacturer WMF has ever produced. The sculpture is designed to highlight the reflections and optical distortions of looking into a polished bowl of a spoon.printed model

The CAD data of the original spoon was adjusted to the required size on the computer. This data was then transferred to a voxeljet VX1000 printer, which produced a plastic model of the bowl of the spoon using a layer building method. The printer produced the entire model in approximately 10 hours, from thousands of 0.00591-inch (0.15 mm) layers that were selectively glued together with a binder. The large build space of the machine made it possible to print the bowl in one piece at 33.5 x 16.4 x 7.5 inches (850 x 416 x 192 millimeters).spoon sand mold

The unpacking process, during which excess material is removed from the model, was followed by a stiffening process using artificial resin and subsequent finishing. This method did away with the construction of a negative mold, resulting in significant cost and time savings. The printed PMMA model was used to quickly generate a sand mold that was cast in bronze.

“Not least due to 3D print technology, this project was completed quickly and without any problems,” said Gerd Greiner, manager of the WMF model building studio in Geislingen, Germany.
bronze spoon polishing

Casting Getaway

On a much-needed getaway weekend, I embarked on my first camping trip. After a couple of days “roughing it” in the woods (ok, it was a campsite), we decided to head to the neighboring town of Galena, Ill., for what I felt was a much needed check back into the real world.

To my surprise, upon exiting the visitor’s center, a sign stood before me, announcing a Grey Iron Foundry. Yes, I was a little excited, thinking I would walk right in, announce I work for AFS and tour the metalcasting facility. But I quickly realized that might be a bit of a bold approach. Also, they were closed for Saturday. I was a little disappointed.

As I walked around Galena, I found my mind was tuned in to every casting I could spot—from old, antique cast-iron stoves for sale at antique shops to the sewer gates, announcing themselves at each street corner. It’s true—castings are all around us. Oddly enough, a year ago this time, I would not have given it a second thought, let alone understand the word ‘metal casting.’

Casting buyers and designers have a unique opportunity to become involved in world of metalcasting and see what others do not. Take that opportunity—visit your metalcaster’s facility, sign up for an Introduction to Metalcasting course—and take advantage of it. Share in the age old business of casting.

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