The Foundry Files—An Intern’s Blog

The following is the first installment of a series of blog posts by MetalCastingDesign.com’s 2011 summer intern Amanda Zarate.

A college student can take two different roads during summer vacation. One is choosing the proof of SPF to apply before going out to the beach, lake or pool. The other road winds towards finding a job via an internship. My roadmap pointed towards an internship this year.

I began my search and stumbled upon an internship posting for the American Foundry Society (AFS). I had no idea what a foundry was, and naturally, as any inquisitive person near a computer would do, I typed it into Google. Wikipedia defined foundry as “a factory that produces metal castings,” and some of the fog started to clear (but just a little). I continued to research before my interview and learned AFS publishes two magazines about the metalcasting world, MODERN CASTING and Metal Casting Design & Purchasing, to inform readers about the latest news, products and trends related to the industry. The picture in my mind of factory workers was growing, and yet another layer of foggy confusion was being lifted away.

The time had arrived to begin my journey into the world of foundries and metal castings, and I was still uneasy about what little I knew of the industry. Within my first week—no, within my first day—I learned so much just by flipping through MODERN CASTING magazine and looking at pictures of different castings.

When I thought I had the hang of it and could explain to my friends and family how I would be spending my days interning for AFS, I tried to enlighten them and show off my newly acquired knowledge. I explained to them that it’s a society that deals with metal castings and foundries that are in some way, shape or form involved in creating 90% of the things we encounter in our lives.

But as my knowledge of the industry grows, I will have to go back and tell everyone there’s a lot more to it: different processes, different systems, molds and materials, and the list is growing. I was overwhelmed at first thinking I would never get through the cloudiness, but metalcasting is a truly interesting subject. Now, I look at things around me, and I know they are related to the foundry: wheel chairs, pots, pans, artwork, car engines and so much more.

I walked into this world of foundries as a novice, but I’m determined to proudly strut out an expert— well maybe not an expert, but closer to it than I am today. Will you follow along with me into the world of metal castings? No sunscreen is required.

Lady Liberty’s Favorite Look? Bronze.

Thanks to the meshing of old and new metalcasting techniques, a bronze casting of the plaster model Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi used to create the Statue of Liberty is now up for sale—at least to those who have money to burn, according to the New York Times.

One bronze replica of the model costs $1.1 million, and so far, two of the 12 bronzes have found homes with private collectors.

The plaster model was too fragile to be coated in silicone to make a mold. So a French company, 7Dworks, scanned the model and made a digital reproduction. This was sent to Fonderie Susse, Arcueil, France, which is using the investment casting process to make the finished bronze sculptures.

Each bronze replica is 9.4 ft. tall and weighs 1,000 lbs. It takes 600 hours to create just one.

Check out more details and photo galleries at the New York Times’ website.

Casting Is Cool

But don’t take our word for it. Watch this video about a metalcasting restoration project being conducted by Winston-Salem-based Famiano Design Group and Penumbra Design Studio.

Not enough casting in that one? Try this one.

We love it when the ancient art is co-mingled with modern technology, and these casting projects take it to the next level. Not only are the design teams using laser scanners to build patterns for their castings, the products themselves are little bits of history.

And with the right combination of coolness and technical know-how, perhaps the metalcasting industry can effectively tell its story and create some interest in casting as a career.

“If we can get the best and brightest into manufacturing positions and allow them to use their brains to figure out how they’re going to beat the overseas competition, we can win in a global marketplace, despite what people say about having to compete with 25-cent an hour labor,” Mike Klonsinski, Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Project, says in the second video.

Coming to a Class Near You

Whether you are a casting buyer or a fifth grade student, a field trip to a metalcasting facility can be eye opening. Unfortunately, making that trip is not always possible. A college project has found a way to bring the casting facility to the student.

We recently witnessed a Foundry in a Box demonstration at a Cast Metals Institute intro to metalcasting course. In the time it takes to zap a baked potato, the demonstrator melted tin in a small crucible using a household microwave revamped for this special purpose. Students were able to make their own sand mold and have a go at pouring in the liquid tin.

Foundry in a Box has been developed by casting engineering students over the past several years. Now the kit is available to the public. If learning is doing, this certainly is an effective way to understand the casting process. 

By the way, the whole “foundry” does indeed fit into a 31.50 x 22.87 x 19-in. shipping case.


Traveling Across Continents to View Castings

An interesting news item from the Dayton Daily News appeared in early March. Metalcasting industry equipment and technology supplier Palmer Manufacturing  & Supply Inc., Springfield, Ohio, had 15 potential customers fly in from South America (on their own dime) for a conference and to visit several area metalcasters and view the equipment Palmer supplies.

The news item struck a chord because we are thinking about the 2011 GIFA trade shows, including NEWCAST, a show dedicated to bringing metalcasters from around the world together with prospective customers. For those of you not familiar with this show, to be held in Dusseldorf, Germany, June 28-July 2, it is the world’s largest dedicated to metalcasting. Typically, 80,000 attendees descend on Dusseldorf for the five days to see the latest and greatest technology from across the globe. The problem is that the last two GIFAs we attended in 2007 and 2003 haven’t been attended well by U.S. metalcasters and casting buyers. Some would say we were noticeably absent.

While we agree that the every-three-year CastExpo is THE North American metalcasting show, we must keep abreast of all the happenings around the world, and GIFA is the perfect place to accomplish this goal.

Palmer’s customers flew from South America to learn about potential technology. We can fly to Germany to do the same.

Have Your Heard This From Your Metalcaster?

In our experience, metalcasters aren’t a smug lot. Reserved maybe, but not the type to rub it in when you get something wrong.

Of course, they may have a hard time biting their tongues when they read this article from the Feb. 16 issue of the Los Angeles Times.

According to the piece, aircraft manufacturer Boeing is late and over budget on its 787 Dreamliner at least in part because of components it has outsourced to overseas companies.

“The 787 has more foreign-made content — 30% — than any other Boeing plane, according to the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, the union representing Boeing engineers,” reads the article. “That compares with just over 5% in the company’s workhorse 747 airliner.”

The article goes on to say that managing this foreign made content has turned out to be more difficult than managing in-house production—rather than easier, as the company first assumed. What’s more, many of the suppliers with which the company has contracted have turned out not to be able to produce the parts with the level of proficiency they claimed.

Metalcasting, Beautified

Leave it to a French company to make the metalcasting process feel like a ballet.

From the delicate accent of the narrator to the tinkling melody that accompanies her description of the process, this video from Le Creuset is metalcasting beautified.

But hiding under the elegant veneer of the video is casting in all its grit and glory. The narrator tells us that if a piece of cookware is scrapped, “it will be returned to the furnace to start life again.” And each pot or pan Le Creuset produces is “one of a kind…truly individual,” owing to the inherent variations in casting.

Whatever the inherent variations in the process, the video teaches us at least one thing is certain: an iron cookware producer like Le Creuset wouldn’t be what it is today without metalcasting capabilities.

Quality Castings Spreads Good Metalcasting News

Ohio newspaper The Daily Record ran a nice article on Quality Castings, Orrville, Ohio, over the weekend. The iron metalcaster has been able to survive the financial hardships of the past two years without laying off a worker. Now the 275-employee facility is experiencing an upswing in business.

There’s a lot to like in the article, but our favorite is a quote from the company’s president, Dave Yonto: "There are always concerns about offshore production, but India and China are here to stay. There's a place for both."

True, U.S. business have lost orders to other countries, but contrary to current public sentiment, it doesn’t mean the demise of our country’s entire manufacturing sector. The good companies are finding ways to replace those lost orders, and many are taking advantage of the global climate by forming their own international partnerships to supply castings to developing economies overseas. The great thing about Yonto’s quote is that it should instill confidence in the public that U.S. manufacturing—including metalcasting--can coexist with global competition.

In the article, Yonto goes on to express his belief that U.S. manufacturing’s biggest obstacles come from our own country’s government, most notably overregulation by the Environmental Protection Agency.

We hope articles like the Daily Record’s are read by just as many people who read about Ford’s Cleveland Casting Plant closing last week. And kudos to Yonto and Quality Castings for running a successful business and portraying the metalcasting industry in its proper light.

Casting Technology Drives a New Implant

Many in the metalcasting industry are aware that castings can be used as medical implants. They can serve critical functions in artificial hips, knee replacements and various other prosthetics.

But who knew that a casting-supporting technology like filter-making might someday improve our quality of life, as well?

According to Eureka Magazine, the same technology that produces the ceramic filters used when pouring metal castings is now being developed to manufacture titanium foam that closely mimics the structure and behavior of bone material.

What’s more, the foam actually “promotes ingrowth into surrounding bones.” That’s not a bad contribution for one of the oldest manufacturing methods on the planet.

Apple Deal Puts Liquidmetal in Headlines

Apple has recently licensed Liquidmetal Technology’s intellectual property—space-age metal alloys that are as strong as titanium but use one-third of the material as well as scratch and corrosion-proof. The alloy technology has been around for a few years, but the new buzz around the Apple deal is in part due to a prototype casting machine that aims to make producing the parts more efficiently.

The prototype machine is based on a Buhler cold-chamber diecasting machine. The Cult of Mac blog has been covering the news closely. According to a recent article on The Cult of Mac, Apple is expected to use the amorphous alloys for iPhone antennas and seamless gadget cases with holographic logos cast into the metal.

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