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AFS and FEF: Attracting the Next Generation

One of the yearly highlights in the metalcasting industry is the Foundry Educational Foundation (FEF) Industry Conference, held every November in Chicago. The 2017 conference was no exception. The event brings together large numbers of students who are preparing for jobs and internships in our industry, along with representatives of many foundries. The energy level is high as scholarships are presented, students from around the continent network with one another, and employers get to know some of the best and brightest young people planning to enter the industry.

FEF is the metalcasting industry’s link to colleges and universities in North America. All of FEF’s efforts are focused on attracting the very best students to a career in metalcasting. The foundation is led by a dedicated board of directors, whose love for the foundry industry is evident with every conversation that occurs during the College Industry Conference.

The American Foundry Society (AFS) has a longstanding relationship with FEF that is growing closer through increased collaboration and coordination. We at AFS understand that our member companies and individuals cannot be successful in the long run unless FEF is successful in its mission of attracting the best students to our industry. In turn, FEF cannot optimize its success without a vibrant metalcasting sector, whose ability to persevere, grow and prosper is strengthened thanks to AFS advocacy, education, innovation and research programs.

This work is particularly germane at a time when many foundries are looking to hire more employees at all levels of the organization. Beyond collaborating with FEF, AFS works to attract and retain the next generation of metalcasting industry employees in other ways, as well. Our chapters frequently present metalcasting demonstrations to junior high and high school students. AFS publicizes metalcasting careers through the AFS Melting Point website and publication, girls in engineering, mathematics and science outreach, Manufacturing Day activities, and scholarships. Likewise, AFS will soon unveil a new website, which will communicate more clearly the tremendous careers available in our industry for those with the right skills.

College students studying metalcasting benefit from AFS student memberships, student chapters, and casting competitions, which increase their exposure to the industry. Happily, a record number of students attended the last AFS Metalcasting Congress.

Upon graduation, these students are eligible for a free first-year individual membership in AFS, and they are encouraged to explore Future Leaders in Metalcasting, and AFS chapter and committee participation. This is part of a career-long opportunity for enrichment through involvement in AFS.

As workers from the Baby-Boom generation continue to retire—to the tune of 10,000 per day—important jobs are becoming available, and our industry is no exception. Through the combined work of AFS and FEF and the hundreds of volunteers in the two organizations, there is a pipeline of exceptional young people looking to invest their entire careers in our industry.

Click here to see this story as it appears in the December 2017 issue of Modern Casting


Anticipatory Organizations Know the Future, and So Can You

If you could learn a business method that let you know the future with greater certainty, would you be interested? We’re not talking about the kind of predictive analysis that sounds more like fortune telling by your local psychic with the carnival images on the hand-painted sign out front.

If certainty about the future interests you, consider The Anticipatory Organization by Daniel Burrus.

Burrus’ approach is valuable because of his analysis of hard and soft trends. Since Burrus assumes exponential change is already at work in your industry, he explains why we need to be looking past the usually frenetic present and into the future.

Agility is about the present, and it is, emphatically, not enough. Agility is reactive, and the anticipatory organization must be proactive. To be proactively looking at the future, you must know how to analyze the right data, the right way.

We’re talking about knowing the future based on reason and data.

That’s the purpose of this book.Burrus offers new lenses through which to see the future of your business, with certainty. That’s a brash assertion, considering that uncertainty has been lurking around every corner for companies big and small for at least the past decade.

Burrus, a technological futurist, has worked with large companies, including Microsoft, GE, Deloitte, IBM, ExxonMobil, and Visa. In the interest of full disclosure, I have read Burrus’s TECHNOTRENDS newsletter for years, and almost always found it valuable. 

From the first pages, this book resonates of other futuristic analysts, such as Ray Kurzweil, Salim Ismail, and other high-profile technology futurists.

Since the book is written in the context of unstoppable exponential technological change, Burrus argues that his anticipatory method, properly applied, will allow a greater degree predictability than you’ve ever had before.

Does he make his case? The short answer is yes.

Burrus makes it clear from the beginning that he is challenging an existing mindset. Death and taxes are not the only two certainties. Another certainty is the speed of change, also known as exponential change. Companies that fail to intentionally plan with an eye on exponential technological change will find their planning will fail them.

At the heart of the anticipatory method are hard trends that will happen, and soft trends that might happen. The three categories of hard trends are technology, demographics, and government regulation. Technology is going to continue developing at full throttle, the 78 million Baby Boomers will keep aging, and government regulations will continue expanding.

Because of these inescapable hard trends in technology, demographics, and government, no industry will remain static.

Think about what mobile phones were like 15 years ago. Now look at the super-charged computer in your hand you call your cell phone. That’s the exponential growth of the hard technology trend, and that trend is going faster and faster. We know that exponential growth is certain.

Soft trends are trends that might happen. Burrus cites Facebook, which is the dominant platform now, but wasn’t always, and could be knocked from its perch by a rival platform. Social media and its uses might be a hard trend, but within the category, what’s hot, like Facebook, is a soft trend. You must learn to tell the difference between hard and soft trends. 

The book is clear and direct, but the mindfulness of the writing is not as exacting as the thinking about ideas. The terms “game changer” or “game changing” are used on both dust flaps, for a chapter title, and at least 26 more times in the text. Okay, we get it. Anticipatory thinking is a fresh, energizing way to approach business.

One of my favorite parts comes in section three, “Shape the Future - Transform Culture.” Burrus talks about “Futureview,” a term for which he has a registered trademark.

“How you view the future impacts much more of the present than many of us realize. In developing and leveraging an Anticipatory Mindset, it’s important to understand that the future doesn’t function in a vacuum. Rather, it’s something of a two-way street. While how you act in the present determines your future, so, too, does your view of the future impact how you think and act in the present,” Burrus writes.

Our futureview determines how we will live today, and who we will be in the future (a place we will all be spending a lot of time).

A key to managing an Anticipatory Organization is persuading employees toward the same shared futureview, instead of looking in the rearview mirror and focusing on just the present.

I recommend this book. Because of my own “futureview,” I’ll probably read it again.   

Click here to see this story as it appears in the December 2017 issue of Modern Casting


Radiant Heat Loss: Do You Really Know What It’s Costing You?

A lot has been written about radiant heat loss associated with uncovered furnaces. But another major area of radiant heat loss is from furnace shells, such as holding furnaces, reverberatory furnaces and rotary melting furnaces. Table 1 summarizes the heat loss in Btu/ft2/hr. vs. shell temperature. Keep in mind, radiation heat loss goes up as the 4th power of absolute temperature. Heat loss almost doubles when the shell temperature rises from 150F to 200F (65.5C to 93.3C).

To put this in perspective, the results of a carefully documented study of an aluminum holding furnace with an old lining vs. a new lining showed the following as summarized in Table 2.

One often forgets these holding furnaces run 24/7. Thus the estimated annual cost of operating with a furnace shell temperature of 160F (71.1C) is about $9,000-$11,000 per year greater than operating with a shell temperature of 130F (54.4C).

Another study involved a rotary furnace gas-fired non-ferrous melting furnace, 8 ft (2.4m) diameter by 20 ft. (6.1m) long. Normal practice was to start with a lining that resulted in a shell temperature of 400F (204.4C) and reline when the shell temperature reached 900F (482.2C). Just to put this in perspective, the energy use at the two different shell temperatures is shown in Table 3.

The heat loss is costly, and it results in a lengthened melt cycle.

Thus, it is vital the decision of when to replace the lining must take into consideration the total costs (energy and throughput) associated with that lining—not just the obvious cost of the relining itself.

What type of lining you use is also a critical decision. Talk to your refractory company to run numbers on different lining options. Various forms of insulation including newer thin insulation are available. This insulation can reduce the shell temperature and thus the radiant heat loss.

In one example, the addition of an insulating castable and board to a rotary furnace cost $2,000 but saved $8,000 per year.

In a reverberatory furnace, extra castable insulation in the roof and block and board insulation in the upper sidewalls roof was added. This cost $5,000 but saved $14,000 per year.

An often overlooked part of radiative heat loss is emittance. Emittance is a measure of the ability of a surface to radiate energy. A perfect black body emitter (1.0) would radiate the most energy from a hot surface. If you have a dark, dirty, and rough surface (emittance = 0.9) on your furnace, more heat is radiated. A smooth shiny surface such as aluminum paint (emittance = 0.3) would radiate much less. Sometimes repainting your furnace can save more than adding insulation.

Radiant heat loss can be reduced on your furnaces. Relining, added insulation, and even aluminum paint can reduce heat loss. Reducing radiation heat loss saves energy, increases melt rate, and even makes the area cooler for everyone.   

Click here to see this story as it appears in the December 2017 issue of Modern Casting


Patent Trolls Exist

Many readers may have been introduced to the term “patent troll” and wonder exactly what a patent troll is and whether they really exist. If you are a viewer of the HBO series Silicon Valley that debuted in 2014, you might have noticed a character named Stuart Burke. Stuart makes money by using patents as legal weapons through lawsuits and the mere threat of lawsuits. Another common definition of a patent troll includes people and businesses that own patent rights but do not produce any goods or innovation based upon those patents. Some refer to these parties as non-practicing entities, or NPEs.

NPEs often gain patents through purchase agreements from individual inventors and corporations who feel that payment of maintenance fees to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are no longer worth the cost. Other patents are purchased in bankruptcy proceedings. After gaining the patents, the NPE evaluates how closely other businesses are practicing to the claimed invention of the purchased patent(s). If the NPE can make a business case for action, they will threaten to sue for patent infringement and may even eventually make it to a courtroom.  Because the cost of patent infringement litigation is quite high, many accused infringers simply bow to the pressure of the threat of a lawsuit and sign a license or a settlement agreement. These agreements can often earn the NPE a relatively large amount of money, thus providing an incentive to continue.

Unfortunately, patent trolls still exist.  Patent trolls were put in the spotlight in the May 2017 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in TC Heartland v. Kraft Food Brands Group. Patent cases generally don’t get a lot of media attention, such as the Heartland case, but characters in media such as Stuart Burke can help many people understand many of the issues at hand.

The TC Heartland case addressed venue for patent infringement litigation cases, which many hoped would deal a potentially huge blow to the Eastern District of Texas (EDTX) and its “rocket docket,” the long-favored venue for patent infringement plaintiffs. The EDTX has long been known to be friendly to patent infringement plaintiffs, and the docket schedule tends to move a good bit faster than many other district courts around the U.S.

While the TC Heartland case has provided a ruling that may seem to give some relief to alleged infringers from unscrupulous NPEs, many issues remain unsettled. Clearly, it will take more time to settle the issues involved with venue and how district courts will interpret the Supreme Court’s ruling. Because a majority of American corporations choose to incorporate in Delaware, and because patent suits there typically rule in favor of NPEs, a large number of cases could move to Delaware. Some experts have predicted that filings in the EDTX will decrease by roughly 70% (about 1,000 fewer cases per year), with the majority of those cases instead being filed in Delaware or the Northern District of California—home to many frequent patent infringement defendants.

Another bright spot on the horizon has been the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Intellectual Property subcommittee. The chairman, Darrell Issa (R-California) is a holder of 30-plus patents and indicated that his subcommittee would consider new legislation to address litigation venue issues. This remains to be seen, and true venue clarity will take some time. Indeed, the EDTX asserts that it will remain a powerhouse of judicial rulings in patent suits, regardless of the TC Heartland case. Some associated with the court indicate that fewer cases may even provide some benefits to the court. In the meantime, there are countless opportunities for litigation thanks to global innovation, particularly in the areas of digital technology. Historically, NPEs have capitalized on large digital shifts that create new opportunities to make money. This was seen in the 1990s with the rise of the internet, when NPEs purchased and asserted large numbers of internet patents. NPEs may do so again, seizing upon emerging opportunities and vulnerabilities created by the cloud, artificial intelligence, the “internet of things,” and so on.

With the patent troll situation still in flux, companies cannot afford to let their guard down in regard to intellectual property protection and business strategy. Technology shifts provide nearly limitless new avenues for NPEs to assert infringement, and it is becoming clear that protection from the courts and Congress may be a long way down the road. As hopeful as some practitioners were about TC Heartland, it certainly hasn’t stopped NPEs. Intellectual property owners must acknowledge this and adjust accordingly—it remains a murky situation for characters like Stuart Burke, at least for now.  

Click here to see this story as it appears in the December 2017 issue of Modern Casting


The Game-Changer Issue

My first job out of college was as a sports editor for a small community newspaper covering the local high school teams. My duties included both writing about and photographing various high-profile games—including the Friday night football game.

At the time, the newspaper still used film cameras, so late on Fridays after games, I would head back to the office’s dark room for the most stressful part of the week—developing the film.

So much could go wrong. I could make a mistake in the development process and ruin the film. All the pictures could come out blurry or too dark or overexposed. I could be left with a gaping hole on the front page to fill. Do-overs were not an option.

One day my publisher walked into the office with a brand new digital camera for the sports department. With that one purchase, he wiped away one of his employee’s highest stress points and greatly improved the quality of the newspaper’s sports coverage. No more blurry pictures. No more rationing film. No more loading film into the camera and missing a big play. No more wasted time in the dark room. The photos were more interesting and dynamic. I caught more of the action and always had plenty of options to choose from for that front page.

In your hands is Modern Casting’s annual Buyer’s Guide. It is a tool for when you seek out your next purchase, whether it is safety gloves or shakeout equipment. Whatever the investment, it could be a game changer for your operation, just like the digital camera was for my first job.

The metalcasting industry has undergone a considerable amount of evolution in the past decade, as investments both simple and complex are completely changing processes and improving quality.

The widespread use of solidification modeling takes much of the “fingers-crossed” moment out of metalcasting. Better testing and data analysis systems have improved control and tightened tolerances. Laser scanning allows for easier dimensional inspection and reverse engineering (great for gaining growth in casting conversions). Innovations in rapid tooling such as 3-D printing or machining sand molds, plastic patterns or metal tools, have increased the industry’s competitiveness with other processes in terms of product development time, time to market, and tooling costs.

Something so seemingly simple as lighting has a big impact, and I have seen this improve greatly in the last 13 years covering the metalcasting industry. Over a decade ago, it was not uncommon to visit an otherwise good foundry that was operating in shadows and dim light. On my last foundry visit, the shop floor was so pleasingly bright. I tried to think of the last casting operation I toured that was gloomy and not well lit. None came immediately to mind.

Purchases, big and small, are agents of change and innovation. Continuous investment and planning keeps your foundry in a position to take advantage of game-changer technology quicker than your competitors. Like the digital camera at my old newspaper, a new investment can put your team in a better position to succeed.

Click here to see this story as it appears in the November 2017 issue of Modern Casting


Paradigm Shift Ahead for AFS Online Library

American Foundry Society’s Online Library is an amazing repository of past research. In this treasure chest are more than a century of research and development made by metalcasters for the metalcasting industry, with some research articles dating back to 1896. The library contains publications such as: AFS Transactions, International Journal of Metalcasting, Modern Casting, MetalCasting Design & Purchasing, AFS conference proceedings, industry-wide trade journals and various technical publications. The collection is also being constantly curated and updated by our staff librarian. Our library currently boasts more than 14,000 digitalized articles, making it the largest specialized metalcasting library in the world.

The online library was first launched in 2008, allowing visitors to search and purchase individual articles for download. It persisted in its original form for many years. However, technology does not stand still, and the foundations the online library is built upon are outdated. To give you some context, the original Apple iPhone was first released just six months prior to the online library being launched. In 2008, mobile was not a factor, unlike now where mobile is a primary consideration when building a web presence. 

AFS is in its third year of information technology renovations. We have modernized our membership database and staff work stations, launched the social forum CastingConnection, and rebuilt the corporate network infrastructure. It is now time we re-envision the AFS Online Library.  The AFS Library is moving from its current home to a dedicated library management platform. This is a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform, meaning AFS pays a modest fee for its very own instance of the library platform. This platform is continually updated and improved by our partner as technologies evolve. 

AFS IT Project Manager Katie Matticks led an exhaustive search of dozens of library system platforms.  The platform we have selected for our re-envisioned library is the Liberty System by Softlink. Softlink specializes in knowledge, content, and library management systems, as well as request management systems for special, education, government and corporate information libraries. Some of its clients include the World Wildlife Federation, American Academy of Family Physicians and The Appraisal Institute. Its Liberty platform enables vital information to be discovered and delivered anywhere, anytime, through modern digital devices. Liberty combines advanced functionality with ease of use. 

Some of the new features and functionality you will see when the new library is launched are:
Responsive design: The new library system is being designed to dynamically scale and change its user interface depending on the size of your device’s screen. This will give the you a great experience whether you are on a desktop or mobile device.
Faceted search: Faceted search is a way to add specific, relevant options to your results pages, so that when you search for an article, it can see the classification of the articles you’ve ended up with. This is very similar to your experience when shopping on Amazon. This can help you expand what you’re looking for to include other related topics
Library navigation: For the first time ever, the AFS Library will have a true navigation setup. We are building this navigation on an in-house metalcasting industry taxonomy.
Predictive text searching: Predictive text searching will display possible search terms in real-time as you type, just like Google.
Catalog of physical resources: The online library will also include a catalog of our physical collection of industry-wide trade journals and technical publications, which is currently located at AFS Headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois.

That is not all! The AFS online library has been hampered by a complex pricing model that has limited its usefulness to members and required many technological work-arounds to implement. These work-arounds degraded the user experience. The most exciting news about the vision for the library is that it will now be a true member benefit. That means that American Foundry Society’s vast online archives will be accessible to AFS members, both individual and corporate. This is a significate value add to membership. If you are an AFS member or work for an AFS Corporate Member look for the library to appear as an option on your community hub profile after logging into AFS.

Look for the new and improved AFS Library coming to your membership later this winter.  


Conversions, Reshoring and Public Policy

About 10 years ago, while I was serving as the CEO of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce in Nevada, I met a local activist who had a long list of civic complaints, all of which he attributed to what he saw as the evils of economic growth.

I ran into that same activist at an event a couple of years later, in the midst of the recession. Unemployment was surging. Local businesses were closing. Neighborhoods were racked by foreclosures. I couldn’t help but ask him how he liked the absence of growth.

Economic growth is vital. One of the key roles of AFS is encouraging growth in the $30.3 billion metalcasting industry. When we released the annual Metalcasting Forecast & Trends last winter, we projected 3% growth in our industry in 2017. That projection looks to be on target so far. More foundries are busy, and many are aggressively hiring more workers. While not every foundry is as busy as it would like to be, the uptick over 2016 has been good news for much of our industry.

Growth is important because in a flat market, a foundry can only expand its book of business by taking customers from other foundries (often by offering lower pricing) or by picking up business in the unfortunate case of a foundry closing. Conversely, when the demand for castings is growing, there are more opportunities.

Three of the best ways to encourage growth of the casting business are conversions, reshoring and public policy.

Throughout the year, Modern Casting highlights stories where complex assembled parts have been converted to castings, for an example, see the article in this issue on page 26. Often, our Casting of the Year award honors go to conversions. The economic benefit of conversions is that they are new revenue to the foundry doing the work, and to the casting industry. 

A second way to expand the market is through reshoring. Modern Casting recently ran a cover story about Osco Industries in Portsmouth, Ohio, which is among the foundries that has experienced reshoring success. AFS hosted Harry Moser, founder of the Reshoring Initiative, at the 2017 Metalcasting Congress to further encourage this trend.

The third factor affecting growth is public policy. When policymakers allocate more funding for vital infrastructure programs, more castings are sold. Vigorous enforcement of trade policies can protect against foreign subsidies and dumping, which also is good for domestic production. Conversely, ill-advised tax policies and overly restrictive regulations tend to choke off investment in new plants and equipment, which restricts the demand for castings. AFS advocates aggressively for public policies conducive to a strong metalcasting market. Corporate membership dues are pivotal in making these efforts possible.

So the next time you see or hear AFS communicating about conversions, reshoring or public policy objectives, remember what we are really doing is advocating the growth of the metalcasting industry.    

Click here to see this story as it appears in the October 2017 issue of Modern Casting


#ASKGARYVEE Is One Massive Right Hook

The Internet is packed with rubbish, as every web user knows. It’s also a cornucopia of opportunity for anyone willing to do what’s necessary to succeed.

Gary Vaynerchuk saw this opportunity early in the life of the internet, and turned a $3 million brick-and-mortar wine business into a $60 million enterprise by using his internet marketing wizardry. 

His 2016 book, #ASKGARYVEE: One Entrepreneur’s take on Leadership, Social Media & Self-Awareness is at first a bit confusing, then mesmerizing. It’s about marketing, entrepreneurship, sales, and more. In Gary Vee’s career, it’s all in one raging torrent. 

The book is a brilliant piece of entertaining opportunism, covering any issue Gary Vee has discussed with his audience: How to become a leading digital marketer and entrepreneur, how much he respects his mom and dad and loves his wife and children, and his great desire to buy the New York Jets.

#ASKGARYVEE shows engaging genius on all fronts. Gary Vee is a long-time proponent and user of internet video broadcasting. For years he has given advice and guidance to those willing to stick their necks out and ask questions on his YouTube channel. #ASKGARYVEE is simply an edited transcript of those programs, organized into catechetical chapters with questions from the audience and answers from Gary Vee.

It’s a bestseller. The answers are often brilliant and almost guaranteed to entertain. Considering how the text was generated, it’s obviously opportunistic.

I bet every marketer and entrepreneur who reads #ASKGARYVEE will think “I wish I’d thought of that.” More to the point, how many would have the chutzpah to carry it off? One caveat, however. If you search for his videos online, be prepared for sailor talk. Gary Vee, CEO of VaynerMedia.com, can be very pungent. Search for his newest material on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/AskGaryVee/, as he now prefers that platform. 

Where does he get his immense drive? He’s been driven since he started his baseball card business as a teenager and made thousands. He keeps proving he can out-hustle and out-produce the competition. 

The Vaynerchuks immigrated from the old U.S.S.R. (Belarus) in 1978 when Gary Vee was three. At age 42 he has four New York Times bestsellers to his name, and his net worth might be $160 million or even more. When he says stop making excuses and do the hard work required to achieve, we might want to listen.

He grew up like lots of other kids in New Jersey. He’s a first-generation success story. But he will tell you to your face: If you think the main reason for success is being an immigrant, you just don’t get it. Sacrifice and hard work get it. Gary Vee existed on an annual income of $30,000 or less for five years to build a wine business.

He is an advocate for the tried and true value of deferred gratification. He even says, “we’ve become too entitled.” Amen, brother.

Along with advocating passion and hustle, Gary Vee sounds like your friendly office drill instructor when he gets going on execution. “Execute” is a word that rockets off the page like a Nolan Ryan fastball. That’s because he is committed to “clouds and dirt.”

Clouds are “high-end philosophy and beliefs that are at the heart of everything … they are the huge picture, the everything. They are not goals.” Clouds are what you believe, your deepest values, your world view.

The dirt is the details of executing, not just getting into the weeds but digging under the weeds to become the best practitioner you can be. Between clouds and dirt there is the murky area where you aren’t truly committed to belief or execution.

Gary Vee says push on both edges – up to the clouds and down in the dirt - because the “middle sucks.”

If you really want to succeed in marketing, as an entrepreneur, in a startup or in sales, you must learn to H-U-S-T-L-E. As Gary Vee says, “Put down Clash of Clans. Binge-watch Game of Thrones or Walking Dead next year. And get to work.”

To hustle, he says “pounce on every opportunity … wake up before everybody else and work into the night … hustle until there’s not a single drop of juice left.”

Sounds exhausting, but Gary Vee explains how you can do it too, if you’re truly committed.

One of my favorite quotes from this book is “I promise you Goliath will never work as hard as you.” As the man says, get to work.   

Click here to see this story as it appears in the October 2017 issue of Modern Casting


Patent Protection Pointers

Product development is difficult enough, whether it is a new invention from the proverbial drawing board or is a modification of an existing product.  One of the key issues facing corporations today is how to best protect developments for new machines, products, foundry processes, etc.  Additionally, there are times that the “when” question is just as important as the “how,” because obtaining patent protection includes a number of statutory deadlines.

As noted in this column several months ago, patent protection is essentially a grant of a right to exclude others from practicing an invention in exchange for providing a full disclosure of how to practice the invention.  In almost all cases, patent protection extends 20 years from the original filing date.  In other cases, the inventor or business can use trade secrets in search of longer lasting, perhaps perpetual, protection for the invention.

Two types of patent applications that are most used in the foundry world are “non-provisional patent applications” and “provisional patent applications.”  The non-provisional patent application provides a full disclosure of an invention, includes claims that define the invention, and can eventually lead to a patent after claims are found allowable during examination by a patent examiner.  In contrast, provisional patents do not require claims, are never examined, and are often used to hold a date of application at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

The differences here are significant, as the America Invents Act of 2011 changed the U.S. patent system from a “first to invent” system to a “first inventor to file” system.  As such, many businesses and inventors prefer to file a provisional patent application with a brief disclosure in order to more quickly plant a flag in Washington D.C. to obtain an earlier filing date, thereby gaining superior rights to others who later file applications for the same or similar inventions.  Subsequent filing of non-provisional patent applications within one calendar year claim priority to the provisional patent application to maintain the filing date claim.

While this system change has the good intention of simplifying the previous system of determining who was the first to invent a particular molding machine component or casting process, patenting decisions are now accelerated along with the research and development decisions and commitments.

This timeline acceleration can bring foundry operations into a legal minefield of confidentiality and disclosure rules. Keep in mind that in both the new and old patent systems, there is a twelve-month window after disclosure for the applicant to file the patent application at the USPTO.  After the 12-month grace period, American patent rights are extinguished. Perhaps more problematic is the fact that most foreign countries require that there be no previous disclosure prior to filing a patent application. As a result, even an errant disclosure on social media or at a trade show by an eager and well-intentioned employee can sink hopes of foreign patent protection.

With these pitfalls, it is important to remember that protection of your inventions is not all that difficult to put into place.  Here is one example of how a foundry operation can provide better protection for its inventions:

First, have every applicable employee in the company sign an appropriate confidentiality agreement, a non-compete agreement, and an assignment of “inventor’s rights” to the foundry, so there will be no questions in the future as to invention ownership and confidentiality.

Second, if vendors are involved in the development project, it is best to have an agreement between the two parties to define both confidentiality and non-disclosure.  The agreement should also make the vendors specifically acknowledge and agree that every part of their contribution to the project is assigned to you (the foundry or the foundry supplier), along with any present and future patent rights.  These agreements should include not only the products and inventions being developed, but also any follow-on products and inventions that might be future offspring of the project.

Third, any “field testing” programs are designed and implemented with trusted customers who also agree in writing to confidentiality. Results of the field testing must be used to judge the product in question.

Finally, if there is not a way to develop and test a product without a public disclosure, you have exactly 12 months from the disclosure date; therefore, make sure your patent lawyers are involved as early in the project as possible.  This will help ensure that when the product gains commercial viability, a solid patent application is already in the works. 

Click here to see this story as it appears in the October 2017 issue of Modern Casting


The Melting Triangle

In our industry, we all work on continuous improvement. Production supervisors worry about melt rate or throughput. How can we push more pounds through our current furnaces? Energy managers worry about energy efficiency. How can we reduce energy use? Metallurgists worry about melt loss. Oxidized metal is an immense loss that requires more metal to be melted and increases handling of the dross or slag.

This column is on energy; however, we need to understand that these properties are all related. The three points of melt rate, energy efficiency, and melt loss form a triangle. Cost improvements in one property can be negated by cost increases based on the other properties. The goal when making a change is to optimize the system, not just a single property.

The following are some examples of this relationship within the aluminum industry:
•    Burners aimed directly at the metal increase the melt rate. Energy efficiency also can improve. However, melt loss is normally worse with flame impingement. Some flame contact can be handled by large charged material, such as sows. Yet, flame contact is bad for light and large scrap as it reaches molten temperatures. Remember, flame temperatures can be 2,500-3,000F (1,370–1,650C). These high flame temperatures increase the melt rate but also increase the oxidation rate. The high flame velocity can shift and move light scrap to the point of fully oxidizing the metal within the combustion gases.
•    High fire rates can increase melt rate. After a point, the extra heat is not absorbed by the metal and instead escapes up the flue. Energy efficiency is worse as the flame rate increases without a corresponding increase in melt rate. Melt loss may get worse as the metal temperature increases.
•    Oxygen burners are known to increase melt rate with higher flame temperatures. Energy efficiency is greatly improved since the nitrogen in air isn’t heated along with the oxygen. Yet, these higher flame temperatures can increase melt loss. Some oxygen burners are designed to keep a rich atmosphere near the metal surface to reduce oxidation.
•    Slow melt rates may improve melt loss with cooler furnace temperatures. Or, slow melt rates mean a longer period for the metal to oxidize. Energy efficiency may or may not improve. The change needs to be tested and analyzed.
•    Aluminum has been used as a fuel. For instance, some metalcasters purposely encourage thermiting to provide heat in dross to melt the free aluminum and allow it to drain. Don’t do it. Given current LME costs, the cost of aluminum as fuel is $56 per MMBtu. This is expensive “fuel” compared to natural gas at $4 per MMBtu.

Some changes can help the three properties of the melting triangle:
•   Proper air-fuel ratios improve melt rate, energy efficiency, and melt loss. Either regular maintenance of the air-fuel ratio, better controls such as mass-flow with pressure and temperature compensations, or flue gas sensors can optimize the system for all three properties.
•   Negative furnace pressure means cold ambient air is pulled into the furnace. This reduces energy efficiency because the cold air can cool charged metal, add excessive O2 to the mixture, or even short-circuit the combustion process. All of this can decrease the melt rate. The extra O2 in the furnace increases oxidation. Improving the furnace pressure system will improve the entire system.
•   Reducing hold time may not improve melt rate but it improves throughput. Optimizing non-melt times, such as the door open time, chemistry checks, and maintenance time, or increasing casting rates can all increase throughput. At the same time, the reduced dead time means less energy is used and there is less time for the metal to oxidize.

When you make a change to improve one property, you need to understand how the other properties are affected. More throughput doesn’t help if energy efficiency or melt loss is worse. A more energy efficient furnace may be more expensive to operate if throughput or melt loss is worse. The total cost per pound is critical. Run strictly controlled tests measuring all of these properties before formalizing any change. This means the charge pounds need to be weighed. Energy use must be measured. If possible, measure both pounds out and dross. If you can’t run controlled tests, at least monitor these three properties over a time period such as a day, week, or month.

What is the moral of the story? When you plan a furnace or process change, you need to consider all three properties of melt rate, energy, and melt loss (the melting triangle) to produce the lowest cost material.   

Click here to see this story as it appears in the October 2017 issue of Modern Casting


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