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Expectations for Growth

As the American Foundry Society rolled out its annual economic forecast in January, the numbers were more encouraging than in recent years. AFS is projecting sales growth of 4.7% in 2018, followed by another 1.8% growth in 2019, for the overall market. Coming on the heels of an estimated 2.7 percent growth in 2017, the industry is looking at its strongest three-year period of rising sales in quite some time.

Auto sales are generally projected to back off slightly from recent high-water marks, which has implications for metalcasters whose business is primarily auto-related. But many other end-markets for complex castings are in upward trends. The AFS-backed tax reform law should drive more business investment. If Congress increases infrastructure investment, that too could be a welcome shot in the arm.

Concurrent with sales growth, it’s a good time to grow the skills base on your foundry floor. Recent AFS surveys show the skills shortage remains a major challenge. Vacancies can be difficult to fill. Some applicants fail drug tests, or quickly lose interest in the job. Therefore, each employee who shows up on time and demonstrates an ability to do the vital work of the foundry is increasingly valuable.

If an employee understands there is potential for career stability and growth, and that the employer is willing to invest in training, the employee is much more likely to make your company a long-term place of employment. With improved training, casting defects go down, and productivity goes up.

Training from the AFS Institute is no longer hours and hours of lecture. All Institute courses are now highly interactive and skills based, meaning your workers return more skilled and more confident. Moreover, the same skills-based principles are at work with e-Learning from the Institute—in English and Spanish.

In addition to investing in your company’s human capital, take some time to invest in your own growth. Metalcasting Congress 2018 in Fort Worth, from April 3-5, offers just such an opportunity.

Keynote speaker Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation was a senior economic advisor to the Trump campaign in 2016, and was deeply involved in policy discussions that shaped the new tax-reform law. He is in a unique position to deliver insight on the economic opportunities and risks that lie ahead. Jean Bye of Dotson Iron Castings is poised to become the first female president of AFS in April. She has guided her company through the recovery following a serious fire, and thanks to AFS and its Iron Division, she will share what she and her company learned through this experience. Dan Oman of Haley Aldrich, who has spent most of his career equipping clients to navigate environmental, health and safety (EHS) risks, will deliver the Hoyt Memorial Lecture.

Metalcasting Congress will also feature exhibits from premier suppliers, and dozens of technical sessions that are certain to capture your imagination and enhance your success. Two marketing experts who have never before addressed Metalcasting Congress will be speaking, and there will be compelling programs from Future Leaders in Metalcasting, Women in Metalcasting, and the HR Committee. The AFS Institute will be offering courses, as well. We look forward to seeing you in Fort Worth!

Click here to see this story as it appears in the February 2018 issue of Modern Casting


Encouraging Employee Innovation

Successful foundries rely on innovation from every member of the company, which is no different from many other manufacturing businesses. After all, each employee typically has more constant contact and intimate knowledge of their tasks than employees “above” them on the company organizational chart. This intimate knowledge often sows the seeds of innovation whether through necessity or simply mentally visualizing process improvement.

For example, a molding machine operator might see the need for new safety equipment or develop an optimized coring design. Perhaps maintenance personnel find a new way to quickly replace a hydraulic cylinder. This type of innovation frequently happens, and foundries need to capture these innovations to help the foundry maintain its quality mission and sustain a competitive advantage. Foundries can put systems and programs into place to help capture these ideas and make the most of them. Moreover, management teams certainly do not want to see these innovations leave the business to benefit other companies.

Many innovations come from employees during the regular course of their work. Most employees are generally paid only for their work, and they might not be motivated to be involved in extra efforts that could derive from innovations in their work equipment and methods. As a result, there can be an expensive gap between the innovation taking place in the company, and the status of the gathering of innovative ideas to improve the foundry as a whole.

One helpful tool for some organizations is easing the process for ideas and innovation to come to light. Some employees are shy about suggesting new things, and we have to find ways around that obstacle. It is often helpful to invite ideas and reward successful innovations to transform the operation and develop the competitive advantage that your company has developed. Acceptance of new ideas from every level can gain buy-in from greater numbers of employees, which then helps to boost morale and dedication to foundry work. Think, too, about whether your foundry makes it easy for an employee to develop good ideas and process improvements. You certainly do not want employees to scrap valuable ideas because the process is too difficult.

Additionally, make sure good ideas are valued in your foundry. That does not require bonuses or cash rewards, but could take the form of celebrating and internally publicizing teams and individuals who develop innovations. This, in turn, helps make sure employees understand what benefits their improvements mean for the company and the employees on an individual level.

Many of these ideas can remain protected within the foundry, but some innovations may be significant enough to seek patent or trademark protection. Most employees appreciate the notion that the company values their innovations enough to pursue that type of protection when it is warranted. Along those lines, it is often valuable for many employees to understand the basics of intellectual property protection.

Capturing these innovations can be another issue, but one with plenty of solutions. Many companies have developed formal and informal systems to report innovations. It may be important to enable employees to report any kind of improvement or innovation from a relatively small idea with respect to the workflow on the foundry floor to technical improvements in the foundry equipment. Innovation reporting allows the company to capture any kind of innovation and also helps to lower the psychological hurdle that some employees feel when considering reporting their innovations and ideas. Some companies also conduct regularly scheduled recognition ceremonies for the “best improvement,” where employees can win awards for their ideas and innovation. In other cases, an automatically generated letter or email thanking the innovator can suffice. As you likely already know, the impact of non-financial recognition plans can differ from foundry to foundry and different plans should be applied across the organization as needed to encourage innovation in all areas. Often, if a simple mechanism for the employees to report their bright ideas does not exist, the ideas will never be heard.

Your engineering team is also a great resource, and can be the eyes and ears with regard to the innovations that are developed, particularly in the foundry. For example, if a core machine operator develops an innovation, the operator may approach an engineer to apply their engineering skill to effectively implement a mechanical change to the core machine. In other instances, the engineering staff could be asked to calculate a time savings for a process of the core machine. At times, the engineering team can be the first point of contact for any management team that is seeking new innovations, no matter their source.

In the end, your business likely relies upon the innovations, ideas, and inventions of a wide array of employees. Help keep your competitive edge by encouraging these developments through a notification plan, recognition, and appreciation of these internal developments. If the innovators know that the extra work undertaken to assist the improvement process matters to everyone else, and is noticed, a culture of innovation and improvement can be fostered to benefit the foundry in a multitude of areas. 

Click here to see this story as it appears in the February 2018 edition of Modern Casting


Branding Yourself: Which Social Platforms Work Best for You?

Erik Deckers, a marketing speaker at this year’s Metalcasting Congress, has co-authored a book with Kyle Lacy, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself, third edition.

The book is a guide to the major social media platforms, and how you take charge of your brand on those platforms.

We need to listen to Deckers’ expertise. He knows how you can make these social media platforms work for you, and he can help you decide which ones will be the best for you. 

Branding yourself used to be less complicated. For instance, you do as your parents said. They told you to look people in the eye when you met them. Have a firm handshake. Stand up straight. Use proper grammar. Mind your personal hygiene.

All of which is still good advice. But today everyone has a personal brand online. Check it out on a search engine: 264 million people in the U.S. have social media profiles. If that’s not everyone, it’s close.

From those numbers, we can guess at least a few of your important customers are communicating on social media platforms. That means you should too. That’s where Branding Yourself comes in.

How much more effective could your own marketing and sales teams be if they were building relationships online long before they reached out with a pitch? Branding Yourself will help you learn which platforms are best for the people you want to reach, and therefore best for you and your company. 

Along with what platforms work best for you, Branding Yourself demonstrates how you and your brand can be effective on those platforms.

Your business’ brand is heavily influenced by your personal brand, and vice versa. That starts with your personal brand story. Once you have a handle on your story, you can move on to communicating on platforms.

Deckers’ business, when he’s not writing books, is www.problogservice.com. He ghost-writes blogs, helps others start blogging, and is an all-around blogging expert. He explains why metalcasters, and others, should seriously think about having their own blog and posting regularly:

“Businesses use their blogs to engage directly with their customers and help them make buying decisions about their products or services. This is called content marketing and its all the rage … (Y)ou may not sell anything on your blog, but you can sell things because of it. You can showcase your products and drive people to your website to increase sales. Many businesses have embraced blogging for marketing, which is why we know it isn’t going away anytime soon.”

Blogs are about your passion. If your passion is about supplying the best cutting-edge equipment to foundries, someone in your company should be blogging about that, according to Deckers. If your passion is providing the perfect casting to end-users, you should be writing posts about that. Blogging is a potent way to tell your brand story and connect with your potential customers, and to stay connected with your current audience.

If you are not using a blog to drive traffic to your website or to simply start conversations, Deckers’ chapter on blogging is for you. It is one of the best ways to connect with your audience.

Creating your own blog is one of several platforms metalcasters can better exploit. AFS has engagement with our audience on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and to some extent, Twitter. At this moment, the best engagement occurs on LinkedIn and Facebook. But this could change tomorrow, and we’ll need to adjust.

Social platforms are always changing, as the authors found out in early November after Branding Yourself went to print when Twitter doubled the characters allowed per tweet from 140 to 280. The sections headed “Tips in 140 characters” are very helpful, as the authors’ Twitter followers provided some fascinating answers to key questions posed in the book. You can converse with your audience and even receive helpful feedback. It doesn’t really matter if it’s 140 or 280 characters.   

An especially insightful part of the book is on page 216. There, you get a summary of regular actions you should take on social media for your branding campaign. If branding yourself is what you’re looking for, Branding Yourself is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Erik Deckers is the owner and President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing agency in Indianapolis. He has been blogging since 1997 and has been a humor columnist for more than 20 years. Erik frequently speaks about blogging and social media, especially as it relates to personal branding, small business marketing, crisis communication, and citizen journalism. He is speaking from 3:15-4:45 p.m. on April 3 at the 2018 AFS Metalcasting Congress in Fort Worth, Texas.

Kyle Lacy, co-author of Branding Yourself, is an experienced marketer and strategist. He is VP of Marketing at Lessonly, a training software company. 

Register here for Metalcasting Congress.

Click here to see this story as it appears in the February 2018 issue of Modern Casting


Implementation and Yoda

Star Wars fever has entered the Wetzel household. We’ve binged the movies in anticipation of seeing the newest release, which by the time of this issue’s publication, we will have.

Perhaps that is why the famous Yoda quote, “Do. Or do not. There is no try,” keeps popping into my head.

I’ve been thinking a lot about implementation as we enter into the new year.  Implementation is the life source for ideas and plans. They are nothing if they are not put into action.

Walt Disney knew this. He once said, “get a good idea and stay with it. Dog it, and work at it until it’s done right.”

The metalcasting industry is full of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, marketers and leaders. Ideas abound. Not all of them are worth pursuing, but many of them are. Before they die on the vine, they must be harvested.

I am sorry to admit many of my own ideas have shriveled and fell to dust. So much for that new landscape design. My focus for 2018 will be to swap intention for implementation.

I won’t have to look far for inspiration. The metalcasting industry turns good ideas into action often.

You may have noticed we’ve run several articles recently on preparing for the compliance date of the new U.S. OSHA respirable silica standard, which is coming up this June. This includes an article on page 30 of this issue. It is the first in a two-part series exploring how to use real-time monitoring to collect hundreds of data points about the dust activity in your facility. The data can guide the development and, key word, implementation of engineering controls to reduce your workers’ exposures to respirable crystalline silica.

In this issue’s Industry News section, we report a recent purchase and partnership between Bremen Castings and Eaton on a 3-D sand printer. This is a great example of a good idea in the beginning phases of implementation.

Still, acting on an idea takes perseverance. As new tools become available to improve efficiencies—software, automation, data collection—it’s not enough to make a purchase and push a button to achieve full implementation.

For example, if you decide to start real-time monitoring for dust in your facility, it is not enough to set up the sampling and collect the data. It’s not even enough to analyze the results to pinpoint locations in most need for engineering controls. Follow-through must occur in the establishment of controls for ultimate idea implementation and project achievement.

Keep dreaming up those ideas and putting them into action. I am looking forward to hearing about results in 2018.

Happy New Year!

Click here to see this story as it appears in the January 2018 issue of Modern Casting


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.  


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