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There Is a Place for You at AFS

We were pleased to welcome more than 2,200 people from around North America and beyond to the Metalcasting Congress in Milwaukee this past April, including the 125 students who were in attendance. These young people represent the future of our industry and will soon be taking full-time positions in management, sales, engineering, maintenance, R&D, and other roles. How wonderful that they have attended a major American Foundry Society event, even before the formal launch of their careers.

Many people in the formative years of their careers are participating in an exciting AFS program called Future Leaders in Metalcasting (FLM). It is a great way to plug into AFS for people who are on, or aspire to be on, the management track at their companies. The next FLM event is built around a plant tour of General Motors in Defiance, Ohio, in October. Please contact Cathy Potts (cpotts@afsinc.org) of the AFS staff for details on FLM.

In a historically male-dominated industry, it is also satisfying to see more and more women taking their rightful places in a variety of positions. More than 200 are now members of an AFS program called Women in Metalcasting that fosters education and networking. They, too, have found their place at AFS.
Most AFS committees are now seeking more volunteers. Don’t let the words “committee” or “volunteer” scare you. We have nearly 1,000 volunteers at AFS, many of them in our 34 technical and management committees. Speak to nearly any of them, and you’ll hear them say how rewarding their involvement is to the development of their career and the achievement of their company’s goals.

What is your interest? Marketing and sales? Molding methods? Metallurgy? Additive manufacturing?  Steel? Iron? Aluminum? Copper? Most AFS committees are actively seeking new members and welcome new blood. You don’t need to be an expert or an industry graybeard to participate!

Then there are AFS chapters, 45 of them across North America. What a spectacular way to make an impact at the local level. Grab a friend or co-worker, and make plans to attend an upcoming chapter meeting, golf event, or educational activity.

Finally, don’t neglect your own education and professional development. Visit the AFS course catalog and map out a skills-development or refresher plan for yourself and those on your team. Or view the e-Learning module list and take the modules that are most relevant to your career and your company’s goals.

When you invest time and money to participate in AFS, whether it’s attending an Institute course, participating in an AFS meeting, ordering a book from our website, placing a call to our office, or paying a visit to our website, our commitment is to do all we can to provide you with a very positive experience.

The opportunities are here. There truly is a place for you at AFS.

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


Process Energy Benchmarking for the Metalcasting Industry

In every energy program, we talk about benchmarking. To know how much we could save by optimizing our process, we need to compare our current performance to benchmarks. The problem is how to determine those benchmarks. The prior column discussed difficulties in benchmarking a plant; this column will discuss benchmarking a particular process.

As an example of the importance of benchmarking, I worked with a company that bought a new set of heat treat furnaces. After several years in operation, they had yet to benchmark their energy performance. The assumption was a new furnace meant great energy performance. It turned out measured energy performance was extremely poor on these new furnaces. Problems with both scheduling and furnace settings had cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars over those years.

When benchmarking a process, you need to be sure you are comparing the same things.

•    Some reported numbers might be based on energy used during a single cycle such as melting a batch. Other numbers are based over time such as over a month. Personally, I like energy numbers over a month since it includes inefficiencies like maintenance, scheduling problems, weekend shutdown-startup activities, and the variation in shift performance. This extra energy is your actual cost in running the furnace. Batch numbers gives you performance of your equipment while month data gives you a measure of your process.

•    Watch that the benchmark is from the same technology. The benchmark for a cold air furnace and a hot air furnace (like a regenerative or recuperative) , are vastly different. Electric and natural gas furnaces have very different numbers.

•    Melting furnaces tend to use Energy Intensity numbers such as Btu/lb. or kWh/t or mJ/t. Heat treat furnaces tend to use Energy Efficiency calculations based on the final temperature. This method is needed since the amount of energy to bring metal to 200F or 1,000F is quite different, even though both may be called “Heat Treat.”

•    Watch the denominator. We say Btu per lb. [or kWh/tonne or MJ/tonne]. This may be the pounds initially loaded into the furnace (charge weight), the pounds out of the furnace (pour weight), or it may be the “good pounds out” of the process after scrap and recovery losses (cast weight). My preference is charge weight. This tells you the energy performance of the furnace based on heat required to process this total metal. “Good pounds out” includes the influence of recovery within the process.

Benchmarking can be internal (using internal performance) or external (using data from furnaces outside your company).

External is better, but sometimes you just can’t find those numbers or your particular process is unique. To use internal numbers:

•    Collect energy intensity data from all similar furnaces at a plant and/or within the company and go back in history as far as you can . . . the more data the better. Use whatever time period works for the company. For instance, monthly data can be compared.

•    Find the first quartile of the data. In most popular spreadsheets, this function is simply “=quartile(range,1)”. Twenty-five percent of the data is less than the 1st Quartile value. This is a better number than the average. Using this value as a benchmark means your new goal  is a stretch but it can be achieved. Since you are already achieving this goal or better 25% of the time, naysayers can be challenged.

•    As improvements are made over time, recalculate the 1st Quartile. Ideally the numbers should improve so your benchmark will move.
External benchmark numbers from an outside authority are best. The problem is finding these numbers. Some options:

•    Manufacturers/Vendors—Talk to the vendors from both the equipment you own and competitors. The numbers from vendors tend to put their products in the best light and are often single cycle data versus monthly data, but discuss this point.

•    Technical Papers—Read industry technical papers to obtain numbers from different studies. Some numbers are averages while others are state-of-the-art. Some are based on pounds in (charge weight) and others are based on pounds out (cast weight). Read carefully.

Based on your operations, you may not be able to reach state-of-the-art benchmarks immediately, but gathering this data and comparing to your actual operation allows you to see the possibilities and have a goal for improvements.  

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


The Industry Wins

Almost every year, the May issue of Modern Casting ranks as one of my favorites. By showcasing the winners of the annual AFS Casting Competition plus coverage of the Metalcasting Congress, this issue highlights industry achievement.

This year’s winner of the Casting Competition is Aristo-Cast Inc. (Almont, Michigan) for a unique lattice-designed seat frame for aerospace applications. The investment caster used its established best practices to bring to life a new way of looking at part design, and the result is encouraging for future applications.

Competition is close every year, and this was no exception. It’s not surprising because the diversity of the metalcasting industry means designers have a lot of different ways of achieving their goals in fantastic ways. This year, the best-in-class and honorable mention winners are prime examples of reducing weight (sometimes even by switching from aluminum to iron), simplifying logistics, improving quality, cutting cost, and turning customer’s dreams and wish lists into reality.  

The Casting of the Year winners were on display on the exhibit show floor at Metalcasting Congress in Milwaukee last month. It’s the perfect spot to recognize the achievement—in the middle of the rest of the supply chain showcasing their own best capabilities and products and in tandem with many other top industry awards that are presented, most of which we share on in our post-show coverage starting on page 40.

When achievement and awards are brought up, the misconception can be that the award is the achievement. On the contrary—awards recognize achievement. We should strive for the achievement, not the awards.

So, what has the industry achieved in the last year?
•    Advances in additive manufacturing and rapid manufacturing.
•    Significant plant safety milestones.
•    Advocacy to the next generation of metalcasters and customers.
•    Advocacy to our city, state and national leaders.
•    Alloy developments in magnesium, copper, aluminum, iron and steel.
•    Molding process developments, from wax and lost foam patterns to sand mold filling.
•    Improved simulation and prediction tools.
•    New tools for employee training and education.

This list doesn’t even start to touch everything. What the individuals of the industry accomplish together when they are working toward the same goals is something to be proud of, and these achievements should be recognized. They elevate the entire industry. Congratulations not just to this year’s winners, but also to all the other members of this industry who have collaborated toward a goal and met it this year.

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




In 60 Seconds...

The narrative of The New One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson is that a young and apparently eager person has been searching the globe for a progressive and effective supervisor. Then once the unnamed protagonist finds said leader, he’d soak up all the lessons and wisdom and move forward.

The protagonist finds that boss and gets face-to-face meetings with him and three of his workers. That’s when the protagonist hears the three secrets to being a One Minute Manager:
- One Minute Goals
- One Minute Praisings
- One Minute Re-Directs

Before we get into the meat of the book and whether it has value, I must provide a word of warning. If you’re looking for an involved and detailed read, this isn’t it. The edition I have is a flimsy 93 pages with large type. Some pages aren’t completely filled and others are just sayings. I didn’t officially time myself, but I’d be shocked if it took me more than 90 minutes to read. In fact, I probably could have gotten away with grabbing it off the shelf at my local bookstore, buying a coffee and scone and reading it on a comfy couch at said store, then returning the book to the shelf and leaving.

Alas, I didn’t do that.

Anyway, for a quick and breezy read, the book will be a valuable addition to my library. It made me think about the supervisors I’ve had and the tricks and tactics they’ve used to get the most out of me. Of the three “secrets,” the one that got my mind going the most was the One Minute Re-Direct. This is basically what happens when an employee messes up and speaks to their boss. The tactic written about in the book feels surprisingly natural and obvious, and seems like one a lot of younger employees could respond to.

The book itself is an adaptation of The One Minute Manager. Published in 1982, the original had many of the same thoughts and ideas. One key difference is that the new version’s One Minute Re-Directs is a revision of the original’s One Minute Reprimands. As the authors wrote, this was an update to keep up with the times, knowing that what worked in the early 1980s wouldn’t necessarily work now. And they’re right. Personally, I would much rather go through a Re-Direct with one of my supervisors than a Reprimand.

In general, The New One Minute Manager lives up to what it promises. The solutions seem easy to execute and feel obvious and intuitive at the same time. The characters in the book are relatable, and the writing style is easy and accessible.

And you won’t need much time to read it.    

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


Trade Secret Protection

The American Bar Association estimates the market value of S&P 500 companies can include as much as 75% of intangible assets. This is quite an increase over a 1975 estimate indicating less than 20% of these companies’ collective market value consisted of intangible assets. A good portion of these intangible assets is intellectual property which includes patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. As you may be aware, there is now federal jurisdiction for trade secret theft.  The Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA) was signed into law on May 11, 2016, after being unanimously passed in the Senate and ratified in the House by a vote of 410-2. The DTSA became immediately effective for all trade secret misappropriation taking place after the bill’s signing date.

While many of us might not think of trade secrets (such as the formula for Coca-Cola) as being commonplace, the National Science Foundation estimates that corporations actually employ trade secret protection perhaps two times as often when compared to patents.  As such, trade secrets certainly constitute a significant amount of value of intangible assets for American corporations. Trade secrets can include a formula, practice, process, design, instrument, pattern, commercial method, or compilation of information.  To fit the federal definition of a trade secret, the information must include a) information; b) reasonable measures taken to protect the information; and c) information which derives independent economic value from not being publicly known as defined under 18 U.S.C. § 1839(3) (A), (B) (1996).

A paper co-authored by create.org and Pricewaterhouse Coopers estimates that trade secret theft ranges from 1% to 3% of the Gross Domestic Product of the U.S. and other advanced industrial economies. As such, the federal government chose to create a federal cause of action for trade secret misappropriation in the DTSA. This legislation includes a three-year statute of limitations, and it authorizes remedies similar to those found in current state laws. The DTSA also creates a seizure procedure for use in extraordinary circumstances where the offender “would destroy, move, hide, or otherwise make such matter inaccessible to the court, if the applicant were to proceed on notice to such person.”  While the seizure may be carried out immediately, the new law provides that the court shall set a hearing not less than seven days after the issuance of the order.  Finally, the law protects whistleblowers from retaliatory accusations of trade secret misappropriation, so long as the whistleblowers disclose the trade secret information to government or court officials in confidence.

The DTSA does not preempt existing state law, which will preserve options for metalcasters in regard to whether to file federal or state claims and court selection.  It also notably omits any requirement that a trade secret plaintiff describe its trade secrets with particularity, which helps to protect the sensitive trade secret information after prosecution of the offender.  The criminal provisions of the DTSA increase the penalties for a criminal violation from $5,000,000 to the greater of $5,000,000 or three times the value of the stolen trade secrets to the organization, including the costs of reproducing the trade secrets.

As a result of the legislation, your metalcasting operation may wish to consider four responses to the DTSA after consulting your business attorney:
First, you may wish to update your employment and confidentiality agreements to disclose the whistleblower immunity provisions in the DTSA. If you do so, your metalcasting facility may be eligible to recover double damages or attorney fees in trade secret litigation.

Second, reevaluate your company’s tolerance for bringing trade secrets claims. Many companies have been deterred from making claims in the past because of the uncertainties and delays in state courts. Federal courts, however, have smaller case loads, allowing them to more directly and efficiently manage such litigation.

Third, take inventory of your company’s trade secrets and evaluate the protections in place to maintain the confidentiality of those secrets. Preventative measures are far more effective and less costly at keeping your secrets safe than trying to “re-secure” a trade secret after it is disclosed.

Fourth, develop response plans for suspected misappropriation and for receiving a seizure order. Trade secret litigation tends to move relatively quickly. Having a plan for what to do in the event your secrets are stolen will prevent unnecessary delays that can compromise your rights. 

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


Plant Energy Benchmarking for the Metalcasting Industry

How much energy does it take to produce a pound of finished casting?

The honest answer to this seemingly simple question is: “It depends.”

Why is that?

Energy benchmarking is the tracking of energy use using standard metrics to compare past and future performance. Such metrics sometimes can be used to set usage standards to compare your energy use to similar machines in the same facility or to similar machines at other facilities. But our industry brings significant challenges that complicate the issue.

Efforts have been made to establish energy usage standards for the metalcasting industry by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and others, without much success. An ideal benchmarking methodology continues to be sought, but has not yet been identified.

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Energy benchmarking requires a regular regimen of data collection of energy consumed correlated in time with the amount of finished product produced. The time interval of the data collection is critical; it will provide your smallest time window into the operations of your organization. Putting time-resolved power meters on major energy consumption devices helps provide a better understanding of your power consumption and provides new insights into your production operations.

Perhaps an analogy is in order. We can easily calculate the actual mileage that our car gets for each tank of fuel. Establish your mileage and you can compare the cars’ fuel cost and performance over time. This is a simple form of benchmarking. Collecting mileage metrics has led to estimated mileage standards by the EPA to help us when we shop for a new car. But such standards are established for only four categories of vehicles, based on two factors: vehicle type (passenger cars or light trucks) and size of the vehicle. As the sticker on the window warns, “Your Mileage May Vary.” Many factors, such as driving style, traffic congestions, tire pressure, etc., will influence the mileage that you get in your car.

Energy usage in the metalcasting industry is affected by many more variables than calculating car mileage. Hold times on furnaces, power settings, energy types and costs, metallurgy type (including which alloy), insulation levels, maintenance issues, outside temperatures, and other operational issues can be the metrics you include in the values to be benchmarked.

Two operations are rarely identical in energy performance—even in the same facility with similar equipment. In fact, performance between different shifts with the same equipment can be significantly different. For example, certain mechanical properties of the final product may require different heat treatments using different amounts of energy.

When benchmarking against the amount of finished product produced, plant recovery operations will greatly affect results. Benchmarking metrics will all be affected by melt loss, planned recovery from machined material losses and unplanned recovery losses, like spills and scrap.

Establishing the Baseline
Tracking essential metrics does not have to be difficult. A spreadsheet can be used to establish basic benchmarking capabilities. This simple analysis is only useful for the case in which the electricity monitored by the meter in this example is primarily used for production equipment and not building HVAC.

If you’re looking for a more comprehensive spreadsheet-based tool, Energy Performance Indicator (EnPI) has been developed by the DOE Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO). EnPI V4.0 is a regression analysis-based tool developed to help plant and corporate managers establish a normalized baseline of energy consumption. This tool can track annual progress of energy-use improvements, energy savings, Superior Energy Performance (SEP) metrics, and other energy-related metrics that account for variations due to weather, production, and other factors. This DOE tool is designed to accommodate multiple users including Better Buildings, Better Plants Program and Challenge Partners, SEP participants, other manufacturing firms, and non-manufacturing facilities such as data centers. The EnPI add-in can be downloaded at https://ecenter.ee.doe.gov/EM/tools/Pages/EnPI.aspx.

There is a great benefit from energy benchmarking in order to monitor vital metrics within your own organization. It will give you the ability to find serious cost savings, improve process efficiency, and increase production throughput… often with little or no capital expense. Is it time to better understand how a major expense for your company is spent? The choice is yours; the electric bill will continue to arrive in the mail. 

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

 


On the Leading Edge of the Industry

This issue of Modern Casting includes a major focus on additive manufacturing. There are case studies from our industry, perspectives to consider, and perhaps a call to action for your own company. The issue follows the American Foundry Society’s first multi-day conference on additive manufacturing last autumn.

At that conference, held Oct. 3-6 in Novi, Michigan, we had an exciting and close look at how these emerging, disruptive technologies are being used in our industry to produce cast components and what it will mean for metalcasters. We toured facilities that have adapted additive manufacturing as significant parts of their business plans.

Just as additive manufacturing is on the leading edge of our industry, each month our editorial team strives to provide inspirational, informative, and interesting content that helps you and your team be as innovative, productive, and profitable as you can. There are frequent updates on other technological process advances, tips on eliminating casting defects, stories of successful conversions from fabrication to castings, government affairs updates, and insight into ways to engage your manufacturing workforce to perform at the highest possible level.

Speaking of high-performance workforces, AFS is on the leading edge of providing knowledge and skills training for the metalcasting industry. All AFS Institute classroom courses have been revamped to employ adult-learning best practices. For those who prefer training in the convenience of their own facility, the AFS Institute offers most courses as in-plant, company-specific options. Moreover, many dozens of foundries are now employing e-learning from the AFS Institute to develop their talent, as was noted in a recent Modern Casting case study of Charlotte Pipe and Foundry. A skilled workforce can not only improve a foundry, but also differentiate it from the competition.

Metalcasting is a fast-changing industry, operating in an atmosphere of rapid-fire change in the marketplace, the workforce, and in government. AFS has an obligation to help lead the industry successfully through these changes. Modern Casting is one of the essential ways we communicate critical information and advance those aims.

Thank you for your readership, and enjoy this issue.

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


Metalcasting is a Livelihood

In this issue’s cover article “New Melting at Fonderie Laperle” on page 28, the metalcasting facility’s president, Tom Leonard, talks about the importance of the operation to the community.

“These are high-paying, skilled-labor jobs,” he said. “We want to keep the foundry going and keep Canada working. It’s a middle-class job. There’s nothing more middle class than a foundry worker.”

I love this quote. I’ve heard variations of this in many metalcasting facilities across North America, and the statement tells us several things:

•    The jobs in metalcasting can support a family and home ownership.
•    Working at a metalcasting facility means health insurance and peace of mind.
•    Metalcasting bolsters a critical sector of the economy that the Pew Research Center says is shrinking.
•    Some jobs in metalcasting might be physically demanding but they also require problem-solving and critical thinking, which can be personally rewarding.
•    Metalcasting gives a career path, whether it starts in the shop floor or the office.

In short, metalcasting is a livelihood.

I have met metalcasting executives who started at the company in all different areas of the business, from the grinding room to engineering to human resources. They worked hard, partipated in development opportunties, took on increasingly more supervisory roles and eventually became one of their companies’ top leaders.

Metalcasting work is not a dead-end job, and I encourage you to be like Leonard and talk about it. Keep bringing it up—to your local community, lawmakers and job candidates.

And don’t forget to tell your current workforce, as well. Let them know there’s opportunities for growth at your company, both in terms of climbing up the ladder and across the bridge to new markets and new technologies.

Remaining stagnant won’t keep your employees from falling out of the middle class. 

That’s part of what Leonard was talking about regarding Fonderie Laperle’s jobs. Innovating your business is what keeps your workforce well-paid and well-motivated. To keep the business strong and healthy, Laperle invested in new technology that will allow it to be more flexible to meet new customer and market requirements.

Enjoy this issue, and as always, you can share your metalcasting facility’s story by sending me an email at swetzel@afsinc.org. 

Click here to see this story as it appears in Modern Casting.


Simple Steps

Keep it simple.

Sounds easy enough, right? Just do what’s in front of you while keeping an eye on the big picture seems like a fairly straightforward proposition, but we all know it’s not, especially when you’re aiming high and aspiring for greatness.

Author John C. Maxwell knows this, and that’s why 3 Things Successful People Do: The Road Map That Will Change Your Life is a valuable addition to any library.

Maxwell is a bestselling author and extremely prolific. When I went to find a book to review, he seemed to take up half of the business section at my local store, so he clearly knows how to get published and published frequently. His writing style is easy, breezy, straightforward and very readable, and that comes through clearly in this book.

As the title indicates, this book is broken down into three parts, parts that are also the three things:
•    Knowing Your Purpose
•    Growing to Your Maximum Potential
•    Sowing Seeds That Benefit Others

To me, all of the three things made sense. It’s incredibly important to know your purpose, even though people can lose track of that. They get caught up in minor things that distract them and can cause detours. Sometimes, you know where you want to go, but it’s hard to figure out how to get there.

It’s also crucial to benefit others when you’ve been successful. After all, what’s the point of “making it” if you haven’t helped others get closer to reaching their own goals?

The most important of the three things was the middle and meatiest section, about reaching potential. This is the chapter where Maxwell really flexes his muscle, albeit in his laid-back and easy-going writing style. The advice that hit me the hardest is how Maxwell wrote that growth is a choice. In that section, he quotes famed author Leo Tolstoy’s quip,  “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

For whatever reason, this has stuck with me after reading the book. And, speaking to the power and ability of Maxwell to convey his message, he finishes the same paragraph with “You can choose to grow or fight it. But know this: people unwilling to grow will never reach their potential.”

That’s a pretty powerful paragraph and just one of many that makes this book an important one. It’s important for anybody trying to better themselves but unsure of how to do it.

In fact, I wish I had read a book like this when I was younger. It’s that valuable a roadmap to success, and one anybody can understand.   

Click here to see this story as it appears in Modern Casting.


Offense and Defense

Football season has come and gone, but one of the principal aspects of the sport applies to business advocacy, as well. Football is a game of both offense and defense; a team that hopes to advance to the Super Bowl better be adept at both parts of the game.

The same has applied in the serious world of business advocacy. Businesses such as metalcasting are influenced heavily by public policy, and often for the negative. Regulations are frequently more sweeping and costly than necessary or advisable. Tax policies may discourage investment and hiring.

Permitting processes tend to slow many projects to a crawl. AFS, which has an active advocacy program on behalf of the metalcasting industry, has long had to devote a lot of resources to playing defense against such policies. Sometimes, as in the case of OSHA’s silica rule, we have even had to sue our own government.

Over the past eight years, the opportunities to play offense were few and far between. True enough, there were some important victories, such as the multi-year transportation infrastructure law and a tax package that included a permanent research and development credit. But most of the positive aspects of the AFS agenda were stuck in neutral.

Following the November elections, there is a new interest in Washington in advancing policies that encourage investment, economic opportunity, and business growth. AFS has been in touch with the Trump administration and every congressional office, emphasizing that the time is right for our policy agenda.

That agenda includes reducing regulatory burdens, implementing pro-growth tax reform, strict enforcement of trade laws, investment in infrastructure, smarter future rulemaking, maintaining a strong national defense, restoring voluntary programs at OSHA and EPA, and expanding domestic energy production.

The new opportunities to play offense don’t mean that we can let down our guard on defense. But they do mean that for the first time in eight years, a more positive business climate for the $30.3 billion metalcasting industry is possible. I invite all Modern Casting readers to join us in Washington, D.C. on June 20-21 as we stand together as an industry for a Government Affairs blitz in the nation’s capital.

Advocacy is one of the three pillars of the AFS vision, alongside education and innovation.

Click here to see this story as it appears in Modern Casting.


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