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Tracking Growth in Foundry Plants and Houseplants

There is a leafy houseplant in our office here at Modern Casting. It was adopted by our advertising sales representative Mark McGowan a couple of years ago. Since then, it has flourished and grown, with one long, viney arm stretching across his cubicle office and now snaking its way to the neighboring space. 

We’ve begun to measure that vine’s progress, like a parent marking their children’s height on the wall.

On August 23, it had grown 28 inches since July 5. In a few months, it will reach my office. I cannot wait.

The funny thing is, none of us really paid much attention to the plant, besides maybe Mark, until he stuck a post-it note on the wall, marking the date. Now, we can visually tell how far that vine has come. We can state for fact: this plant has grown XX inches since XX date.

In this issue’s cover article, Len Weber, president of AFS Corporate Member Batesville Products Inc. (Batesville, Indiana), said, “Anything that is measured improves.”

Batesville Products has applied this mantra across its whole business, from workforce development to scheduling, and the results have been positive. This analytical approach helps make business decisions, as well as track a decision’s impact and give the chance for course correction or redirection.

Sometimes there is fear in measuring, because what if that first data point is not what you want it to be? Anyone who has avoided stepping on a scale might understand. But measuring ultimately can be rewarding, especially as goals are approached, met and then exceeded.

Measuring something, like our plant, doesn’t just indicate the current data point. It shows what is possible, what more can happen.

As for our pet office plant, I don’t think we’ll be developing any Excel spreadsheets tracking its progress. We don’t have any specific goals for its growth. But we are invested in it just the same. If it starts to brown or stops growing, we’ll notice and discuss what we should do to keep it healthy. I’m really rooting (no pun intended) for it to make it to my desk.

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


Everybody Writes

Do we need another book on writing? Yes, because as Ann Handley explains, everybody writes. Handley is the Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, and her book, “Everybody Writes, Your Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content,” offers many ways everyone to improve their writing. We’re looking at you, fellow marketers. And ourselves. 

Why did Handley write this book? Because we live on Planet Publisher and everybody writes stuff. If you tweet, blog, post on LinkedIn or Facebook, or send emails on any subject, you write and publish. Since publishing is a privilege, you owe it to your readers—whoever they are—to think of them first.

In the foreword, Nancy Duarte (Owner, Duarte Design), says “If Strunk and White’s ‘The Elements of Style’ and Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ had a baby, this would be it.”

“Everybody Writes” is such an entertaining child; however, along with the fun, it’s deadly serious about better content creation. (Ms. Handley, please note I used a semicolon while joining independent clauses with “however.”)

We owe it to our audience to write better. As writers, we must be relentless audience advocates. Reading can, and should, be part of a great user experience. Compelling writing serves your audience.

The book has 74 short, quickly digestible chapters, making it easy to read in short bursts. If brevity is the soul of wit, this is a witty book, indeed.

“Everybody Writes” abounds in aphorisms. Saying it “abounds in quotables” would violate one of Handley’s criterion to avoid turning one part of speech into another. “Quotable” is an adjective, not a noun.

For instance, Handley says:
 “… I might not believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in writer’s evasion.” (If you’re a writer, you know exactly what she means.)
 “… at some point, you do have to rush your own art. Otherwise, your art sits on its butt on the couch eating chips and salsa.” In other words, “Deadlines are the WD-40 of Writing.”
 “… no business truly sells to another business; we all sell to people.”

There are two kinds of people, “those who think they can write, and those who think they can’t. (And too often, both are wrong!)”

There is so much more excellent guidance in “Everybody Writes” than I can tell you here. Just applying Handley’s rules for avoiding clichés like the plague, or omitting useless words from the start of your sentences, are enough to make you a better writer, immediately. 

The works on writing that I regularly consult are the 1982 edition of Jack Capon’s “The Word,” an Associated Press Guide to Good News Writing, George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language,” and “The Elements of Style.” Now, “Everybody Writes” will take its place on my shelf next to those so I can refer to it regularly, as well. 

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


The Convincing Case Against OSHA's Silica Rule

A wise person once said that if the people writing federal regulations on businesses also had to bear the burden of complying with them, the rules would be written much differently. OSHA’s respirable crystalline silica rule, which was issued on March 24, 2016, is a case in point.

During the rulemaking process, AFS provided the agency with compelling analyses that demonstrated, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the rule would be both technologically and economically infeasible for the foundry industry.

The agency ignored the strongest possible evidence, and produced a rule that OSHA is slated to begin enforcing in June of 2018. AFS immediately teamed up with the National Association of Manufacturers on a legal challenge. A subpanel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is slated to hear our arguments on the case in late September.

AFS supports worker protections that are based on sound science and are technologically and economically feasible. The OSHA rule fails that test. It is based on outdated, decades-old data. In fact, the last Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act review on the issue was conducted in 2003.

Regulators vastly underestimated the annual cost of the rule, which can easily run over $1 million per metalcasting plant. The rule requires foundries to adopt extensive engineering and work-practice controls—an outdated approach—to limit silica exposures instead of other available technologies, such as personal protective equipment. Even with the massive outlays the rule will require, there is no guarantee of compliance.

Imagine a federal regulation that each year would cost 276% of the industry’s profits. That is exactly the scenario here.

Since the election, AFS has communicated to the new presidential administration our strong rulemaking record exposing the serious flaws in OSHA’s risk analyses and cost estimates. We continue to urge the Trump Administration to reopen the record on the rule. Numerous members of Congress have voiced identical requests.

If there is no regulatory relief by late September, the court case will proceed. It is unfortunate that U.S. manufacturers have to sue their own government, but AFS will continue to vigorously fight for the future of the metalcasting industry. We welcome your corporate membership investment as we wage this vital battle for the future of the foundry industry in the United States.

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


Continuous Energy Benchmarking for the Metalcasting Industry

Melting operations are the dominant uses of energy within metalcasting businesses. And many other plant processes depend on how efficient the melting production is. Detailed monitoring of furnace energy-usage can result in improvements in production throughput and reductions in energy costs.

AFS recently commissioned an energy efficiency R&D project at several metalcasting facilities (AFS Research Project 12-13#03), utilizing advanced sub-metering that was connected to major energy consumption devices. Sub-meters provide useful insights about how energy is used in a foundry. It’s easy to know how much energy is purchased every month but it is difficult to know each machine’s energy usage and the overall cost impact of energy usage by a particular machine or process. 

Furnace operations was a major focus area of the study but other machines can also consume significant amounts of energy. Different facilities and different processes have different sub-metering needs. Some frequently useful sub-metering measurements can be collected every two seconds and may include a range of metrics, including:
•    The rate in which electricity is consumed (kW).
•    Electric energy consumed for different time periods (kWh).
•    Compressed air and vacuum pressure.
•    Temperature, including melt temperature and equipment exterior surface temps.
•    Run-time.
•    Natural gas consumption rate and total consumption.
•    Oxygen or other gas consumption rate and totals.
•    Production units including pounds per melt (batch) and pounds per day (time unit).

Depending on the details of the foundry, this type of information can be collected with sub-meter measurements of energy-intensive equipment frequently used in foundries. Examples of the type of equipment that may be good candidates for sub-metering measurements include:
•    Furnaces.
•    Air compressors.
•    Hydraulic pumps.
•    Dust collectors.
•    HVAC.

AFS Research Study Results
During the AFS study, both production output and energy usage varied dramatically but not in tandem. Tap-to-tap furnace times, melt time per pound and other batch metrics all indicated large variations during most measurement periods from days to months. In many instances, the staff and management were unaware of the extent of these variations. Without detailed, time-resolved measurements, production metrics may not be apparent and so the root cause of monthly production variations is often unclear.

The AFS study highlighted the value of sub-meter measurements to glean useful insights into furnace operations. Assessments of furnace utilization can benefit from tracking furnace power-levels during daily operations.  By monitoring how long the furnace was using various power levels during each melt cycle and aggregating this information over a longer time period (day, week, or month) extremely useful insights can be created regarding furnace operations. Correlating tap-to-tap cycle time of the melt with common power level settings provided significant insight into the production variations.  For this study, four power levels were selected as common settings during operations including Off, Hold, Medium and Full power levels. Findings included longer than expected “Hold” times, inappropriate power settings during “Hold” periods and excessive use of “High” settings. This study also found that the furnace was “Off” at unusual times of the day. Recommendations to correct some of these findings can result in total potential savings that exceeded $1 million per year with no capital expense requirements.

In addition, for the AFS study, special reports were developed to summarize how long the furnace was operated at each power-level setting (Off, Hold, Medium and Full power) and a scatter-gram plot showing hundreds of furnace cycles to help understand the overall statistical variations in furnace processes. Management could now monitor the relative efficiency of the melting operations in near real time and be alerted when anomalies occurred. Summary reports by hour, day, week, month, were also created to easily review relative variations in furnace operations over time. With this type of measurement and data presentation, unexpected variations could be identified and measurements can be further analyzed during the relevant time period. This can result in more consistent operations, increased throughput and lower energy costs. Such automated analysis and reporting represents an advanced form of benchmarking that is unique to the metalcasting industry.

Another option is to develop manual data collection at your plant. Simple charts recording the start times of important parts of the cycle may help you identify developing issues or provide opportunities to improve operations. Automated data collection can include things like burner natural gas-usage rates, door open times, and casting times. For instance, these measurements may highlight that burner high fire and low-fire settings differ between similar furnaces. Other findings from simple charting efforts can assist staff in understanding variations in charge time and can help optimize processes.   

You can contact Brian Reinke (AFS Energy Program Manager) at breinke@tdi-energysolutions.com for more information on this study. Some of the sensors and equipment used in the AFS research project are available to AFS corporate members for studies at their plants.

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


A Mind for Numbers

If you make the effort to learn how your brain works, you might also discover that you have much greater capacities for mastering those mystifying subjects that stumped you in school. In “A Mind for Numbers,” Barbara Oakley tells her story of conversion from mathphobe to professor of engineering.

The book does more than tell you how your thinking organ behaves—and some of that will surprise you—it inspires you to learn more. More about what really happens when you think, and more about which ideas you’d like to have more clarity about.

First, let’s stipulate that although the book is subtitled “How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if you Flunked Algebra),” it’s a book about learning and learning how to learn. Yes, it does explain how to improve performance in math and science. That’s because the book applies to every kind of learning. Oakley hated math and science growing up. I mean hated. When she describes her excruciatingly painful experiences in math classes, we know how she feels. Many of us have felt the same in those classes.

Young Barbara was stumped by clocks. Why does the long hand not mean hours instead of minutes? The way she tells it, she flunked so many math and science classes, she gave up. Her self-talk seems to have been all about her own stupidity. In retrospect, that’s hard to believe.

She joined the Army and learned Russian, so stupidity was clearly not the problem. Using the GI Bill to fund the effort, Oakley decided to retrain her brain. What did she discover on this path of self-discovery?

The brain switches between highly attentive states (focused thinking) and resting states (diffuse thinking). Focused thinking is well, focused on subject matter in a way that allows you to process ideas into familiar patterns. These familiar patterns can be so potent that the best answers to thorny problems in any discipline remain unsolvable.

Oakley’s approach asks you to learn, consciously, how to toggle between focused thinking and diffuse thinking. You need focused thinking to concentrate and understand the material to an extent. But diffuse thinking will lead to that flash of insight that solves the problem when you’re not (focused) thinking about the issue.

We’ve all had this experience. We just didn’t know what was happening in our brains. You’re driving down the highway, and a solution springs full blown from you mind, like some Greek deity from the head of Zeus.

No matter the learning task, consciously exploiting your toggle switch between modes is helpful, and not just because you think it’s nap time. However, math and science are harder to learn than other topics because they have an extra layer of abstraction or to use Oakley’s word, “encryptedness.”  Meaning, you can easily and concretely associate a C-O-W with Bessie in the pasture, but you have no correlation to a (+) in the world. The plus sign is abstract, but the cow is concrete.

Thanks to Oakley’s book, you know how that happens. Better yet, you can coach yourself to attain these epiphanies. Focus, diffuse, answer, move on. It’s not that simple, but those are the dance steps. If you’ve ever gone to sleep thinking about an issue to have the answer right there in the morning? That’s your diffuse mind taking over. However, you don’t have to enter the dream world to gain the benefits of diffuse thinking. You can talk a walk, go for a drive, or just stare out the window. Let the diffuse thinking begin!  

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

 


Thinking Local

The articles in Modern Casting focus a lot on the technical and business sides of the industry—for good reason. But another side to running a business is probably glossed over too often—the role of being part of the local community.

Many of your foundries are one of the biggest employers in town or one of the oldest employers in town (or both). You have provided jobs for generations of families, held picnics, sponsored little league teams, donated to local charities, and given scholarships. Your employees serve on local boards. They are members of the Rotary Club and Kiwanis. They volunteer. Some serve in the armed forces.

My point is, it’s easy to view a business as an entity, as a vehicle to make the owner or owners a profit. And this is true. But I’ve gathered from conversations with many foundry owners and executives over the years that you also feel a great responsibility to not just your employees, but their families and your community, as well.

I was reminded of this most recently during my visit to Frazier& Frazier Industries. Chuck Frazier runs the business his father started in 1972. Frazier learned a lot from his dad and recounted a conversation that went to the heart of why they bother running a foundry.

“I always thought I was smarter than Dad,” Frazier said. “So I would keep telling him, ‘Dad, we have to have some bookkeeping to see if you are making a profit.’ And he said, ‘what does that have to do with anything? I’m paying the banker, the bills, helping our churches and schools. That is all we need to do. The world is not about profits.’ It took me awhile to understand what he meant by that.”

In June, several metalcasters gathered in Washington, D.C., to meet with their senators and representatives to talk about federal policy that can impact their businesses. This big picture effort is necessary to keep the whole industry healthy and strong.

And I know you are fighting just as hard at home to stay open, to stay profitable, to be a job provider. A few months ago, I wrote in this space that metalcasting is a livelihood. The pressure is on to keep improving your operations, meeting your customer needs, and focusing on the technical and financial details. It’s pressure metalcasters can handle, and the reward is worth the struggle. 

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


Feeling Smart

The premise of “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves is that how we manage our feelings in various situations is a better indicator of our professional success than IQ.

Everyone who purchases the book can use a code to take an online test to see how high their emotional intelligence score is. I will admit my score was much lower than my ego thought it would be.

What is emotional intelligence? According to the authors, it is the “communication between your emotional and rational brains.” This link was discovered when researchers set out to find out why people with high IQs outperformed those with average IQs 20% of the time and people with average IQs outperformed those with high IQs 70% of the time. 

Emotional intelligence guides how we react to stress, problem solve, network, work on a team, manage projects, and communicate. The better we do all those things, the better we will be in our jobs.

The book, which is billed as a tool to increase EQ, lists four main skills of someone with a high EQ. This includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. After you take the online test, you are given a score for each of these skills, along with an overall score. The online test will suggest which skill to work on first, based on your scores, and provide some strategies to achieve the goal.

The full book also outlines strategies to improve the four skills of emotional intelligence, but the additional resources gained by taking the online test is valuable. The authors urge readers to focus on one skill to improve at first, so the personalized suggestion for which one to start on first is helpful for someone who wants to start boosting their EQ immediately.

After working on your EQ using the strategies given in the book, the reader is invited to take the online test again to see how they improved. If you scored low at first, there’s hope—Bradberry and Greaves assure us that unlike IQ, EQ can be strengthened and increased with time, patience and practice.

“Research conducted at the business school at the University of Queensland in Australia discovered that people who are low in EQ and job performance can match their colleagues who excel in both—solely by working to improve their EQ,” the authors wrote.

“Emotional Intelligence 2.0” is a quick read. Some of the 66 strategies to improve your EQ seem almost too obvious, but at least they are simple to apply. If you do pick up the book, don’t skip the online test. It is eye opening to see where you actually stand and motivation to start applying your EQ strategies immediately.   

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


A Baseball Trade and a Lesson for Metalcasters

On Thursday, two baseball teams made a great trade. They also reinforced a couple great lessons for the metalcasting industry.

There had always been a belief the Chicago White Sox would never trade with the crosstown-rival Cubs. The Sox, now more than ever, are viewed to be the second team in Chicago and it was thought their ownership wouldn’t allow them to trade with the Cubs in fear of maybe losing a deal and alienating their fans.

If true, that line of thinking would have reflected incredibly poorly on the Sox. Last year, they initiated a rebuilding plan by trading away star pitcher Chris Sale and cost-controlled and productive outfielder Adam Eaton for many top prospects. After those deals, the Sox were ahead of the game in their rebuild but had one major chip left: a 28-year-old left-handed starting pitcher named Jose Quintana, whose contract doesn’t expire until after the 2020 season.

The Cubs, as you probably know, won the 2016 World Series and are in a different place than the Sox. They want to win again and think they can. Though well-built and stocked with hitters, the organization’s biggest flaw was a lack of starting pitching, leading many to believe the Cubs and Sox would be a great match for a Quintana deal if not for the Sox’s unwillingness to trade with the other team in their town.

So much for that. The teams got together Thursday on a five-player trade that sent Quintana to the Cubs and four prospects to the Sox, including a power-hitter named Eloy Jimenez who helps address a shortage of power in their minor-league system. The Cubs have a huge piece of their team through 2020, while the Sox took another step forward to contention.

What, then, does this have to do with metalcasting? Plenty.

As the Chicago teams showed, it doesn’t matter where a solution comes from, as long as it’s the right solution. Say your company needs a new binding system but there’s some kind of trivial and perceived hang-up with the only firm that has what you’re looking for. Who does it help if you keep looking, even if the right answer is at a company you haven’t done business with in years? Nobody.

Also, if your business needs help, your clients probably won’t care where it comes from as long as it actually helps everybody. A quick check of Twitter and sports radio reveals how ecstatic Sox fans are about this trade, proving the conventional wisdom wrong. Like a baseball team with its fans, your clients, knowing you’ve improved your processes and future outlook, will feel the same way.

On Thursday, the Sox and Cubs made each other better despite petty reasons people said they wouldn’t. If you can make your company better, do it. It doesn’t really matter who helps you.


Know the Updates to Patent Law

From time to time, foundries and foundry suppliers develop inventions for which they seek patent protection.  For metalcasters, this could include a new austempered ductile iron composition, a casting made from that composition, a method of making that composition, or a novel molding machine.  While these are a few examples, the limits of the invention are constrained only by what the inventor can dream of.  If you or your company apply for U.S. patents, this column will serve as a brief review of some considerations of U.S. law that have changed in the past few years. The following law changes should be kept in mind prior to and during the patent application process.

As of March 2013, the America Invents Act (AIA) legislated some important changes to the patent law, and patent applicants need to be aware of these changes to more effectively apply for U.S. patents.  Perhaps the most significant change from the AIA is the U.S. moved from a “first to invent” regime to a “first inventor to file” regime.  Simply put, an applicant can no longer gain rights over a later applicant for the same invention by proving that she invented the device first.  Now, the inventor must be first to file, and this encourages inventors to file patent applications early in the process to help ensure that patent rights are maintained over your competitors who may be working on similar inventions.

“Prior art” is a term that refers to patent documents and other disclosures that can be used to defeat a patent application. The prior art available to a patent examiner during the patent examination process in the U.S. is defined by law. One challenge for patent applicants is to identify applicable prior art and thus avoid overlooking potentially fatal prior art. The AIA changed fundamental assumptions defining what will and will not be considered prior art under U.S. law. For example, public disclosures anywhere in the world in any language before your patent application filing date may be considered prior art. In other words, the new definitions remove geographic and language restrictions on prior art and will greatly expand in view of U.S. law what now may be considered prior art. This can add significant hurdles to an applicant because of the large amount of information available to us in many different languages. For example, patent applicants and even patent search experts may have difficulty finding and interpreting patent documents from the Far East that are written in symbolic character languages.

Beneficially for patent applicants, commonly assigned patent applications and subject matter developed under joint research agreements can be used to eliminate some prior art. Under the AIA rules, patents and inventions assigned to a single company can be disregarded as prior art if the invention described in a patent application is assigned to the same company. The same is true for joint research agreements. In one example, if a U.S. patent examiner cites the patent of Company A as prior art against a later Company A patent application, that patent reference can be disregarded under the principle of common assignment.

Here are some suggestions that may improve your or your metalcasting facility’s application process in light of the recent changes in U.S. patent law:
•  Develop company-wide employment agreements, employee handbooks and company policies that require employees to promptly report inventions to the company. The employment agreements and employee handbooks should provide that inventions are automatically assigned to the company.
•  Develop a company strategy to promptly review all employee inventions for commercial value. For those inventions determined to have value, promptly decide how to protect the invention (trade secret, patent or copyright). For inventions that the company decides to protect through patenting, develop a procedure to promptly file a patent application.
•  Develop company forms and policies requiring visitors and other members of the public to sign non-disclosure agreements as a condition for entering company premises where an unprotected invention may be in use.
•  Train employees on the importance of not using any invention in any setting that could be considered public until a patent application is filed for the invention.
•  Train employees of the importance of not marketing or accepting orders for a product incorporating an invention until a patent application is filed for the invention.
•  Train employees about the importance of not disclosing an invention, either in writing or verbally, until a patent application is filed.

Additionally, it is best practice to not consider “disclosure” in the AIA as replacing a patent application filing; publishing is not a substitute for filing to obtain a strong patent position on the invention. An inventor or metalcaster who has publicly disclosed an invention should file a patent application promptly or, better yet, before disclosure because a mere public disclosure will never provide an effective filing date. In contrast, an earlier patent application filing date protects against competitors filing patent applications for similar or the same inventions later. Furthermore, disclosure before filing may be fatal with respect to international patent rights.  

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


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


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