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The Game-Changer Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Paradigm Shift Ahead for AFS Online Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Conversions, Reshoring and Public Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


#ASKGARYVEE Is One Massive Right Hook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Patent Protection Pointers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Melting Triangle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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