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Cast in a Starring Roll

Metalcasting has very little to do with the movies, but their paths do cross from time to time on my desktop while Google searching “casting” news items. A search for “iron casting” will undoubtedly return an article about who’s starring in the next Iron Man movie. Our twitter account has a handful of followers who are hopeful actors looking for a breakthrough role.

Once or twice a year, however, a casting reference in the same sentence as “actors” truly points to the manufacturing process. Every February, a story pops up about the Oscar statuette cast at R.S. Owens, Chicago. Tonight, Chicago Tonight is even airing a segment about how the trophies are made. Some might say the foundry on the North Side is the most important casting agency in show business.

Another metalcasting/cinema marriage turned up this week. It seems this play on words has been turned into a play. “Centennial Casting,” written by Gino Dilorio and Nancy Bleemer, gives us the story of a metalcasting facility owner who often receives headshots from actors mistakenly believing his business is a casting agency. Smitten by one woman’s photo, the metalcaster holds a sham casting call to meet her. The play has been produced in various theaters since 2006. It’s now running through March 18 at the Seven Angels Theater for those of you in the Waterbury, Conn., area.

The stars have aligned this week for metalcasters. Feel free to go Hollywood a little—add a swagger to your step, demand your office be stocked with M&Ms and champagne, and take the time to thank everyone who helped you before you made it big.

--by Shannon Wetzel, digital managing editor

 


Metalcasting a Leader in Establishing Standards

When we talk about the metalcasting industry’s past, we’re talking millennia. It’s no wonder little-known aspects of this rich history are brought to our attention out of the blue from time to time.

And so it was when this nugget from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) came across my desk. Apparently, the metalcasting industry led the way in making materials safe for use on critical systems like the railways.

According to NIST’s Measures for Progress: A History of the National Bureau of Standards, “in 1905…the American Foundrymen’s Association turned over to the Bureau its work of preparing and distributing samples of standardized irons to its member industries.” This became the basis for the first-ever standard reference materials, “well-characterized, homogenous materials with specific physical and chemical properties.”

Such standards are still used today to ensure metalcasters and their customers agree on the products they exchange. For the most part, that means faulty parts like fractured cast iron wheels are history.

-Shea Gibbs, MODERN CASTING Managing Editor


Cast Bronze Football Trophies

 

A special group of trophies was handed out this year after the Superbowl. Beyond the Vince Lombardi and MVP trophies was a special, cast bronze and walnut trophy that was handed out to NFL owners as a thank you for making the season happen, according to an article in the Bangor Daily News.

These special trophies were hand-crafted from a small, 17-employee investment casting facility in Hiram, Maine. New England Casting has a variety of previous work under its belt, ranging from jewelry to turbine engine parts to medical surgical tools.

“We’re a little company in Maine with few employees doing quite remarkable things,” Walter Butler, president of New England Castings, told the Bangor Daily News.

The trophies are bronze footballs inlaid with walnut. Each is individually marked, with the name of the receiver cast into the material, rather than engraved. The company produced 20 of the castings, with a total project time of six weeks.


 

Jillian Knuerr, Assistant Editor  


Manufacturing Stars in Super Bowl Commercials

With manufacturing and jobs hot topics in the current elections, it was not surprising to see a healthy representation of American manufacturing in last night’s Super Bowl commercials.

General Electric aired two spots focusing on its appliances and energy-generation products and the people and facilities that make them. GE is a well-known casting customer—I’ve seen parts headed for its various applications on many a foundry visit.

Hyundai’s Rocky-themed commercial depicted an engineer struggling with a component design and encouraged by a chorus of Hyundai assembly plant workers, office peers and car salespeople. Was that a cast wheel I spotted in the engineer’s cubicle?

Chrysler’s Imported From Detroit ad featuring Clint Eastwood includes shots of large furnaces full of molten metal and assembly line workers building Chrysler vehicles. The automaker has made significant investments in its North American manufacturing plants as a whole in the last two years, including $27.2 million to its Etobicoke Casting Plant in Toronto and more than $300 million in its Kokomo, Ind., transmission plants, which includes a separate casting operation.

--by Shannon Wetzel, digital managing editor


Casting Buyers Sound Off

I had the opportunity to be a fly on the wall at a recent casting purchasing roundtable, and boy was it eye-opening. I knew metalcasters were passionate about castings, but these ladies and gentlemen have put as much thought into the metalcasting industry as anyone. Following is a look at a few things they had to say.

On industry capitalization:

  • “Most industries that were at 90% of capacity would be capitalizing like crazy.”
  • “With the recent industry growth, why are metalcasters not embarking on modernization?”
  • “I was recently in Brazil. They are recapitalizing and becoming competitive.”
  • “Metalcasters think, why capitalize for 5% ROI when the buyers are making several times that.”

On a lack of capacity:

  • “There isn’t a capacity problem if the relationships exist.”
  • “We don’t get responses to many of our requests for quote. The only way we can ensure we get the castings we need is if we have relationships already in place.”
  • “Many OEMs are forced to look outside the country because of a lack of capacity.”

On surcharges:

  • “Some metalcasters want to start surcharging for sand. You can’t surcharge everything that is variable. If you do, what’s the point of a base price?”

On foreign sourcing:

  • “Foundries need to think of new ways to add value, like vendor-managed inventory, to gain on their competition. This is the type of stuff that drives us back across the pond. “
  • “Most domestic sources have no appetite for taking control of the whole supply chain.”
  • “Tooling prices are increasing rapidly. Some metalcasters may need to move this in-house to become more competitive.”

—Shea Gibbs, MODERN CASTING Managing Editor


Will Expansions Keep Coming?

Take a look at the top stories on our web page this week. Two new foundry expansions, a new casting facility launch and a major new program won. It’s a stark contrast to where this industry was two years ago, and our recent forecast indicates we should see more good news in the next five years. The industry’s capacity shrank, but as manufacturing is seeing growth, much of that capacity must return.

What’s the outlook for your company over the next five years? Have you started planning for expansion or other investments to increase your capacity? Right now, MODERN CASTING is surveying North American metalcasters to hear what their purchasing plans are for 2012.

If you haven’t taken the survey, please do.  The results of the survey will offer a gauge of the industry’s level of confidence in the economy. We’re interested to see if the positive news releases and our personal discussions with industry folks match companies' individual growth plans. Can the end-users in the manufacturing industry count on their casting suppliers to muster up the capacity needed to fuel continued growth? 
 

--Shannon Wetzel, Digital Managing Editor


America the Bacon

 

 

 

Yes, bacon.
 

As if America were not already beautiful enough, we can now use a set of cast-iron skillets to intensify that beauty with the bubbling grease of bacon or the colorful sizzle of a stir fry.
 

The skillet set, a replica of the 48 contiguous United States cleverly titled “Made in America,” was crafted by metal sculptor Alisa Toninato and took a year and a half to finish.  Toninato did most of the work herself, but the last 28 states were poured by Smith Foundry in Minneapolis so they would be ready for a showing at the 2011 ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Mich. 
 

The set is available for purchase, so save up and you could be starting the day with pancakes in California, snacking on hot dogs in Kansas and finishing off the day with steak in Texas.  America has never tasted so good.
 

 

Jillian Knuerr, Assistant Editor


The Double-Edged Sword of Efficiency

By most reports, the metalcasting industry is bouncing back from the recession. Forecasts indicate an industry wide upswing is coming, and anecdotal evidence of facilities running full-out abound. So why do we keep opening the papers and hearing the economy is struggling? Why are millions of people still out of work and protesting in the streets about their situation?

Certainly, this is a difficult question with no single answer. But an article featuring Chicago White Metal Casting on NPR’s website offered at least one valuable insight: our efficiency has allowed us to satisfy the demands of our customers without rehiring some of the less specialized workers we’ve lost.

This is good news for Chicago White Metal Casting and many other small metalcasters across the nation. It is not so good news for workers who have made their living in the manufacturing sector all their lives. But while the situation may cost the country some manufacturing jobs in the short-term, the hope is that efficiency will increase our ability to compete on the global scale in the future.

Doing more with less may seem to be a double-edged sword, but we’ll put our faith in a lean, efficient metalcasting industry rehiring those unemployed workers over an inefficient one any day of the week.

-Shea Gibbs, MODERN CASTING Managing Editor


Spread the Word With Twitter

Do you tweet? Or do you at least lurk on your Twitter feed, getting the latest updates on Tebow mania, CNN news, or your favorite musician’s concert dates? We’re not the first ones to announce this, but Twitter can be more than a guilty pleasure. It’s a way to touch base with your customers, your employees and your neighbors.

Some metalcasters are already on board, including Bremen Castings (@bremencastings), Sivyer Steel (@SivyerSteel), and Waukesha Foundry (@waukeshafoundry), to name a few. Many news and industry organizations dealing specifically with metalcasting are on there, too, including the American Foundry Society (@amerfoundrysoc),  Foundry-Planet.com (@foundryplanet), the North American Die Casting Assocation (@NADCAblog), Metal Casting Design & Purchasing magazine (@Metal_Castings), and our own Al Spada (@SpadaLuvCasting).

If you’re on Twitter, let us know—we’ll follow you! If you’ve avoided Twitter, reconsider dipping in. Tell us about your employees’ training accomplishments, the casting program you’ve just launched, the equipment you’re installing, the employee BBQ you are hosting, the student group tour you’re giving, the safety milestone you’ve reached. 

You have good news to tell. Twitter can be your publisher.

-Shannon Wetzel, Digital Managing Editor


Intern’s Blog—Final Impressions

Well ladies and gentlemen, all good things must come to an end, and this will be my last blog posting. My internship is ending, but I’ve enjoyed the time I have spent with MODERN CASTING learning about the metalcasting industry. I have learned the basics and seen first-hand how a foundry works. I had no idea what I was getting myself into but am glad I immersed myself into a subject I had no previous knowledge about: castings.

In my journey navigating this industry, I learned that metal castings are all around us. Touring a metalcasting facility was something I will never forget. Witnessing all the steps involved from concept to casting and seeing the glowing molten metal being poured into molds was like getting backstage passes to the castings arena and meeting the talented foundry “rock star” workers (I guess “metal stars” would be more appropriate). I also gained knowledge about everyday items I use in which castings play a significant role. I think people would be shocked that they are never more than 10 ft. from a casting, as I was at first. Castings are so close to us, helping us in our everyday lives.

I hope you have enjoyed my impressions on the metalcasting industry and have been reminded of when you were a newbie, when there was so much to take in but you were gratified to learn along the way.  I may not be a metalcasting expert quite yet, but I still have a lot of casting knowledge under my belt.

My favorite experience throughout this venture was learning how metal castings can be molded into almost anything. The possibilities are endless, ranging from a functioning part in a car engine to a beautiful work of art. This reminds me of how anything is possible, with just a few modifications.


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