Didion: See How One brass foundry reclaimed $321,867 in three months.

Looking Forward for Metalcasters

Regardless of the results of the upcoming Presidential, Senate, and House elections, the next several years will bring significant changes to the metalcasting industry. The American Foundry Society (AFS)—led by President Jeff Cook of Eagle Alloy and an engaged Board of Directors, and ably supported by more than 800 volunteers and an excellent professional staff—is working aggressively to lead the industry through the changes.

Ours is a $28 billion industry, built mostly around small and mid-size businesses (both foundries and suppliers). The regulatory environment is unfriendly, as OSHA, EPA and other agencies continue to generate unnecessarily burdensome new regulations. That makes policy advocacy even more important.

As an industry, we employ more than 200,000 people in the U.S., and many more across North America. Many longtime metalcasting workers from the baby boomer generation will soon be retiring, taking with them vast amounts of knowledge and experience. That makes talent acquisition and development even more important.

Metalcasters are experts at making complex metal components and offering them at reasonable prices. In a dynamic marketplace, customer expectations in terms of light-weighting of metals, casting design and performance, and pricing continue to evolve. That means innovation and technical advances are even more important.

Those three priorities—advocacy, education, and innovation—form the three pillars of the AFS vision.

In the area of advocacy, AFS has a Washington office fighting for your interests on more than 25 policy issues. Not the least of those issues is OSHA’s scientifically unsound silica rule. AFS has taken OSHA to court, and hopes, at the least, to win changes in the rule. Enforcement is slated to begin in June 2018. A court decision is not expected until mid-2017, so in the interim, AFS is helping metalcasters understand their obligations. A recent silica webinar set a new AFS record for participation, and a two-day compliance workshop is slated for Nov. 9-10 in Schaumburg, Illinois.

AFS is also advocating for the industry by helping purchasers and designers realize the value of castings. The Metal Casting Supply Chain Summit in February and the Metal Casting Design and Purchasing magazine are channels for this work. AFS is helping educators and students understand the industry through Foundry-in-a-Box and the new Melting Point magazine.

In the area of education and workforce development, the AFS Institute has introduced 38 newly designed classroom courses. AFS also now offers unlimited access to a growing curriculum of metalcasting-related e-learning modules at special introductory rates. Further, a highly informative Human Resources and Labor Relations Conference is planned for Feb. 1-3 in Clearwater Beach, Florida.

To foster innovation, AFS is working to bolster the impact of its research endeavors, boost participation in technical committees, build on the success of the Casting Connection engagement community, provide the best technical publications, and consult with metalcasting businesses on technical issues. Some owners and managers tell me they view today’s challenges as opportunities to shape a better future and be ready when the market for castings becomes uniformly stronger. I have been pleased to see the level of determination to persevere on the part of many industry leaders. This was evident at the Foundry Executive Conference in Utah, where attendance was up 25% and the Environmental, Health and Safety Conference in Milwaukee, where attendance also increased.

That determination to achieve success is also evident each month in the pages of Modern Casting, where readers are exposed to stories about metalcasters achieving success in a changing marketplace. I trust you will enjoy this month’s issue, and I welcome your suggestions regarding Modern Casting and AFS.

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

Ownership in Innovation

During a visit this summer to Saguenay Foundry (Saguenay, Quebec, Canada), which is featured in this issue on page 18, I was struck with how modern the place is. It wasn't because shiny new equipment recently had been installed, flat screens hung on the walls or robotic cells were humming in production (although robots were present). It felt modern because management strategically sought out how technology could advance processes and business while also being mindful of the development needed for personnel to grow into leaders within the company.

These two facets of business management have cropped up in conversations repeatedly over the last couple of months, and they are critical to how the metalcasting industry will push for innovation in the next 10 years.
The need for innovation in the industry's processes seems a given, but where do we focus that innovation? It will depend on your own business and niche, and Saguenay Foundry's story proves tech development isn't only for automotive and aerospace companies.  You can use technology in smarter patternmaking, casting design, maintenance, and scheduling, for starters.    

A few of our contributors are exploring how metalcasting facilities can benchmark the ways they use technology compared to other facilities. The idea is not for metalcasters to strive for a laundry list of ultra-modern technological principles, but to gain inspiration for where you might next implement a new technical tool.

A company constantly watching technology and considering how that can improve its operations will attract and keep an engaged workforce. This has proven itself at Saguenay Foundry, as it is fostering a new generation of leadership through young shareholders who are given opportunities to steer tech developments.

Ownership in the process is a main tenet of Sara Joyce's article on team building on page 24.  

"You can have the best equipment, best technology and best processes," Joyce writes, "But without the people they mean nothing."

Empowering employees to explore solutions to problems is a sure way to drive innovation.

One of MODERN CASTING's goals is to share as many stories from metalcasters like you to provide inspiration to the rest of the industry. My favorite part of the job might be visiting operations in person and seeing the innovative ways the industry has met its customer's needs. The staff here looks forward to sharing more of these stories with you in the months and years ahead. If you have a story, let us know.

Thank You, Goodbye & Good Luck

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

It is with a heavy heart that I pen this last editorial for Modern Casting. By the time you read this column, I will have left the magazine to pursue a new career.  After 19 years in metalcasting, a new challenge awaits me.

So let me start by thanking you, our loyal readers of Modern Casting.  Many of you have let me into your metalcasting facilities—your homes—so I can better understand the process, the technology and the metalcasting mindset.  I have visited hundreds of metalcasters across the globe and every one of you taught me something.  Your wisdom is what made me believe I was a metalcaster.

Goodbyes are always difficult.  We all invest sweat equity in our professions. But I can leave knowing that metalcasting is in its best position for success since I joined the industry in 1997.  While global competition isn’t going anywhere and our customers may always first think of castings as commodities, your efforts to educate and advocate for metalcasting are taking hold. Customers are understanding the value metal castings bring to the table. The next generation is looking to manufacturing and metalcasting more than ever before.  And society as a whole is looking to manufacturing as more of a solution than a problem.

But the advancement of metalcasting is not done.  Everyone is always looking to do things better, faster and stronger.  Additive manufacturing is changing the way all metalcasting conducts business.  While you have been one of the early and significant adopters of this technology from its first appearances in the 1990s to its full development today, newer and better technologies and processes await to steal the headlines as the wave of the future.

That is the challenge that awaits you.  You must be the drivers that move the industry forward because no one else is going to do it for you.  As business owners, entrepreneurs, manufacturing leaders, quality gurus and marketing professionals, this is the opportunity you must savor.  I have looked many of you in the eye and seen your passion for metalcasting.  Keep that fire burning and continue to apply it to advancing your business.

I truly wish you good luck as you continue to battle in the trenches. Metalcasting is the backbone of manufacturing, our economy and society.  The next generation is beginning to understand that fact and we can carry that understanding into the future.

Be proud of who you are and what you accomplish every day.  Creating engineered cast metal components from scrap and raw materials is an awesome accomplishment that few people in this world will ever truly understand.

Thank you, goodbye and good luck.

Impact on Society

We know metalcasting is a critical tool that helps advance our society.  From health care to space exploration to energy distribution to you name it, metal castings are a part of the machinery that allows us to reach new heights and make the world a better place.

Yes, this is flowery language and a bit grandiose. But it is true and makes me proud to be a part of this industry. Great examples of these successes include castings being used to replace human body parts (as read in the December 2015 Modern Casting) and castings used to make peanut butter accessible and affordable in the poorest areas of Africa (March 2014).

In this issue, we highlight a different segment of society in which metalcasting is trying to make a new impact. On p. 22 in the feature, “Casting a Solution for Football,” we examine a new design for the face masks of football helmets. These new designs utilize a metal casting instead of a weldment as the foundation of the face mask.  Based on preliminary tests, these new designs and manufacturing methods might help reduce concussions in our country’s most popular sport.

In initial testing, the cast face mask reportedly dissipates the energy from a collision better than a fabrication, resulting in a 25-30% reduction in the severity index, which means less energy being transferred to the head (and brain) of the player.  With the lifelong ramifications of concussions in sports becoming more understood, advancements such as this one are absolute necessities if our society continues to support playing sports like football, hockey and lacrosse.

While this advancement in sports face masks isn’t a giant leap forward, it is a success for the industry to hang its hat on. The incremental advancements are the foundation we must use to build our customer relationships. Can we thin the walls and design in a few holes to reduce the weight on that casting by 10%? Can we cast in that passageway to eliminate that extra machining step? Can we increase the strength of that aluminum component by 20% through metallurgical engineering to ensure it withstands a crash impact test?

Not every customer is going to accept the advancement metalcasting provides. Change is difficult for all of us.  But metalcasting provides you the power to make change happen every day.  Whether it is incremental or a giant leap forward, embrace the opportunity to impact society.

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

Success Still Happens

The current federal regulatory environment you must operate your business within frustrates many of you.  After spending a few days in Washington, D.C. last month discussing several of the issues facing metalcasters, I will admit that I came home, found my blanket and pillow, and just curled up in a ball.

The scope, size and sum of the regulations currently under development or recently published as rules is staggering.  Two of our feature articles this month recap several of the challenges facing metalcasters:
•    The Silica Rule PEL Challenge on p. 30 outlines the current state of the recently issued regulatory structure for crystalline silica.
•    Regulatory Reform on the Agenda in Washington on p. 33 details additional regulations impacting metalcasters beyond silica, including EPA’ s Clean Power Plan, Waters of the U.S. and Ozone rules.

It is not that I don’t like a challenge. And I don't believe all regulations are needless. Rules and regulations are critical to ensure safe workplaces, healthy communities and a standard quality of business practices. The struggle is the continuous regulation drumbeat wearing down successful businesses that are respectful of their workers and communities and are committed to abiding by the rules and regulations put in place.

I was depressed, but then a ray of sunshine offered itself up—our 2016 Metalcaster of the Year, Production Castings in Fenton, Missouri. This is a small business that has succeeded in today’s U.S. manufacturing industry. On p. 18, our feature details how this aluminum and zinc diecaster built itself by offering one-stop shopping for its customers, including tooling design and manufacture, diecasting, machining, powder coating and warehousing in-house, plus contracting for plating and other post processing operations. Production Castings also takes on short-run diecast components.

“Our forte is to say we can take a part from start to finish,” said Al Loeffelman, president.

The story of Production Castings focuses on what they can do and have been able to achieve rather than what they can’t do.  Sure, the metalcaster has had struggles in the past, but from 2010-2015, sales grew by 30% due to a consolidation and enhancement of its capabilities. While they aren’t alone in metalcasting in their emphasis of adding value from start to finish, Production Castings is a great example of a 150-employee, job-shop metalcaster establishing its niche as a path to success.

Successes and challenges can coexist in metalcasting.  While every new regulation does make it potentially harder for another Production Castings to emerge, it does happen.  And these occurrences must be highlighted as much as the challenges.

Once you read this issue’s article on our Metalcaster of the Year, think about the successes in your facility.  Please drop a note to Modern Casting on any that you might want to share with our readers.

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

A Positive Perspective

Standing on the CastExpo exhibition floor last month, I made a 360-degree turn to see all the sights before my eyes. The shiny equipment. The bright lights. The networking. The potential for the future.

The best of the industry was on display at the once-every-three-year showcase, and I was in awe. To understand where this industry was in 2009-10, to see where it is today and to think where it is going is amazing. Many had expected North American metalcasting to go the way of the dinosaurs. Instead, it is now a beacon of success the rest of the world points to.

Yes, we have significant challenges:
• Critical markets like agriculture, energy and mining are significantly down.
• The new silica PEL rule is a major hurdle for the large percentage of our industry utilizing silica sand.
• Finding skilled labor (or any labor at all) is difficult.
• Our customers continue to demand more and want to pay less.

But look at just a few of the headlines we have run in the magazine in the last year:
• Waupaca Unveils New Growth Strategy
• Linamar, GF Automotive Choose North Carolina for New Operations
• Fritz Winter to Build Casting Facility in Kentucky
• Sakthi Breaks Ground on Aluminum Casting Facility in Detroit
• Kamtek to Invest in New Diecasting Facility in Alabama
• Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Purchases Precision Castparts

Hopefully, these headlines and the other regularly occurring positive news can finally put to rest the misnomer that new casting facilities and expansion isn’t happening in the U.S. Couple this investment with the tremendous expansion and adoption of additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping that is occurring, and you have an industry poised to handle the future. When the down markets return to some normalcy, watch out for North American metalcasting.

While my messages in this editorial space tend to cheerlead the positive, I am calling it like I see it. In your production-driven world, you must focus on the critical aspects of your business to push castings out the door. My responsibility is to scream from the mountaintops a 10,000-ft-view that examines the trends in the industry.

I gained some additional perspective while on the CastExpo show floor. Hopefully, you did as well.

Reaching Out to Outreach

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

This old proverb is a rallying cry for those involved in outreach efforts.

From the metalcasters demonstrating the casting process to middle and high school students to our industry representatives meeting with government officials and regulators to those of you educating casting buyers and designers about the opportunities to utilize metal castings, these outreach efforts require resilience and repetition.

Outreach includes the branding and message we deliver. Outreach is the one-on-one communication and interaction with our audience. Outreach is the effort and time that can be devoted to it. The struggle with outreach is that success can be difficult to quantify, and it can take years to occur. But the future success of our industry rests on our continued ability to reach out to the next generation, current and prospective employees, current and potential customers, our legislators and regulators, and general society as a whole.

This issue of Modern Casting examines various forms of outreach through several feature articles to provide you some food for thought on new avenues to try.

On p. 24, outreach as it relates to the next generation of talent for metalcasting is detailed in the feature, “Attracting the Next Generation.”

“Be a mentor who wants to work with youth. Consider this an investment in your future workforce and in promoting your company to your community. Keep it real, and keep it fun.”– Dan Hoefert, Eck Industries.

On p. 28, outreach as it relates to regulatory success for a group of Michigan metalcasters is outlined in the feature, “Anatomy of Regulatory Success.”

“While the risk assessment was the centerpiece of this success story…the relationships cultivated over many years were paramount to being heard. The Michigan metalcasting industry was organized, but the years of leg work prior to taking on the challenge provided a solid foundation for eventual success.”

On p. 32, outreach to current employees is discussed in the feature, “Building a Winning Team.”

“The job of management is to make our employees want to stay. We want it to be easy to commit to Brillion long-term, because we’re committed to them.”—Reed Ott, Brillion Iron Works

I applaud the metalcasters profiled in this issue for their efforts. They are the definition of the proverb that began this editorial.

In Search of a Lightning Bolt

Lights. Camera. Action.

The spotlight will be on metalcasting during the upcoming CastExpo extravaganza in April in Minneapolis. With thousands of attendees and hundreds of exhibitors, I will feel like a kid in a candy store throughout the four-day event.
Technology…ooohhh…Castings…aaahhh…Industry experts.

Every way you turn on the show floor or in the education arenas, something will capture your eye. This once-every-three-year event is the one and only time the entire supply chain comes together to discuss the present and future of metalcasting.

Yes, I am a little excited.  My hope is that you are
as well.

Even in today’s mobile-device driven world, the value of face-to-face communication is priceless. Whether you engage a technology supplier on the show floor, an expert in an interactive education session or a colleague in the hotel bar, the opportunity to have that verbal and nonverbal exchange of ideas is what can help lead to the breakthroughs that propel the industry into the future.

The development of these lightning bolt ideas is discussed in this month’s Novel Solutions column on p. 76. In his work titled, “Originals,” author Adam Grant tries to combat the misconception that ground-breaking advances are somehow the result of fate. They are the result of hard work, character and, more often than not, previous failures.

“When you remember that rules and systems were created by people, it becomes clear that they’re not set in stone—and you begin to consider how they can be improved,” Grant wrote.

This proposition underlines the importance of a trade show with the expansive exhibit floor and education opportunities of CastExpo. This is the chance to discuss successes and failures without the pressure of production staring you in the face. This is the chance to examine and dream about automation, additive manufacturing, self-healing alloys and any other new technologies that might revolutionize our processes.

As you walk around the convention center in Minneapolis, keep your eyes open for the lightning bolts as they strike. My guess is it will be an electrifying four days.

A Purchasing Evolution

On p. 45 of this issue, our CEO Journal columnist, Dan Marcus, provides interesting insight into today’s casting buyer and the transition in philosophy that is occurring in how purchasing works with its suppliers.

“Two characteristics of this new generation are most interesting. First, it is remarkably neutral, almost indifferent, about the products it specifies and the suppliers it purchases from.… The second striking characteristic of this group is its highly collaborative nature.”

The belief is today’s buyers have evolved from being casting experts many years ago to the price-obsessed commodity managers of recent times to this new generation. While I am sure your facility still interacts with buyers from all three generations, the future might demand a different approach from your team, one that fits well with the strength of metalcasting.

Metal castings solve problems. We know this, but you haven’t been able to educate your customers enough on this point. You can create complex shapes. You can put metal where customers need it with the properties they need. You can remove that metal from areas they don’t need it. You can lower weights. You can reduce part counts. You can take advantage of rapid manufacturing techniques for short lead times, and you can use hard tooling for million piece runs.

These benefits allow you to be key contributors to collaborative designs when metal components are required because you offer the flexibility in one process that other metal component manufacturers require multiple processes to offer. The key is if metalcasting, as an industry, can be supportive of this collaboration and the education of the potential customer base.

The ultimate struggle for your business as you adapt to this new generation of purchasers is you still have to support the two previous generations as well as hybrids of all philosophies. Are you able to understand what motivates each and every customer and build individualized sales and customer service philosophies to specifically appeal to each customer’s motivation?

As Marcus discusses in his column, even with the changes in philosophy, this new generation of buyers is still focused on an end game.

“As the power of quality is diminished, it is delivery and price that are the last remaining differentiators between and among suppliers and producers.”

The key is to bring value to the table through collaboration so we change that notion of what price entails. Did you bring design assistance, assembly, machining and logistics to the partnership? Remember, the product you are delivering at a specified price must be an engineered metal component.

Recipe for Apple-Pecan Clafloutis on December Cover

dec15 cover

Readers of our December issue, which featured a delicious-looking apple pecan dish presented in a cast iron skillet made by Lodge Manufacturing Co. have been asking for the recipe. Well, Lodge has shared that recipe with us, and we'll pass it on to you. Enjoy!

From Lodge: 

"For Tanya Holland, cookbook author and chef-owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, California, this dish is a celebration of her Southern heritage and early cooking school experience. 'My paternal grandmother in Virginia always fried apples in a cast iron skillet to serve with breakfast. My maternal grandmother in Louisiana always toasted pecans in her pan. Cherry clafloutis was one of the first ‘exotic’ desserts I made when I was taking cooking classes at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School…at twenty-three, I felt so sophisticated just being able to pronounce it!'

Tanya likes this recipe because it makes a great breakfast dish or after-dinner dessert, not to mention afternoon snack. If you’re serving it as a dessert, don’t forget to top each portion with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream."


Serves 6 to 8


3/4 cup pecan pieces

1 1/2 pounds firm, semi-sweet apples, like Fiji or Pink Lady

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 large eggs

1 cup whole milk

1 tablespoon apple brandy

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour


1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Pulse the pecans in a food processor until finely chopped; be careful not to process into a powder. Set aside.

2. Peel and core the apples. Slice the apples in half, then cut each half into 1/8-inch-thick half moons.

3. Heat a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat; add the butter. When melted, swirl to coat the bottom. Add the apples, 1/4 cup of the sugar, and the cinnamon and cook until the apples soften, about 10 minutes, stirring a few times.

3. While the apples cook, whisk the eggs, remaining 3/4 cup sugar, the milk, brandy, and vanilla together in a medium bowl. Whisk in the pecans and salt, then slowly whisk in the flour to avoid lumps. Pour the batter over the apples in the pan. Bake for 10 minutes at 375°, then reduce the oven temperature to 350° and cook until the clafoutis is nicely puffed up and browned on top, another 35 minutes. Serve immediately.

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