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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.


Giving the Gift of a Casting

While the holiday season already has passed and the joy of opening gifts from loved ones and friends is now just a memory for most, our magazine staff is still experiencing the pleasure of opening boxes full of surprises—at least through the month of January (and probably through the first few weeks of February as well). The reason? It is the Annual Casting Competition submission season.

Entries are rolling in to our offices. Peanuts and popcorn (at least Styrofoam versions) are flying as we unpack each masterpiece. Our magazine staff is proud of everything we produce through Modern Casting, Metal Casting Design & Purchasing and Global Casting magazines.  But once a year, the excitement peaks when the castings arrive for judging.

It is hard to believe the Annual Casting Competition we sponsor is in its 16th year.  From the first Casting of the Year—the lost foam cast aluminum oil filter/cooler adapter for Mack Trucks—to the V-process cast steel crawler transporter’s tread belt shoe for NASA that won in 2005 to last year’s ablation sand cast aluminum space frame nodes for Honda, our winners have showcased the diversity and ingenuity of metalcasting’s capabilities.

If you haven’t participated in our Casting Competition, I urge you take a chance. The entry form is on p. 42. Every year, we have castings named Casting of the Year, Best-in-Class or Honorable Mention that represent all metals, processes and end-use markets.  The key is that the judges examine what the casting achieved in its given material and process combination (for example, iron/green sand or steel/investment) compared to what typically can be achieved in that material and process.

One of the keys to our industry’s future is to educate buyers on the capabilities of metalcasting.  Is there a better way than showcasing your plant’s capabilities?




Is Cast Iron Cookware the Key?

I love cast iron cookware. In my kitchen, we use multiple size skillets and two different ceramic-coated dutch ovens on a weekly basis.

The funny thing is ... it took this issue’s feature article, “Lodge’s Recipe for Growth” on p. 20, on Lodge Manufacturing Co., South Pittsburg, Tenn., for me to realize I didn’t love cast iron cookware enough.

When talking to friends, family and the next generation about metalcasting, my message focuses on how big the industry is, the great job opportunities available, the industry’s sustainability, and how metalcasting enhances the society in which we live. While my discussions always showcase familiar examples of metal castings (golf club heads, hip replacements, the Oscar statue and cast iron cookware), the reality is that I was burying the lead.  These presentations should open with:

We Make Cast Iron Cookware!

Cast iron cookware has an amazing cool factor going for it right now.  It seems like everyone is becoming a foodie and a chef at home. “Made in America” is a strong catch-phrase today. Celebrities like Alton Brown are espousing the merits of cast iron cooking. To truly understand the love growing for cast iron, look to the success at Lodge.

By utilizing its own ingenuity with the development of seasoned cookware in 2002 and marketing to societal trends, Lodge has doubled its sales from 2009-15. In 2012-13, the firm expanded its production capacity by 40%.  At the end of 2015, Lodge is running at full capacity and examining potential plans to further double capacity in the next year or two.

Maybe our metalcasting industry can utilize this embrace of cast iron cookware to continue to build our brand and image to society and the next generation of metalcasters.

From an industry marketing perspective, cookware is one of the few metal castings the average consumer can relate to because they can buy it at their local retailer. Cast iron cookware also is the epitome of strength and longevity, as it is known to be passed down for generations.  It is considered one of the best mediums for cooking because it maintains and distributes heat evenly, effectively develops the Maillard reaction to ensure searing and browning of food, self-seasons, and defines versatility for everything from sautéing to deep-frying.

So, the next time you are out marketing on behalf of the metalcasting industry, swing by your local cookware shop and purchase a cast iron skillet to demo. It might be the key to our future.




Reaching an Equilibrium

What does the future hold for our industry?

At a recent conference for the metallurgical coke supply chain, this question was posed when discussing the U.S. steel market. Due to a down economy and global supply pressures, this market is facing significant business turmoil and at a crossroads to determine what and where its future will be.

During my presentation to this conference’s attendees about the state of the metalcasting industry, I referenced the crossroads our industry faced in 2008-2010 when the future of U.S. metalcasting was uncertain. My message to the attendees was to look where the metalcasting industry is today, only a handful of years after its crossroads, as it may be the envy of all other metalcasting markets across the globe.

Sure, U.S. production in several non-automotive markets is down significantly right now. Some segments of our production are operating at 50-60% of capacity while others are operating at 85-90%. But an equilibrium is beginning to be achieved in our supply chain. Not everything is moving offshore (as it seemed 10 years ago) nor is everything being sourced domestically—a balance is being sought in hopes of securing business success across the supply chain.

Look at some of the recent headlines:

  • Sakthi Breaks Ground on a $31.8 Million Casting Expansion in Michigan
  • Georg Fischer and Linamar Agree to Build a  Metalcasting Facility in the Southeast U.S.
  • Kamtek to Invest $80 million in a New Diecasting Facility in Alabama
  • Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Purchases Precision Castparts for $37 Billion

These headlines show investment and continued global interest in the U.S metalcasting supply chain. Our feature, “Anderson Industries Takes New Track With Iron Castings,” on p. 30, details a casting buyer’s move to diversify its capabilities and customer base by acquiring a U.S. metalcaster.

“What initially interested me in buying Dakota Foundry was how it could broaden our services to customers on both sides,” said Kory Anderson, president of Anderson Industries. “We could, as one company, offer so many solutions, whether it’s iron or steel.”

This renewed interest is a great turnaround for our industry.

Yes, irrational sourcing decisions still are being made by casting buyers every day. These will always continue no matter the level of information and education you provide your customers.  Just continue to focus your marketing and sales efforts to insulate your business as best as possible by diversifying your customer base and the end-use markets you serve.

The future for metalcasting is full of possibilities. The key is the ability of metalcasters to take advantage of them.


Engineering Answers

Welcome to our annual Plant Engineering issue of Modern Casting.  This is the third year in a row we have published an October issue dedicated to examining ways metalcasters can and are re-engineering their facilities to enhance production and improve efficiencies.

As manufacturers, this is your goal every day.  Increase output. Eliminate waste. Increase revenue. Decrease cost. Bolster profit.  In a perfect world, you would achieve these improvements without spending a dime.  In reality, your facility must balance the investments in time, equipment, materials and technology with the projected enhancement in productivity to ensure a sufficient payback.

The features in this issue provide ideas focused on both technology and process advancement.

  • In “Fall River Foundry Packs One-Two Punch,” this metalcaster saw an opportunity to fill a void for its customers by broadening its production capabilities with a new automatic molding line for 0.25-2 lb. nonferrous castings. “Being a job shop, flexibility is obviously something we prioritize,” said Brennen Weigel, Fall River’s president and CEO. “We wanted to broaden our capabilities, so we could meet more of our customers’ demands. We saw a real need for this new automatic mold line.”
  • The feature “Material Handling: Go With Flow,” focuses on optimizing plant performance by ensuring equipment installations are executed with the consideration of how they affect the entire plant’s operation. “If a metalcaster misses an opportunity to improve the flow of materials, the bottleneck in handling and flow will be a drain on profits that continues until the proper action is taken.”
  • “Flexibility, Automation in Small Metalcasting Facilities” looks at two case studies of metalcasters that utilized automation solutions to ensure consistency and repeatability. “Changing operating conditions are forcing firms to be flexible in handling variations in demand and product and uncertainty and changes in the environment. Such factors have affected manufacturing companies for a long time, but their influence has escalated during the past 20 years as a result of advances in manufacturing technology and demand for mass customization.”

 

As your metalcasting facility considers ways to improve efficiencies and advance production, look to the advice of the experts quoted in this issue and the case studies that are showcased.  The challenge for our industry in the future will require every plant to maximize production from limited resources to ensure competiveness in the global economy.


Putting a Ding in the Universe

Netflix is addicting. I find myself scrolling through the movies it suggests for me in search of the next great Hollywood Blockbuster (or Hollywood Bust) I can sink my teeth into. Far from a movie snob, I am easily entertained by both the latest Transformers saga and the most recent Diane Keaton romantic comedy drama.

Case in point…I found myself intrigued during a recent viewing of Jobs, the biopic of Apple founder Steve Jobs.  While this movie was not successful by anyone’s standards, I found it entertaining because I knew little about Jobs (or Apple for that matter), even though I have used their products religiously the last several years. Also, the way the movie portrayed Jobs as continuously focused on innovation and revolutionizing people’s lives was uplifting.

“I want to put a ding in the universe,” said Jobs.

This leads to one of our features this issue, “Emission Reduction Possibilities With Structural Castings,” on p. 28. Detailed in this article is the work conducted by metalcaster Magna International and Ford Motor Company as they partnered to completely redesign an existing vehicle (2013 Ford Fusion) to reduce its weight and then built that vehicle to demonstrate the possibilities. The team achieved a 23.5% weight reduction.

While the universe is still intact after this project, the auto market has greater food for thought on how to achieve significant weight reduction through the use of a variety of material and process combinations, including metal castings.

“Aluminum castings were integral to the design, and they were strategically placed for both stiffness and strength requirements,” said Jeff Conklin, Magna. “If we had used other processes, we wouldn’t have the stiffness and the weight reduction wouldn’t have been as significant.”

The aluminum castings were produced in the vacuum diecasting process, which allows the castings to be heat treated without blistering and achieve an average of 15% elongation vs. 3% in conventional diecasting. While still a niche casting process, vacuum diecasting opens doors for metal castings in safety-related auto applications—a large market that is key to vehicle weight reduction.

The idea of putting “a ding in the universe” and changing the world is at the fingertips of manufacturers and, specifically, metalcasters because this industry creates value.  Every time you help design and manufacture a new component, you have the opportunity to reduce weight, improve performance, reduce emissions, increase safety, lower cost and, most importantly, enhance someone’s life.

In most instances, the enhancement is valuable, but marginal to the typical consumer. In a select few instances, we actually can see the ding.


Finding Solutions

The ultimate goal for a trade magazine is to provide solutions.  These could be solutions to problems you currently are having or problems you might have down the road.

The funny thing is, your manufacturing process, metalcasting, is fundamentally the same thing.  The strength of metalcasting is its ability to provide engineers with solutions others can’t.  Metalcasting is the process that can provide engineered metal components when no other manufacturing process can provide one.

This idea of being a solutions-provider relates to three of our features this month.

The first two, “Optimizing Melting Expansion at ME Elecmetal” on p. 22 and “Tonkawa the Tough” on p. 26, showcase two metalcasters solving melt–related obstacles:

  • ME Elecmetal had significant constraints across its operation, but it knew it needed to add melt capacity.  The question was how. By performing an analytical review of its processes and understanding all the variables involved, this firm was able to enhance existing capacity and add new capacity to reach its goals.
  • Tonkawa’s struggle was due to a technical failure that ravaged its power supply and melting furnace. For many small metalcasters, this would signal the end for the plant.  For Tonkawa, it became an opportunity to utilize the resources and support the firm foundation it had developed in its 65 years and re-emerge a stronger plant.

The key for both was an understanding of who they were as metalcasters.  A critical step in any problem-solving venture is to be able to effectively analyze the situation to understand your true self.

The third feature, “Solving Customer’s Problems” on p. 40, looks at three metalcasters’ experiences in solving their customers’ casting-related struggles. The answers they provided were a conversion-to-casting design, reverse engineering and utilizing rapid prototyping to produce a casting:  

  • Weldments redesigned to castings often improve components’ performance, quality, aesthetics and cost as illustrated with the ag part described in this feature.
  • Through reverse engineering, an investment caster took a 30-year-old aluminum fabrication and turned it into a few dozen military-grade investment castings.
  • A metalcaster used rapid prototyping to produce a pattern for a component rather than rely on worn tooling to generate two 30-in. impellers at 50% the lead time and reduced costs.

While these three solutions are not new to the world of metalcasting, they are three ways metalcasting differentiates itself from the competition. They also are three ways metalcasting can provide solutions.



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