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Mr. Prucha Goes to Washington

Metalcaster, Supplier to Metalcasters

President Obama hosted a group of manufacturing representatives at the White House, yesterday, including the American Foundry Society’s Tom Prucha, vice president of technical services. president 022014(Thanks Katie Matticks, AFS technical and information services coordinator, for the headline!)

The event detailed new steps to advance manufacturing in the U.S., strengthen defense and create jobs. Four Manufacturing Innovation Institutes connecting business with research universities facilitate those efforts, and more of the sites are coming.

“We know these manufacturing hubs have the potential to fundamentally change the way we build things here in America,” said President Obama.

AFS plays a significant role in many of the technologies he discussed, including research and development in metals and the products those alloys are used to manufacture. The American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute, Canton, Mich., is focused on the application of innovative lightweight metal production and component manufacturing technologies. "The AFS will champion the role of the metalcasting industry as a key metals manufacturing sector in this effort," said Prucha. AFS also will participate in other hubs of the national manufacturing innovation network.

View President Obama's speech at:

black sabbathAnd here are some details you probably already know that pertain to the secret project he mentioned about three minutes in:

Metalcasting in the Movies


Industrial processes show up often in the entertainment industry, and metalcasting is no exception.hobbit

Peter Jackson provides some good examples in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and most recently in the second installment of The Hobbit—The Desolation of Smaug.  [Warning: spoilers]  It includes a fully fledged foundry in highly animated action, with dragon-lit forges melting untold tons of gold to produce a gigantic cast statue of a dwarf.  As it is being poured, exiled king Thorin Oakenshield rides a wheelbarrow down a rushing canal of molten metal (at 1,948 F or more), proving you can’t make that believable no matter how moody you look while doing it.  

What are your favorite examples of metalcasting in the movies?  Email or comment below.  

GM Quality Goals Touch Casting Suppliers


Alicia Boler-Davis, senior v.p. of global quality and customer experience for General Motors, presented the automaker’s latest initiatives to the Motor Press Guild in Los Angeles, this month. Among the topics discussed was the latest drive for “no defects” in GM products.

Liability for recalls that result from flawed components is being shifted to part suppliers, as we reported this summer. (See “GM to Recoup Recall Costs from Suppliers.”) Boler-Davis’ comments shed some light on the subject.

GMAliciaBolerDavis“We’ve developed a plan to improve the ‘Built-in-Quality’ levels at our plants around the world,” she said, “working not only in-house with our product design, engineering and manufacturing teams but also with our suppliers. … We’re changing our mindset. We’re looking for longer-term partnerships with our very best suppliers based on higher levels of collaboration and cooperation.”

GM is introducing a Supplier Quality Excellence Award. The company also will be training suppliers’ development engineers on the company’s quality tools, techniques and terms. An initiative called “Strategic Sourcing” will engage top suppliers earlier in the vehicle production process.

“We gain better access to new technology, the suppliers get a longer-term contract with GM and the result is better technology, better quality and lower overall costs over the long term,” Boler-Davis said.

The overall impact on casting suppliers remains to be seen as GM reaches for its goal to provide the best customer experience in the industry.

Metalcasting Pride on Display



This summer, a team of Muskegon, Mich., artists dubbed “The Walldogs,” Jay Allen, Robert Valadez and Nancy Bennett, were commissioned to paint a mural downtown celebrating local working people. The city evolved over time from a lumber town into manufacturing, with a long history of metalcasting.

“Muskegon Proud,” is painted on the side of the Russell Block Building on West Western Ave., in the busiest part of town. The 12 x 20-ft. mural took less than a week to complete.  It was designed and mostly funded by local steel casting company Eagle Alloy Inc.’s Mark Fazakerley and John Workman, co-owners of the Muskegon, Mich.-based Eagle Group Foundries.eaglemural2

Mayor Steve Gawron commented to, “This piece of art is such a magnificent representation. I’m a blue-collar boy from a blue-collar town. … The desire to work hard and make a living is alive and well in Muskegon.”

Fazakerley has been involved with multiple renovation projects in the downtown area over the years, helping to repair and/or replace cast lamp posts, fences and fountains.

What's Your Holy Grail?

The saying that the more you know the more you don't know has rung particularly true for me in these last two weeks. I spent one day at a manufacturer's exhibition alongside industry veteran Mark Morel, Morel Industries, Seattle, who spoke to each inquisitive soul with commanding knowledge about whether their part could be cast, should be cast, in what process and what alloy. Then this week, I sat in on an iron metallography testing workshop delving into the minutia of iron metallurgy, chemical analysis and microstructure. When I first began writing for Modern Casting eight years ago, I was aware I didn't know anything about the industry. But with each new nugget of information learned and understood, I am opened up to 50 times more metalcasting knowledge I have yet to process.

Of course, this concept is not new, but it hit home for me the necessity of continuing a quest for education, whether through mentoring, classroom training, workshops, or job shadowing.

With this importance in mind, AFS and its Institute has launched a new initiative to update its courses with new content and formats as well as add new classes to meet industry needs. These classes range from entry level to advanced and have been designed to be shorter, more interactive and more practical for the adult student who can take the ideas learned in class and apply them directly to the job. Maybe they can find the answer to why they keep producing a certain defect or how to improve casting throughput with processing software.

But knowledge is gained in more ways than in a classroom, and this is where mentoring is key. In a recent visit to O'Fallon Casting, O'Fallon, Mo., General Manager Vince Gimeno pointed out all the new technology the company has added in the last five years. He mentioned O'Fallon puts its young engineers and managers in charge of many of the projects, so they can exercise and develop their own inventive muscles--a skill strongly needed when they are the ones running the whole company.

The quest to fill the ever expanding black hole of the unknown is where innovation is born, so saddle up and start seeking.

Honk if You Love Castings


ftfasilsmI was given an up-close tour of my car’s brake assemblies the other day.  It gave me a new reason to appreciate metalcasting professionals—and professional mechanics, one of whom said I’m lucky to be alive.

I took that as a joke.

But, for the sake of argument, it’s all thanks to the quality and performance of the brake rotors, wheel bearings and calipers that were dutifully clinging to their last moments of serviceable use. After more than 10 years on mean city streets, bad brake lines were the culprit. The brake drums merely needed to be remachined, no doubt thanks to the quality standards of the metalcaster who supplied them.  You saved me a few hundred, and possibly much more.  

I frequent a reputable shop, and I’ll take their word on that.

Let's Be Frank

Dollar Dollar Bills You All

This year’s AFS Hoyt Memorial Lecture was given by Gene Muratore, Rio Tinto Iron America, during CastExpo’13 in St. Louis, and since then I’ve been mulling over several of his points, particularly one in which he compared the salary of a recent college grad with a liberal arts degree vs. the salary of a recent college grad working in a metalcasting facility, which is generally significantly greater.

My background’s in writing—not metalcasting, so I’m a liberal arts grad. But that degree was paid for in large part by summer jobs I held in industry (paper and food packaging). These jobs paid several dollars per hour more than the available office and retail jobs; I was able to save more and accrue less student loan debt.

Why isn’t pay in manufacturing jobs—including those in the metalcasting industry, salaried and hourly—talked about more? The general feeling seems to be doctors, lawyers and brokers make the big bucks, teachers, accountants and public workers make middle class wages, and those in the manufacturing industry are the working class living paycheck to paycheck.

How can we change that perception? Would young high school and college students be more inclined to consider a career in metalcasting if they knew how much they could make? I think so. When you go to career days or host school groups, do you only talk about the job requirements?  Don’t these students deserve someone to tell them, frankly, “You will make twice as much money here than as a librarian”?

Construction is backbreaking work, but the guys in my high school knew it paid well. Why didn’t they know that about manufacturing?

I would not have thought of applying for my factory jobs without a push from my dad, who would not have thought of it without a conversation with a member of our church. Once I learned the pay, it was a no-brainer.

We can be shy or coy about pay. Let’s not be. It’s one of the industry’s strongest recruiting advantages.      

Manufacturing Has Been Here the Whole Time

It’s not hard to find an article online today about manufacturing’s return to the U.S. But to borrow a turn of phrase from the musician Prince, whoever is claiming they are bringing manufacturing back: manufacturing never left.

The attention to the industry is nice, and the hopefully helpful policies being set in place during this push for American manufacturing have been a long time coming. But one of the struggles of manufacturing and metalcasting has been to recruit qualified, dedicated workers to industry. The public perception that America is making a big push for the return of manufacturing holds with it some connotation that it is a risky industry to be in. After all, what if that push for a return, fails?

But manufacturing is not a startup company, nor is it an industry on its last legs. Potential new employees, particularly those considering a new career or a career change, need to be reassured the U.S. metalcasting industry can provide decades of job security.  So, when you are talking with your peers, the media, high school and college students, here are some facts about the state of the metalcasting industry to keep on hand:

  • The U.S. metalcasting industry employs more than 200,000.
  • The U.S. is the global leader in casting application and ranks second in casting production.
  • The U.S. produces 12 million tons of castings annually at a value of more than $30 billion.
  • Metalcasting has been an important facet of American manufacturing since before the Declaration of Independence was signed.
  • It’s true some casting production was moved offshore starting in the late ‘90s, but that seems to  have plateaued in 2007, and since then casting imports have remained relatively stable at about 22%.

It doesn’t hurt to add facts about your own facility—how long has it been in business? What do you make? Who do you employ? How many of those receive benefits?

Manufacturing is having a resurgence in public opinion. Let’s remind the public of manufacturing’s longevity.

Reaching the Next Generation Metalcaster

In another attempt to reach out to youngsters and spark their interest in metalcasting, AFS recently published a webpage devoted to just that. It is great for casters looking to reach out to their community or participate in school outreach programs. It is also a resource to explain to family and friends exactly what it is you do every day at work.

What’s neat about the page? It brings together multimedia resources designed to inform and excite those new to the industry. Some of the resources include:

  • The PBS special Spotlight on Metalcasting: This video was originally created for the Public Broadcast Station (PBS) and provides a rundown of the metalcasting industry from what is it to what products it produces.
  • An industry profile portion that includes demographics, production and application information, and metalcasting history.
  • A history of Foundry in a Box and information on how to order. This hands-on tool allows interested casters of all ages to dig in and create their own metal casting. 
  • A reusable Power Point presentation titled Metalcasting: Who We Are.

The wide array of resources that are great for elementary, high school and college students, making it easier to become more involved with new potential casters.

Casting With a Conscience

While hunting for a business management book to review for my next Novel Solutions column, I came across “Conscious Capitalism” by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia about businesses working toward a goal of making money as well as providing a higher good for society. I was about to brush it off for being touchy-feely, when several instances of metalcasting companies practicing conscious capitalism came effortlessly to mind. The book cites Whole Foods and Patagonia, but less trendy names in our realm of the universe are just as up to speed.

From Bremen Casting Inc.’s onsite health clinic to Sivyer Steel’s “Going Green Initiative” to EMSCO’s recognition for supporting a Naval Reservist employee, examples of companies in the metalcasting industry acting not just on an economic level but on a humanitarian level abound. In visits to plants throughout the year, I find businesses that are committed to employee safety and health, serious about reducing their environmental footprint and eager to support their community.

When asked what makes their company successful, nine times out of ten, executives in this industry will answer, “the people.” It seems cliché, but it’s that belief that buoys a company’s conscious policies. It is touchy-feely, but maybe that’s a necessary part of capitalism. 

I haven’t read the book yet, but I did buy it. I wonder how the metalcasting industry will stack up.

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