Spectral analysis without compromise.

Answers May Be Simple, But Execution Is Key

I lost my keys last month.

We all have done it. In this case, these lost keys required all five of my family members and an hour and 45 minutes to find them.

During my all-out, turn-everything-upside-down search of our house, garage and cars, I kept saying to myself, the simplest answer probably is the correct one. For me, the simplest answer would have been that the keys were left in my car. So, we searched every crack and crevice of my car at least five times. But it took one final gasp of frustration during the last search of the car for me to take a step back, stare in the distance for some clarity (across the roof of my SUV), and see my keys resting on the roof.

This story relates to our feature, “Success Strategies for Job Shops,” on p. 34. This article contains the opinion of a veteran casting buyer who worked in a metalcasting facility in a previous life. The buyer is sharing his opinion on what metalcasters must do to solidify their business and weather the ups and downs of the economy.

Yes, you have read similar articles and heard similar presentations in the past. While this article doesn’t break any new ground on the subject, Modern Casting has selected this article because the message is still important. If your business doesn’t execute on the fundamentals, it is difficult to build a foundation for success.

Here is a list of the six points raised by the casting buyer:

  • Serve different market segments and diversify your customer base
  • Produce well-balanced product mix and never lose contact to market reality
  • Know your production costs
  • Permanently optimize processes in the shop
  • It is all about sales
  • Train and educate your people

While you can look at your costing system and say it is an accurate reflection of your operation, the best evaluations often come when you examine other successful businesses and their best practices. Maybe this is a metalcaster you compete against or maybe it is a manufacturer in another industry that received positive press for its implementation of a new quotation system. Constantly seeking out these case studies of success and comparing them to your own systems (no matter how efficient you might be) ensures you are running at peak efficiency.

The core of your business is the fundamentals. Execution of these fundamentals is at the heart of success.  Read the thoughts of this casting buyer and truly examine how your facility stacks up.

When I came home from work that evening on the day I lost my keys, my 11-year-old daughter Abigail smiled at me and said, “Remember, the simplest answer probably is the correct one.”  I will continue to remind myself of this and hopefully you will to.

6 in 10 Teachers Choose Welding

A recent poll asked 220 vocational and technical high school teachers the following question:

“Thinking about vocational courses, please tell us how likely you feel a student focusing on each of the following career paths would be able to find a job or a career in that field after graduation.”

These teachers were given five different industries from which to choose:

•    Metalcasting
•    Woodworking
•    Machining
•    Tool, die and patternmaking
•    Welding

Table1Take a look at the results in Table 1. Based on some simple math, 59.5% of the teachers surveyed believe it is “very likely” a student focusing on welding in high school will find a job or career after graduation while only 19.1% believe the same of metalcasting.

The results of this poll were a bit of a wake-up call to me. Sure, I knew metalcasting isn’t on the top priority list of today’s manufacturing technology and/or votech teachers. But I saw this as a larger problem for all manufacturing disciplines in which we were all in the same boat. This data says we aren’t all in the same boat; some of our industries are sinking faster than others.

Another surprising result is that machining didn’t place highest among these industries.  I have had the opportunity to see several high school and college workshops decked out with some of the latest machining systems (enough to make many manufacturers jealous) and teachers beaming about the opportunities for jobs as machinists. These must be more isolated cases than I experienced.

On a positive note, this poll isn’t talking about the students themselves or their parents.  However, this poll is talking about one of the biggest influences on students—their teacher.  Couple the feelings of these teachers with those of the school guidance counselors (who, if we poll, would probably express similar opinions as the teachers), and our industry has an uphill battle in securing the next generation of metalcasters.

But it is a battle worth the effort. While our industry is fighting fires on many different fronts—regulations, globalization, customer knowledge and experience, pricing pressures, and competing processes, just to name a few—engaging the next generation of workers is an endeavor that rewards you as much as it does the industry. Just remember, it isn’t just the students we need to focus on. We have to win the hearts and minds of their teachers and their guidance counselors as well.

If you have any comments about this editorial or any other item that appears in Modern Casting, email me at aspada@afsinc.org.

Columbus CEO Helps U.S. Reshoring Effort

In November 2013, Columbus Castings, Columbus, Ohio, reached a major business agreement with Nippon Sharyo USA Inc., Arlington Heights, Ill., for steel Amtrak railcar undercarriages. For Columbus CEO and President Rick Ruebusch, it was an unquestionable highlight of his two years at the helm of the steel casting facility.

As reported by Columbus Business First, the contract could be worth as much as $70 million. If Nippon Sharyo exercises all options in the contract, the green sand facility is scheduled to be at full capacity through 2021. With that kind of success, Ruebusch has good reason to be optimistic, about both his business and the American metalcasting industry in general.

“The renaissance of manufacturing in the U.S. is underway,” Ruebusch said. “We [at Columbus Castings] are well positioned to once again be the point of the spear for this and look forward to the rapid recovery of the nation’s manufacturing base.”

According to industry statistics, approximately 100,000 manufacturing jobs have been reshored by about 500 OEMs and thousands of their suppliers since the manufacturing employment low of January 2010. Owned by Protostar Partners LLC, New York, and formerly known as Buckeye Steel Castings Co., Columbus Castings will add approximately 50 full-time metalcasting jobs to its current 650-employee workforce as a result of the recent Nippon Sharyo deal.

Earning an engineering degree from The Ohio State Univ., Columbus, Ohio, Ruebusch worked as an engineer at GE Aviation, Cincinnati, and gained positions of increasing responsibility at Precision Castparts Corp., Portland, Ore., and SPX Corp., Charlotte, N.C. With his career spanning more than a decade in metalcasting, he is plenty familiar with the industry and what advantages American firms can offer.

“We are closer to customers, which lessens transportation costs, and allows for more visibility and stronger relationships,” Ruebusch said. “The skilled labor is here, and the workforce is hungry for it.”

Considering a number of worldwide economic factors, including steadily increasing labor costs in developing economies, U.S.-based metalcasters can provide benefits not available to overseas suppliers. Ruebusch, after signing the biggest contract in his company’s 110-year history, expects the future to be bright.

“This award is the single-largest order to date in the long history of Buckeye/Columbus Castings, continuing the forward momentum of our organization,” he said. 

Keep It Public

The annual casting competition is a showcase for the latest and greatest. And this year’s winner, the oil pan for John Deere cast by Aarrowcast, Inc., Shawano, Wis., is no exception. By incorporating multiple components to increase performance and reduce cost, this cast component is another shining example of what can be accomplished when the casting designer and metalcaster work together to secure a solution.

And that really is the story with this oil pan casting. Both John Deere and Aarrowcast brought their expertise to the table during the product development process to solve design, production and quality issues.  Even though the process required a couple years and several iterations to achieve a final component, the result validates their efforts and has opened the door to a new line of thinking at Aarrowcast. 

“This part took us out of our comfort zone, and as a result, we’ve changed our entire system to work with our customer up front to ensure success at launch,” said Aarrowcast engineering manager Jim Olson.

In today’s casting marketplace, the push for open, up-front communication is critical. Whether this communication is centered around product development or your firm’s capabilities, the reality is that not all casting buyers have read the headlines and realize the offshore sourcing movement isn’t as perfect as everyone once thought.

“U.S. metalcasters have a lot of catching up to do.”

“U.S. metalcasters have to improve to compete with plants in China, India and Mexico.”

While these two phrases aren’t exact quotes, they are paraphrases of a discussion I recently had with a group of experienced casting buyers.  These buyers said they want to purchase in the U.S. but they just weren’t able to find suppliers offering the total package (price, technology and/or capabilities) they can find in these other countries. Even though these buyers require smaller runs of many different materials and sizes, global sourcing is an attractive option. 

In the last few years, manufacturing in the U.S. and North America has seen a resurgence in both production and reputation. Within metalcasting, we have seen a customer base refocus on regionalized sourcing, reshoring castings with regularity back from the low-cost sources that dominated headlines less than five years ago.  The conversations appeared to have turned from casting price to total cost of acquisition, so costs like defects, shipping and engineering time were being factored into the final decision.

But not all buyers have realized the benefits of working closely with your casting manufacturer like John Deere did with Aarrowcast.  Some buyers still require convincing.  Maybe it is time for your facility to do what Aarrowcast has done and publicly proclaim that your firm is working up-front with customers to offer assistance with casting design for manufacturing.  While some of you do offer this service already, what could hurt to scream it from the mountaintops of your website, business cards and letterhead?  We must continue to reshape the minds of current and potential customers one at a time.

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: www.whitehouse.gov/video

black sabbathAnd here are some details you probably already know that pertain to the secret project he mentioned about three minutes in: www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZJPYo-YUkA

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 dkapel@afsinc.org 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 Mlive.com, “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.

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