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

Not Losing Steam

Steam Tractor

Over the weekend, our family attended a local threshing bee and steam show. Basically, it was a small fair of antique agricultural equipment and steam-powered machinery, many of which were in operation. We watched in awe as steam-powered shovels, tractors, threshers, saw mills, and flour mills puffed away. As my husband took in one of the largest pieces of equipment—a giant Corliss steam engine, he turned to me and without sarcasm said, “Shannon, there’s a lot of castings in here!”

I’m often pointing out castings in everyday use to friends and family, resulting in many eye rolls, but it’s starting to rub off. To the lay person, castings don’t seem that exciting at first. But then you start to notice them everywhere, and the applications they are used in turn out to be fascinating. Throw in a bit of historical perspective—steam power has waxed and waned but the casting process has been around for centuries and continues to be a major building block of our world—and an appreciation for metalcasting is born.

Even though we were looking at antique machinery, the castings we saw made me think toward the future of this industry. In one hundred years, a rural antique tractor club might be holding a fair of equipment circa 2010. Like the steam-powered tractors I saw last weekend, the “antique” tractors a century from now will still feature a signicant amount of castings. In 2112, tractors may run on something other than diesel power. Maybe the internal combustion engine will have been replaced by then. The parts will have changed, and maybe the alloys will have evolved. But I’d bet my house the hard-working machines will have castings.   

The Wooing of Manufacturers

Metalcaster, Supplier to Metalcasters

Metalcasters, are you feeling popular these days? As political candidates drum up funds for the big push for votes this fall, much of their attention is turned on the manufacturing industry and its job-making prospects. President Obama and presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney, as well as candidates running for Congress, have been making the rounds through major manufacturing hubs to spread their message. They want to convince you their platform will best meet your needs, but they want to listen to your thoughts, too. Following are five ideas to use this election season as a chance to spread your own platform.

1. Write your Congress candidates, no matter whether you plan to vote for them, and explain what policies would enable your company to create more jobs. Invite them to tour your plant.
2. Write or email your newspaper.
3. Produce a short, simple video of your business operations with commentary on how the health of your company affects the health of the economy.
4. Attend fundraising events.
5. Get tweeting. Many candidates are on twitter. A smart tweet from you on a pertinent election topic could be retweeted to thousands of followers.

What Do You Think?

Seven short months ago, I accepted my position as assistant editor for MODERN CASTING Magazine and was introduced to the world of metalcasting.
I have my degree in journalism to thank, but I could not hide that I was coming from the field of cosmetics to one of molding, coring, designing, gating, melting and pouring. And, I was overwhelmed.
As it turns out, I have family ties to metalcasting. While the majority of my family work is in manufacturing, hands-on-type jobs, I was surprised to learn that my uncle is a metalcaster. So, as I prepared to dive in to a new field and culture, I knew I was well supported and had a tiny bit of background to work with.
During these seven months I have made every attempt to pay close attention and learn when opportunities are presented—visiting metalcasting facilities, doing research, taking a stab at feature articles and being the voice of our various social media outlets.
Most recently, I had the opportunity to re-design our digital and print newsletters and assist in fine tuning our new website. The old newsletters represented a copy and paste, regurgitation of the news and information already posted in various areas of our website. With the new designs, our staff wondered: “What do our readers want to see and what is interesting to include?”
Sure, we can tally website visitors, total clicked-on items and track visit lengths, but at the end of the day, those results are just numbers. And, the questions still exist. What do you, our readers, visitors and members want to see and read? What catches your interest? What do you think?
The new website represents many months of work, staring at computer screens, clicking on links and redirecting them. The newsletters follow suit, requiring representation of our new, comprehensive site in one tiny email. But our objective remains the same—we are the metalcasting trade publication committed to supporting the metalcasters and suppliers with all of the news, information and stuff that interests you.

Dear Metalcasting Industry

Dear Metalcasting Industry,
I’ve had a nice time getting to know you over the past six and a half years.

When I first walked into the offices of the American Foundry Society in February 2006, I didn’t know slag from silica or cores from copes. What a long way we’ve come, you and I.

Today is my last day as managing editor of MODERN CASTING magazine. While my work with you feels anything but done, my wife was offered a great job in Virginia, and she had to take it.

This isn’t goodbye, metalcasting industry. After all this time exploring your ins and outs, I know one thing is certain—you’re everywhere. When my family climbs into our car for the drive away from Illinois, you’ll be there. When I cook the first meal in my new home, you’ll be there. And when I walk down the streets of my new city, you’ll be there too.

And oh the memories you’ve provided me. You took me all across this nation, metalcasting industry, from the Amish country in Pennsylvania to the deserts of Arizona. In addition to sending me to nearly half our great states, you allowed me to stamp my passport in Canada, Mexico and Brazil. I know more about manufacturing today than I ever thought I would, and I am a better person for it.

Please, metalcasting industry, don’t make this harder than it has to be. I’ll miss you too, but you know as well as I do that life is cyclical. I’ve seen you through the roaring times of the mid-2000s, to the Great Recession, to your burgeoning recovery. Certainly you’ll have no problem seeing me through a simple change of location.

My only regret is I won’t have the chance to see what you become in the future. With economic conditions improving and research and development investments on the rise, I see nothing but clean, defect-free castings on the horizon.

Best of luck to you, metalcasting industry, not to mention all the wonderful people you’ve introduced me to over the years. With their help, I know you’ll succeed.

Shea Gibbs

A Tale of Two Economies

When the subject of the economy comes up these days, it seems to me I’m living in two worlds. In the world reported by the popular press, the economy is still struggling, with job creation minimal and international financial crises creating uncertainty among investors worldwide.

But in the manufacturing world, many anecdotal reports indicate the economy is recovering.

In the latest sign this is the case, rapid casting producer Clinkenbeard was featured on a local news channel as a company that has been able to grow despite the flagging economy.

“We have a strategy that should work in any economy,” company Vice President Reg Gustafson told the Rockford, Ill., CBS affiliate. “We’re investing in people. People are the hardest thing to get.”

Gustafson said Clinkenbeard has added four full-time employees since October, and it isn’t the only company in the metalcasting world that has reported similar growth. We can only hope the trend will continue and our two economic worlds will realign in the near future.

Welcome to Our New Website

In the last couple of years, MODERN CASTING—like most publications these days—has made a strong push to better serve and interact with our audience on the web. Last week, we unveiled an upgraded website that meshes everything we want to be, with opportunity for further growth down the road.

On the new site, you’ll find a more visually appealing home page, a better blog-reading experience, and quicker access to the items we add to the website frequently, such as photo galleries, audiocasts, online-only articles and breaking industry news.

If you are looking for a job or a new employee, take advantage of our Metalcasting Career Center, which is now integrated with the rest of the MODERN CASTING and American Foundry Society websites for single log-in across all sites (including the AFS Library, bookstore and Community Sharepoint).  

Check back frequently to our new Castingpedia—an ever growing library of casting process, alloy, design and purchasing articles, columns and case studies.

And stay tuned…we have more in store over the course of the next few months.

If you haven’t yet, poke around our new website to see all our new features. And let us know what types of content you’d like to see here in the future.

On the Hunt for Zamak Treasure

In April, clever Seattle puzzle enthusiasts went on a clue-led hunt for treasure in the Emerald City Search. Their object of desire: a medallion cast in ZAMAK by Seattle-based metal casting company Morel Industries, owned by Steve and Mark Morel. First person to find the medallion in the week-long search won a year’s worth of cultural experiences in the city, totaling nearly $9,000.
The theme for this year’s Emerald City Search was the 1962 World’s Fair held in Seattle, and the organizers of the puzzle hunt were tickled to discover Morel Industries had ties to the fair. The owner’s grandfather Leon Morel had cast several large bronze pieces for it, including a well-known fountain sculpture in front of the Intiman Theatre.
You can read more about the Emerald City Search hunt–which sounds like a blast for the Robert Langdon in you–here.
According to emeraldcitysearch.org, an engraver etched the art into machined blanks, which were used to create the molds. The end result is impressive.

Metalcasting Industry Ready to Lead Again

At last week’s annual North American Metalcasting Congress, the mood was more than just optimistic. Folks were ready to become involved again or for the first time. For the last few years, metalcasters have been keeping their heads down, casting to the grinding wheel, striving to make it past the last recession in one, solvent piece.

Last year, everyone caught their breath. This year, they are ready to start thinking long-term again.

Most of my discussions with attendees at the Metalcasting Congress in Columbus, Ohio, last week centered on businesses’ and individuals’ plans for more investment in methods to improve operations, more research and development of casting technology, more involvement in industry committees and organizations, more metrics and analysis applied to pricing and cost estimating, and more emphasis on safety and ergonomics.

It was refreshing to hear the renewed vigor in everyone’s voices now that the value of investing in the health of the industry is considered to be worth the time, effort and talent. I think it could be an indication of great metalcasting advancements coming on the horizon.

Share the Love

When Olson Aluminum was looking to expand, it sent out a team to visit metalcasting facilities using the equipment and technologies it was considering installing in its facility in Rockford, Ill. The ability to see the equipment in a production environment helped Olson Aluminum’s staff visualize how to set up their own new molding operation.

In nearly every conversation I’ve had with metalcasters who recently expanded or made a significant capital investment, visits to other foundries were key to making their purchasing decisions. Sometimes it’s tough to let others in to sniff around your operation—there’s uneasiness in sharing solutions you feel give you an advantage over your competitors. But sharing is needed to advance the industry and put everyone in a better position to make money.

One related foundry story has stuck with me over the past several years. With less than a year as foundry manager under his belt, Kevin Leffew was tasked with researching and facilitating the installment of a complete new stainless steel nobake line at Urschel Laboratories’ captive facility. He grabbed the Casting Source Directory and started cold calling metalcasters pouring stainless steel to ask them for advice. Lucky for him, the advice came pouring in.

“I found this industry is the absolute best for quality people,” Leffew said back in 2007.

Take a look at the Foundry and Diecaster group forum on LinkedIn. The advice, industry experiences, and offers of help abound.

The metalcasting industry is full of knowledgeable individuals who understand sharing solutions and ideas doesn’t make their company weaker, but it does make the industry stronger. Are you planning on a major investment, having trouble with process control, or trying to decide on a mold cooling method? Ask your peers. And if you have insight that can help advance your fellow casters—share it.   

--by Shannon Wetzel, digital managing editor

These Shoes Weren't Made for Walkin'

British designer Tom Dixon designed shoes cast in aluminum with copper or black powder coating.

The shoes resemble a classic English style and are equipped with several fine details, including crease and wear lines. The collection may be available for production later this fall, but those details are not yet final, according to a fashion trends blog.

It’s a new spin on a classic design.  But, don’t expect to be walking around in freshly-cast shoes anytime soon—they would be terribly uncomfortable.

by: Jillian Knuerr, Assistant Editor

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