Discover GK

AFS and FEF: Attracting the Next Generation

One of the yearly highlights in the metalcasting industry is the Foundry Educational Foundation (FEF) Industry Conference, held every November in Chicago. The 2017 conference was no exception. The event brings together large numbers of students who are preparing for jobs and internships in our industry, along with representatives of many foundries. The energy level is high as scholarships are presented, students from around the continent network with one another, and employers get to know some of the best and brightest young people planning to enter the industry.

FEF is the metalcasting industry’s link to colleges and universities in North America. All of FEF’s efforts are focused on attracting the very best students to a career in metalcasting. The foundation is led by a dedicated board of directors, whose love for the foundry industry is evident with every conversation that occurs during the College Industry Conference.

The American Foundry Society (AFS) has a longstanding relationship with FEF that is growing closer through increased collaboration and coordination. We at AFS understand that our member companies and individuals cannot be successful in the long run unless FEF is successful in its mission of attracting the best students to our industry. In turn, FEF cannot optimize its success without a vibrant metalcasting sector, whose ability to persevere, grow and prosper is strengthened thanks to AFS advocacy, education, innovation and research programs.

This work is particularly germane at a time when many foundries are looking to hire more employees at all levels of the organization. Beyond collaborating with FEF, AFS works to attract and retain the next generation of metalcasting industry employees in other ways, as well. Our chapters frequently present metalcasting demonstrations to junior high and high school students. AFS publicizes metalcasting careers through the AFS Melting Point website and publication, girls in engineering, mathematics and science outreach, Manufacturing Day activities, and scholarships. Likewise, AFS will soon unveil a new website, which will communicate more clearly the tremendous careers available in our industry for those with the right skills.

College students studying metalcasting benefit from AFS student memberships, student chapters, and casting competitions, which increase their exposure to the industry. Happily, a record number of students attended the last AFS Metalcasting Congress.

Upon graduation, these students are eligible for a free first-year individual membership in AFS, and they are encouraged to explore Future Leaders in Metalcasting, and AFS chapter and committee participation. This is part of a career-long opportunity for enrichment through involvement in AFS.

As workers from the Baby-Boom generation continue to retire—to the tune of 10,000 per day—important jobs are becoming available, and our industry is no exception. Through the combined work of AFS and FEF and the hundreds of volunteers in the two organizations, there is a pipeline of exceptional young people looking to invest their entire careers in our industry.

Click here to see this story as it appears in the December 2017 issue of Modern Casting

Anticipatory Organizations Know the Future, and So Can You

If you could learn a business method that let you know the future with greater certainty, would you be interested? We’re not talking about the kind of predictive analysis that sounds more like fortune telling by your local psychic with the carnival images on the hand-painted sign out front.

If certainty about the future interests you, consider The Anticipatory Organization by Daniel Burrus.

Burrus’ approach is valuable because of his analysis of hard and soft trends. Since Burrus assumes exponential change is already at work in your industry, he explains why we need to be looking past the usually frenetic present and into the future.

Agility is about the present, and it is, emphatically, not enough. Agility is reactive, and the anticipatory organization must be proactive. To be proactively looking at the future, you must know how to analyze the right data, the right way.

We’re talking about knowing the future based on reason and data.

That’s the purpose of this book.Burrus offers new lenses through which to see the future of your business, with certainty. That’s a brash assertion, considering that uncertainty has been lurking around every corner for companies big and small for at least the past decade.

Burrus, a technological futurist, has worked with large companies, including Microsoft, GE, Deloitte, IBM, ExxonMobil, and Visa. In the interest of full disclosure, I have read Burrus’s TECHNOTRENDS newsletter for years, and almost always found it valuable. 

From the first pages, this book resonates of other futuristic analysts, such as Ray Kurzweil, Salim Ismail, and other high-profile technology futurists.

Since the book is written in the context of unstoppable exponential technological change, Burrus argues that his anticipatory method, properly applied, will allow a greater degree predictability than you’ve ever had before.

Does he make his case? The short answer is yes.

Burrus makes it clear from the beginning that he is challenging an existing mindset. Death and taxes are not the only two certainties. Another certainty is the speed of change, also known as exponential change. Companies that fail to intentionally plan with an eye on exponential technological change will find their planning will fail them.

At the heart of the anticipatory method are hard trends that will happen, and soft trends that might happen. The three categories of hard trends are technology, demographics, and government regulation. Technology is going to continue developing at full throttle, the 78 million Baby Boomers will keep aging, and government regulations will continue expanding.

Because of these inescapable hard trends in technology, demographics, and government, no industry will remain static.

Think about what mobile phones were like 15 years ago. Now look at the super-charged computer in your hand you call your cell phone. That’s the exponential growth of the hard technology trend, and that trend is going faster and faster. We know that exponential growth is certain.

Soft trends are trends that might happen. Burrus cites Facebook, which is the dominant platform now, but wasn’t always, and could be knocked from its perch by a rival platform. Social media and its uses might be a hard trend, but within the category, what’s hot, like Facebook, is a soft trend. You must learn to tell the difference between hard and soft trends. 

The book is clear and direct, but the mindfulness of the writing is not as exacting as the thinking about ideas. The terms “game changer” or “game changing” are used on both dust flaps, for a chapter title, and at least 26 more times in the text. Okay, we get it. Anticipatory thinking is a fresh, energizing way to approach business.

One of my favorite parts comes in section three, “Shape the Future - Transform Culture.” Burrus talks about “Futureview,” a term for which he has a registered trademark.

“How you view the future impacts much more of the present than many of us realize. In developing and leveraging an Anticipatory Mindset, it’s important to understand that the future doesn’t function in a vacuum. Rather, it’s something of a two-way street. While how you act in the present determines your future, so, too, does your view of the future impact how you think and act in the present,” Burrus writes.

Our futureview determines how we will live today, and who we will be in the future (a place we will all be spending a lot of time).

A key to managing an Anticipatory Organization is persuading employees toward the same shared futureview, instead of looking in the rearview mirror and focusing on just the present.

I recommend this book. Because of my own “futureview,” I’ll probably read it again.   

Click here to see this story as it appears in the December 2017 issue of Modern Casting

Radiant Heat Loss: Do You Really Know What It’s Costing You?

A lot has been written about radiant heat loss associated with uncovered furnaces. But another major area of radiant heat loss is from furnace shells, such as holding furnaces, reverberatory furnaces and rotary melting furnaces. Table 1 summarizes the heat loss in Btu/ft2/hr. vs. shell temperature. Keep in mind, radiation heat loss goes up as the 4th power of absolute temperature. Heat loss almost doubles when the shell temperature rises from 150F to 200F (65.5C to 93.3C).

To put this in perspective, the results of a carefully documented study of an aluminum holding furnace with an old lining vs. a new lining showed the following as summarized in Table 2.

One often forgets these holding furnaces run 24/7. Thus the estimated annual cost of operating with a furnace shell temperature of 160F (71.1C) is about $9,000-$11,000 per year greater than operating with a shell temperature of 130F (54.4C).

Another study involved a rotary furnace gas-fired non-ferrous melting furnace, 8 ft (2.4m) diameter by 20 ft. (6.1m) long. Normal practice was to start with a lining that resulted in a shell temperature of 400F (204.4C) and reline when the shell temperature reached 900F (482.2C). Just to put this in perspective, the energy use at the two different shell temperatures is shown in Table 3.

The heat loss is costly, and it results in a lengthened melt cycle.

Thus, it is vital the decision of when to replace the lining must take into consideration the total costs (energy and throughput) associated with that lining—not just the obvious cost of the relining itself.

What type of lining you use is also a critical decision. Talk to your refractory company to run numbers on different lining options. Various forms of insulation including newer thin insulation are available. This insulation can reduce the shell temperature and thus the radiant heat loss.

In one example, the addition of an insulating castable and board to a rotary furnace cost $2,000 but saved $8,000 per year.

In a reverberatory furnace, extra castable insulation in the roof and block and board insulation in the upper sidewalls roof was added. This cost $5,000 but saved $14,000 per year.

An often overlooked part of radiative heat loss is emittance. Emittance is a measure of the ability of a surface to radiate energy. A perfect black body emitter (1.0) would radiate the most energy from a hot surface. If you have a dark, dirty, and rough surface (emittance = 0.9) on your furnace, more heat is radiated. A smooth shiny surface such as aluminum paint (emittance = 0.3) would radiate much less. Sometimes repainting your furnace can save more than adding insulation.

Radiant heat loss can be reduced on your furnaces. Relining, added insulation, and even aluminum paint can reduce heat loss. Reducing radiation heat loss saves energy, increases melt rate, and even makes the area cooler for everyone.   

Click here to see this story as it appears in the December 2017 issue of Modern Casting

Patent Trolls Exist

Many readers may have been introduced to the term “patent troll” and wonder exactly what a patent troll is and whether they really exist. If you are a viewer of the HBO series Silicon Valley that debuted in 2014, you might have noticed a character named Stuart Burke. Stuart makes money by using patents as legal weapons through lawsuits and the mere threat of lawsuits. Another common definition of a patent troll includes people and businesses that own patent rights but do not produce any goods or innovation based upon those patents. Some refer to these parties as non-practicing entities, or NPEs.

NPEs often gain patents through purchase agreements from individual inventors and corporations who feel that payment of maintenance fees to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are no longer worth the cost. Other patents are purchased in bankruptcy proceedings. After gaining the patents, the NPE evaluates how closely other businesses are practicing to the claimed invention of the purchased patent(s). If the NPE can make a business case for action, they will threaten to sue for patent infringement and may even eventually make it to a courtroom.  Because the cost of patent infringement litigation is quite high, many accused infringers simply bow to the pressure of the threat of a lawsuit and sign a license or a settlement agreement. These agreements can often earn the NPE a relatively large amount of money, thus providing an incentive to continue.

Unfortunately, patent trolls still exist.  Patent trolls were put in the spotlight in the May 2017 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in TC Heartland v. Kraft Food Brands Group. Patent cases generally don’t get a lot of media attention, such as the Heartland case, but characters in media such as Stuart Burke can help many people understand many of the issues at hand.

The TC Heartland case addressed venue for patent infringement litigation cases, which many hoped would deal a potentially huge blow to the Eastern District of Texas (EDTX) and its “rocket docket,” the long-favored venue for patent infringement plaintiffs. The EDTX has long been known to be friendly to patent infringement plaintiffs, and the docket schedule tends to move a good bit faster than many other district courts around the U.S.

While the TC Heartland case has provided a ruling that may seem to give some relief to alleged infringers from unscrupulous NPEs, many issues remain unsettled. Clearly, it will take more time to settle the issues involved with venue and how district courts will interpret the Supreme Court’s ruling. Because a majority of American corporations choose to incorporate in Delaware, and because patent suits there typically rule in favor of NPEs, a large number of cases could move to Delaware. Some experts have predicted that filings in the EDTX will decrease by roughly 70% (about 1,000 fewer cases per year), with the majority of those cases instead being filed in Delaware or the Northern District of California—home to many frequent patent infringement defendants.

Another bright spot on the horizon has been the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Intellectual Property subcommittee. The chairman, Darrell Issa (R-California) is a holder of 30-plus patents and indicated that his subcommittee would consider new legislation to address litigation venue issues. This remains to be seen, and true venue clarity will take some time. Indeed, the EDTX asserts that it will remain a powerhouse of judicial rulings in patent suits, regardless of the TC Heartland case. Some associated with the court indicate that fewer cases may even provide some benefits to the court. In the meantime, there are countless opportunities for litigation thanks to global innovation, particularly in the areas of digital technology. Historically, NPEs have capitalized on large digital shifts that create new opportunities to make money. This was seen in the 1990s with the rise of the internet, when NPEs purchased and asserted large numbers of internet patents. NPEs may do so again, seizing upon emerging opportunities and vulnerabilities created by the cloud, artificial intelligence, the “internet of things,” and so on.

With the patent troll situation still in flux, companies cannot afford to let their guard down in regard to intellectual property protection and business strategy. Technology shifts provide nearly limitless new avenues for NPEs to assert infringement, and it is becoming clear that protection from the courts and Congress may be a long way down the road. As hopeful as some practitioners were about TC Heartland, it certainly hasn’t stopped NPEs. Intellectual property owners must acknowledge this and adjust accordingly—it remains a murky situation for characters like Stuart Burke, at least for now.  

Click here to see this story as it appears in the December 2017 issue of Modern Casting

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