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Industry Wins in Casting Competition

One of my favorite parts of the year is the annual AFS/Metal Casting Design & Purchasing Casting Competition. The submissions start arriving in December and continue rolling in through the first part of February, and it feels a little like Christmas. The castings come from a range of processes, materials and markets but they all have something in common—they illustrate the capabilities of metalcasting technology. 

Many of the submissions are conversions from another manufacturing method and/or material. Some are the result of the adoption of new technology. Others display obvious design engineering skills. 

Judging has not begun yet—we have about a week left to accept submissions, but the crop we have this year appears to be just as exciting and worthy of recognition as the last.  

The casting competition is an important chance to allow the industry to shine a light on its ingenuity, collaborative spirit and customer service. Innovation isn’t only happening at the research level, but in the engineering offices and shop floors, as well. 

Metalcasters are in the business of making better parts for their customers. Sometimes the customers push for improvement; many times metalcasters approach customers with cost-saving ideas. The result just may be the next Casting of the Year.

The 2015 Casting of the Year will be announced in the April issue of Modern Casting and on display at Metalcasting Congress April 21-23 in Columbus, Ohio. In the meantime, browse through all of last year’s casting submissions here.

Patternmaker Sees Potential in Mentoring

It’s been nearly 15 years since Dave Rittmeyer finished his five-year patternmaking apprenticeship with Hoosier Pattern Inc., Decatur, Ind. Progressing from apprentice to shop supervisor to his current position as customer care additive manufacturing manager, he has seen changes in patternmaking and the metalcasting industry as a whole. One troubling trend: the number of patternmakers has decreased.

Whether due to consolidation within the metalcasting industry or shifting economic conditions, many metalcasters and pattern shops are having trouble finding qualified, capable individuals. To combat this growing concern, Rittmeyer was a founding member of the Adams Wells Manufacturing Alliance. The group brings together manufacturers, educators and community leaders in the Decatur area for monthly meetings to work toward improving technical training for skilled trades at the high school level.

“There are many great careers and opportunities available in pattern shops and even machine shops, but we haven’t done the best job of promoting ourselves and recruiting future employees,” Rittmeyer said. “Hoosier Pattern has now taken an active role in promoting ourselves to the local high schools and our prospective employees to show them the opportunities that are offered to them if they take a career path with us.”

In addition to the community outreach, Rittmeyer is involved with Hoosier’s apprenticeship program, of which he was the first graduate a decade and a half ago. The 10,000-hour, 36-credit hour program allows students to rotate through all phases of the pattern shop. An apprentice will cycle through the machining area, benching and rigging department, quality control/assurance and programming and design.

The goal is to produce a fully capable, well-rounded individual. Hoosier has four apprentices at a time, ensuring each receives proper training and instruction. Additionally, three potential apprentices are on the wait list. The industry has a long way to go in marketing itself to the next generation of skilled workers, but Rittmeyer’s experience, both as an apprentice and now as a mentor, shows that metalcasting can attract talent.

“Manufacturing isn’t a dirty, grimy job that nobody wants,” Rittmeyer said. “It’s highly skilled with lots of technology, like 3-D printing, CNC equipment and CAD. It’s cool stuff. We’re telling these high school kids that manufacturing in America is alive, it’s well, and it’s a great opportunity. We want to get the brightest. We want the best running a CNC mill or programming a sand printer that’s going to produce $14,000 of scrap in a single night if programmed improperly.”

Click here for the full interview between Dave Rittmeyer and metalcasting marketing expert Mark Mehling.

Know When to Ask for Help

When do you ask for help and when do you just plow through a project to complete it? Often the answer to this question comes down to how much time is available to produce a solution.

In the case of casting buyers and designers, this issue of Modern Casting shows us several examples of buyer-supplier relationships benefiting by questions being asked.

In the feature, “Castings on Stunning Display,” on page 27, a commodity manager for projector manufacturer Christie said the company aims to incorporate metalcasting facilities early in the design process. “There’s a high level of collaboration,” he said. “Identifying and eliminating problems early in the process can help streamline progress and control costs by limiting design iterations.”

In “Graphite Permanent Mold Process Cuts Lead Times, Costs,” on page 60, an engineering manager for a camera manufacturer said, “Being able to discuss the design with the engineers at Graphicast was very helpful. There was a lot of give and take, and we were able to really leverage their design expertise.”

A mechanical engineer for an industrial mining fan manufacturer had similar things to say in the feature, “Casting Conversion Simplifies Ventilation Hub,” on page 39: “Pier helped us develop a greater understanding of designing for metal castings.”

Your efforts are working.  You have been communicating with casting buyers about the value of upfront collaboration in casting design, and some are taking you up on your offers. While your job isn’t finished, a foundation is being built. This is great news.

Now, as customers, do you do the same with your suppliers? Do you reach out to your equipment, raw material and technology experts for their advice on how to improve your operation?

The feature, “D&L Goes Big,” on p. 21, looks at how a metalcaster can utilize a combination of in-house and outside supplier expertise to engineer and build a new metalcasting facility.

“Out of necessity, we’ve become pretty self-sufficient with modifying equipment and making things work,” said Jason McGowan, president, D&L, regarding engineering successes such as its new conveyors, electrical controls and computerized monitoring system. But, D&L also utilized its supply base when it engineered its melt deck for the new plant.

In the feature, “Controlling Pouring Through Automation,” on p. 33, the focus is on technology opportunities for autopouring from the sophisticated to the basic. The key to finding a solution is determining what the metalcasting facility wants to achieve, and aligning the technology to that need.

“A job shop may not have high speed or volume production but still wants to increase the accuracy of pouring, reduce costs and remove people from a hazardous area,” said Bill Pflug, Inductotherm Corp.

Every facility must know its core competencies to determine if it can solve a problem internally or if it must look outside for help.  Just be sure to apply the same philosophy when you work with your customers and your suppliers, and know when to ask for help.

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