Casting of the Year Aspirations

The annual Engineered Casting Solutions Casting Competition provides an example of what metalcasting can achieve. While the winners may not relate to the type of components your facility produces, the manufacturing engineering skill and creativity are something every metalcaster must aspire to.

These castings are examples of engineered cast components with value-added features as opposed to commodities priced by the pound. We must take our mindsets away from the production mentality that we ship castings, and focuse on how we are providing engineered value to customers.  We have lost the price battle for castings on the global scale, and we will never recapture it.  But the price battle doesn’t lead to profits—engineered value does.

CastExpo'08 Day 3: Don't Evaporate

"You have to educate, then automate, or you’ll evaporate," an exhibitor at CastExpo told a couple of editors today. The declaration comes close to a general consensus around the show floor. Industry leaders have been pushing automation for decades, but it’s been slow to enter the small, job shop metalcasting facilities, which make up the majority of the industry.

Maybe the tide is turning. Metalcasters are up against stiff challenges—increased raw material prices, impending climate change legislation, climbing energy prices, and global competition. They are on the lookout for solutions. More than a few exhibitors have mentioned to the editorial staff that the show-goers this year are moving through the floor with more purpose than in years past. They know what they want, they are more willing to lay down more capital now for a better return later, and they are open to solutions—like implementing robotics—that they would not have considered before.

If you haven’t already, take a cue from the hungry metalcasters pounding the carpet here in Atlanta. Pinpoint your challenges and actively seek out solutions. And don’t be shocked to find yourself considering automating a section of your facility you never dreamed of automating before.

CastExpo'08 Day 2: Our Suppliers Are Fat, We Should Be Happy

The rumor at CastExpo’08 is that exhibits are more impressive than they have been in years past.

One person called the booths more “European,” but what does that mean? Sexier? More traditional? More in love with soccer? At any rate, one way to make sense of the term is to say simply that CastExpo is growing, with more exhibitors, each showcasing a greater quantity of high quality equipment.

If our suppliers are pouring more money into marketing efforts, they’re making more money selling their wares to the metalcasting industry. And while the cynic might feel like he or she is getting the short end of the stick in that deal, it says good things about the state of our business. A healthy supplier means the nation’s metalcasters have the money to purchase new equipment.

And if having money is European, then let’s all head out and enjoy some soccer.

CastExpo'08 Day 1: Final Preparations

Last night, the CastExpo’08 show floor was a mess. Less than 24 hours until the metalcasting masses were to flood in, the aisles between booths were bare, and crates lay open and strewn about.

The exhibitors were a lot closer to being ready for throngs of casters than it seemed. Today, with surprisingly little last minute preparation and scuttling about, they had in place the most technologically advanced metalcasting equipment available in the world. The machines on display were clean, quiet (relatively speaking) and running in top condition. In addition to their products, the metalcasting industry suppliers provided elaborate seating areas, stages, rotating marquees and even video games.

Could your facility look like CastExpo tomorrow? Right now, the U.S. metalcasting industry is like the exhibition floor on the night before the show opens. CastExpo has bare stone floors; our facilities have a thin veneer of grime covering every surface. CastExpo has unfinished exhibits; our facilities have processes we just haven’t gotten around to optimizing.

It seems like there’s a lot of work to do, but by doing just a few things to improve the look, feel and workflow of our facilities—institute a documented cleaning regimen, perform routine maintenance to keep old equipment running like new, eliminate bottlenecks as soon as they’re discovered—we can get ready by the time our customers come rushing through the doors.

There’s no time to waste. Your show starts tomorrow.

The High Tech Sand Box

In a recent visit to a metalcasting facility, we asked our tour guide if the company was sending anyone to CastExpo this year. His answer was yes, and we exchanged our impressions of the first CastExpo we each had attended. The metalcaster described his amazement at the extent of technology exhibited on the show floor. For someone used to seeing equipment smeared with the unavoidable grime of day-to-day operation, years into its service, the show was an eye-opener. Metalcasters often describe their job as “playing in sand all day,” but it downplays the technological edge of the process.

The metalcasting shop we were visiting was a small, largely manual job shop, and the metalcaster admitted much of the high automation equipment would not find a place in his operation. But it gave him pride that he made a living in an industry that was capable of modern, innovative technology.

The metalcasting process has been around for thousands of years, and by simple description—pour molten metal into a mold, wait for it to solidify—it’s fundamentally the same. So we forget that our industry, with roots in the foundation of mankind, is still a modern industry that is constantly affected by advancements in science and driven by cutting edge programming. Our industry is nearly as old as dirt, but it maintains its relevance. Events like CastExpo remind us of its magic, too.

Ready for a Closeup

Is this a trend? We’ve spotted two well-known retail manufacturers featuring the metalcasting process in their marketing material.

Golf club maker Ping cast its golf club manufacturing operations, including its investment casting facility, in a costarring role in a new television ad alongside professional golfer Lorena Ochoa, who is the number one ranked golfer on the LPGA Tour. You can see the TV ad here. In another ad on the website, Ochoa is reading a letter from a customer in front of wax investment trees.

Ping’s Dolphin Precision Investment Castings, Phoenix, Ariz., which is shown in the advertisement, is in the process of installing two titanium vacuum casting lines in addition to its current investment casting capabilities. It estimates the lines will be in production by Fall 2008.

Rolex also is in the production-in-advertisement game. A marketing video on their website shows shots of molten metal poured into molds as part of the precise process of creating the luxury watches. The video is featured here.

Marketing to Your Employees

A lot of effort is spent by our staff to show the benefits of the casting process to casting purchasers and designers. Castings are often behind the scenes, and part of our job is to connect the behind-the-scenes part with the end-result. Metalcasting facilities do the same with their customers and prospective customers.

But how often do you market your casting process to your employees? They are the ones making the part. Do they know what it’s for? Do they know why it is being cast rather than produced in another manufacturing process? Maybe that elevator part isn’t seen by office workers going to the 10th floor, but the molder in the casting facility will know it was partly due to his effort that the elevator car has the ability to stop safely at the correct floor.

In the past couple of weeks, the editors here have visited metalcasting facilities in Ohio, Ontario and Arizona. Each facility communicates with its employees in various ways, whether it is through weekly meetings or television feeds in the break rooms with company announcements. These avenues are prime opportunities to show your employees how a casting will be used in the real world.


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