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Thinking Local

The articles in Modern Casting focus a lot on the technical and business sides of the industry—for good reason. But another side to running a business is probably glossed over too often—the role of being part of the local community.

Many of your foundries are one of the biggest employers in town or one of the oldest employers in town (or both). You have provided jobs for generations of families, held picnics, sponsored little league teams, donated to local charities, and given scholarships. Your employees serve on local boards. They are members of the Rotary Club and Kiwanis. They volunteer. Some serve in the armed forces.

My point is, it’s easy to view a business as an entity, as a vehicle to make the owner or owners a profit. And this is true. But I’ve gathered from conversations with many foundry owners and executives over the years that you also feel a great responsibility to not just your employees, but their families and your community, as well.

I was reminded of this most recently during my visit to Frazier& Frazier Industries. Chuck Frazier runs the business his father started in 1972. Frazier learned a lot from his dad and recounted a conversation that went to the heart of why they bother running a foundry.

“I always thought I was smarter than Dad,” Frazier said. “So I would keep telling him, ‘Dad, we have to have some bookkeeping to see if you are making a profit.’ And he said, ‘what does that have to do with anything? I’m paying the banker, the bills, helping our churches and schools. That is all we need to do. The world is not about profits.’ It took me awhile to understand what he meant by that.”

In June, several metalcasters gathered in Washington, D.C., to meet with their senators and representatives to talk about federal policy that can impact their businesses. This big picture effort is necessary to keep the whole industry healthy and strong.

And I know you are fighting just as hard at home to stay open, to stay profitable, to be a job provider. A few months ago, I wrote in this space that metalcasting is a livelihood. The pressure is on to keep improving your operations, meeting your customer needs, and focusing on the technical and financial details. It’s pressure metalcasters can handle, and the reward is worth the struggle. 

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


Feeling Smart

The premise of “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves is that how we manage our feelings in various situations is a better indicator of our professional success than IQ.

Everyone who purchases the book can use a code to take an online test to see how high their emotional intelligence score is. I will admit my score was much lower than my ego thought it would be.

What is emotional intelligence? According to the authors, it is the “communication between your emotional and rational brains.” This link was discovered when researchers set out to find out why people with high IQs outperformed those with average IQs 20% of the time and people with average IQs outperformed those with high IQs 70% of the time. 

Emotional intelligence guides how we react to stress, problem solve, network, work on a team, manage projects, and communicate. The better we do all those things, the better we will be in our jobs.

The book, which is billed as a tool to increase EQ, lists four main skills of someone with a high EQ. This includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. After you take the online test, you are given a score for each of these skills, along with an overall score. The online test will suggest which skill to work on first, based on your scores, and provide some strategies to achieve the goal.

The full book also outlines strategies to improve the four skills of emotional intelligence, but the additional resources gained by taking the online test is valuable. The authors urge readers to focus on one skill to improve at first, so the personalized suggestion for which one to start on first is helpful for someone who wants to start boosting their EQ immediately.

After working on your EQ using the strategies given in the book, the reader is invited to take the online test again to see how they improved. If you scored low at first, there’s hope—Bradberry and Greaves assure us that unlike IQ, EQ can be strengthened and increased with time, patience and practice.

“Research conducted at the business school at the University of Queensland in Australia discovered that people who are low in EQ and job performance can match their colleagues who excel in both—solely by working to improve their EQ,” the authors wrote.

“Emotional Intelligence 2.0” is a quick read. Some of the 66 strategies to improve your EQ seem almost too obvious, but at least they are simple to apply. If you do pick up the book, don’t skip the online test. It is eye opening to see where you actually stand and motivation to start applying your EQ strategies immediately.   

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


A Baseball Trade and a Lesson for Metalcasters

On Thursday, two baseball teams made a great trade. They also reinforced a couple great lessons for the metalcasting industry.

There had always been a belief the Chicago White Sox would never trade with the crosstown-rival Cubs. The Sox, now more than ever, are viewed to be the second team in Chicago and it was thought their ownership wouldn’t allow them to trade with the Cubs in fear of maybe losing a deal and alienating their fans.

If true, that line of thinking would have reflected incredibly poorly on the Sox. Last year, they initiated a rebuilding plan by trading away star pitcher Chris Sale and cost-controlled and productive outfielder Adam Eaton for many top prospects. After those deals, the Sox were ahead of the game in their rebuild but had one major chip left: a 28-year-old left-handed starting pitcher named Jose Quintana, whose contract doesn’t expire until after the 2020 season.

The Cubs, as you probably know, won the 2016 World Series and are in a different place than the Sox. They want to win again and think they can. Though well-built and stocked with hitters, the organization’s biggest flaw was a lack of starting pitching, leading many to believe the Cubs and Sox would be a great match for a Quintana deal if not for the Sox’s unwillingness to trade with the other team in their town.

So much for that. The teams got together Thursday on a five-player trade that sent Quintana to the Cubs and four prospects to the Sox, including a power-hitter named Eloy Jimenez who helps address a shortage of power in their minor-league system. The Cubs have a huge piece of their team through 2020, while the Sox took another step forward to contention.

What, then, does this have to do with metalcasting? Plenty.

As the Chicago teams showed, it doesn’t matter where a solution comes from, as long as it’s the right solution. Say your company needs a new binding system but there’s some kind of trivial and perceived hang-up with the only firm that has what you’re looking for. Who does it help if you keep looking, even if the right answer is at a company you haven’t done business with in years? Nobody.

Also, if your business needs help, your clients probably won’t care where it comes from as long as it actually helps everybody. A quick check of Twitter and sports radio reveals how ecstatic Sox fans are about this trade, proving the conventional wisdom wrong. Like a baseball team with its fans, your clients, knowing you’ve improved your processes and future outlook, will feel the same way.

On Thursday, the Sox and Cubs made each other better despite petty reasons people said they wouldn’t. If you can make your company better, do it. It doesn’t really matter who helps you.


Know the Updates to Patent Law

From time to time, foundries and foundry suppliers develop inventions for which they seek patent protection.  For metalcasters, this could include a new austempered ductile iron composition, a casting made from that composition, a method of making that composition, or a novel molding machine.  While these are a few examples, the limits of the invention are constrained only by what the inventor can dream of.  If you or your company apply for U.S. patents, this column will serve as a brief review of some considerations of U.S. law that have changed in the past few years. The following law changes should be kept in mind prior to and during the patent application process.

As of March 2013, the America Invents Act (AIA) legislated some important changes to the patent law, and patent applicants need to be aware of these changes to more effectively apply for U.S. patents.  Perhaps the most significant change from the AIA is the U.S. moved from a “first to invent” regime to a “first inventor to file” regime.  Simply put, an applicant can no longer gain rights over a later applicant for the same invention by proving that she invented the device first.  Now, the inventor must be first to file, and this encourages inventors to file patent applications early in the process to help ensure that patent rights are maintained over your competitors who may be working on similar inventions.

“Prior art” is a term that refers to patent documents and other disclosures that can be used to defeat a patent application. The prior art available to a patent examiner during the patent examination process in the U.S. is defined by law. One challenge for patent applicants is to identify applicable prior art and thus avoid overlooking potentially fatal prior art. The AIA changed fundamental assumptions defining what will and will not be considered prior art under U.S. law. For example, public disclosures anywhere in the world in any language before your patent application filing date may be considered prior art. In other words, the new definitions remove geographic and language restrictions on prior art and will greatly expand in view of U.S. law what now may be considered prior art. This can add significant hurdles to an applicant because of the large amount of information available to us in many different languages. For example, patent applicants and even patent search experts may have difficulty finding and interpreting patent documents from the Far East that are written in symbolic character languages.

Beneficially for patent applicants, commonly assigned patent applications and subject matter developed under joint research agreements can be used to eliminate some prior art. Under the AIA rules, patents and inventions assigned to a single company can be disregarded as prior art if the invention described in a patent application is assigned to the same company. The same is true for joint research agreements. In one example, if a U.S. patent examiner cites the patent of Company A as prior art against a later Company A patent application, that patent reference can be disregarded under the principle of common assignment.

Here are some suggestions that may improve your or your metalcasting facility’s application process in light of the recent changes in U.S. patent law:
•  Develop company-wide employment agreements, employee handbooks and company policies that require employees to promptly report inventions to the company. The employment agreements and employee handbooks should provide that inventions are automatically assigned to the company.
•  Develop a company strategy to promptly review all employee inventions for commercial value. For those inventions determined to have value, promptly decide how to protect the invention (trade secret, patent or copyright). For inventions that the company decides to protect through patenting, develop a procedure to promptly file a patent application.
•  Develop company forms and policies requiring visitors and other members of the public to sign non-disclosure agreements as a condition for entering company premises where an unprotected invention may be in use.
•  Train employees on the importance of not using any invention in any setting that could be considered public until a patent application is filed for the invention.
•  Train employees of the importance of not marketing or accepting orders for a product incorporating an invention until a patent application is filed for the invention.
•  Train employees about the importance of not disclosing an invention, either in writing or verbally, until a patent application is filed.

Additionally, it is best practice to not consider “disclosure” in the AIA as replacing a patent application filing; publishing is not a substitute for filing to obtain a strong patent position on the invention. An inventor or metalcaster who has publicly disclosed an invention should file a patent application promptly or, better yet, before disclosure because a mere public disclosure will never provide an effective filing date. In contrast, an earlier patent application filing date protects against competitors filing patent applications for similar or the same inventions later. Furthermore, disclosure before filing may be fatal with respect to international patent rights.  

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

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