Modern Casting

Another ICE Crackdown

Often, it’s the pot on the back burner that starts a fire.

So when you’ve put an issue back there to simmer, like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents promising to increase raids on manufacturers harboring illegal immigrants, it’s good to check in on it every once in a while.

Power and electrical technology manufacturer Howard Industries Inc., Laurel, Miss., probably wishes it had kept a closer eye on the issue, which started a proverbial fire Aug. 25, according to a New York Times article. In the first raid of its scale since May, ICE agents entered Howard Industries and detained “at least 350 workers they said were in the country illegally.”

Every so often in MODERN CASTING, we discuss legislation and executive orders that may affect the way you verify the status of your employees. In the August issue, we announced for your edification that the Bush Administration ordered all companies doing business with the federal government to verify their employees legal working status by checking their social security numbers through an online service known as E-Verify.

However, this should not obscure the fact that your staff is your responsibility, whether you have zero government contracts or a zillion. If you let the pot on the back burner boil over—like Howard Industries did—your facility floor could be flooded with ICE agents.

Stay Safe, Metalcasting Hobbyist

It’s staggering the number of people that want to give metalcasting a go on their own.

The latest incident we found was regaled in an article in the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette. According to the story, a high school science teacher built a furnace in a hole in his lawn and somewhat-successfully cast trinkets out of scrapped soda cans. It’s a fascinating story, but you’re on the edge of your seat the entire time waiting for this unsupervised, improvised project to go terribly awry.

The most common metalcasting hobbyists we come across (or more appropriately, come across us) are enthusiasts who want to rebuild something from the past—a marine or automotive part that has been lost to history. Most of the time, these hobbyists want to build something that no one else will build for them, either due to the component’s lack of profitability or because it would take too much time to develop the know-how to produce it.

There’s an allure of self-sufficiency there that metalcasting hobbyists simply can’t ignore. These men highlight the mystical draw of the metalcasting process—the glowing metal, the sparks, the completed component emerging as if a Bundt cake from a pan(which are themselves cast, by the way).

Men like the high school teacher from Lancaster, on the other hand, highlight the strides the metalcasting industry makes on a regular basis. According to the article, the tinkerer produced what “looked like crumpled wads of aluminum foil rolled in sand.” Professional metalcasters produce parts that are critical to the operation of an airplane at 30,000 ft.

The article goes on to say that the untrained science teacher scared passersby and his wife with the potential for an injurious accident. Professional metalcasters have decreased the number of accidents that occur on their watch for two years in a row, according to data published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In 2006, the year for which the data is last available, the industry reported 11.9 injuries or illnesses for every 100 full-time employees, down from 13.5 in 2005 (a 12% improvement) and 14 in 2004.

The general public may think that metalcasting is an antiquated, dangerous industry that produces nothing but manhole covers, but for many modern casters, that is simply untrue. We thank the metalcasting hobbyists whose amateur attempts highlight this fact…as long as they stay safe.

Stop Pestering Your Customers About China

During this month’s Marketing and Selling of Castings Conference presented by the American Foundry Society, metalcasters had the opportunity to hear what casting customers want from their suppliers. After the presentations from the end-users, which typically were overviews of the customer’s markets, attendees could ask the speakers direct questions about what they wanted from their casting suppliers.

The speakers were pretty forthcoming about what they wanted out of a metalcaster—better lead times, lean manufacturing principles, minimal to zero defects rate and a good safety record. And most of the attendees’ questions were smart and forward-thinking.

But one question popped up on several occasions. Attendees asked, “Are you outsourcing?” followed by a question on whether the end-users were seeing castings sent to China or India coming back to the U.S.

They weren’t bad questions to ask, but in the context of the conference, they were bummer questions that signified a backwards way of looking at marketing North American castings. 

It is probably true that many companies sourcing castings overseas have learned that the money they thought they would be saving is not as much as hoped. But it is also probably true that the  majority of those castings still are not coming back. It’s time to accept the losses and focus marketing efforts on winning highly engineered and specialty jobs and keeping your current customers from moving anything else overseas.

Doing so will take more than attempting to fish out anecdotal proof from end-users that they have tried the low-cost country thing, failed and are returning jobs to North America.

Watching jobs leave the country knowing they won’t be made as well or for as cheap as expected is frustrating, but if you aren’t looking past that hurt, you’re standing in quicksand.

Suppliers don’t want to hear what’s *so awful* about China; they want to hear what you can do to improve their bottom line. Show them how you can save them money through value-added services and better customer service. Prove that you can and will deliver parts on time. Consider partnering with a Chinese metalcaster to become a one-source supplier. 

When a prospective customer is faced with a choice of two U.S. metalcasters—one whose sales pitch goes over the downfalls of sourcing overseas and the other whose sales pitch outlines how the metalcaster can answer the customer’s specific quality and cost challenges—who do you think will get the job?

Turn the Beat Around

We’ve met many people in the industry who are passionate about metalcasting, but we’re hard-pressed to think of someone with the same kind of passion as a woman from Kawaguchi, Japan. A recent article from the Japanese newspaper, Daily Yomiuri, tells the story of 23-year-old percussionist Sayaka Nojiri, who is promoting the metalcasting industry the best way she knows how—drumming.

The daughter and granddaughter of metalcasters, Nojiri is hoping to promote the industry that was once a pride of the city but since has dwindled. She turns metal castings made in Kawaguchi into percussion instruments for recitals around town—her way of showing gratitude to the city, she said.

From the article:

"She turned metal-cast products, including frying pans, into percussion instruments by putting holes in them to create a variety of unusual sounds.

At her recital last year, she improvised for an audience of about 300, while imagining the sounds and smells of foundries and the feel of the casting process."

Maybe we should start taking drumming lessons.

Two Market Perspectives

On a recent tour of several Midwestern metalcasting facilities, there was no evidence of what so many in the U.S. are calling a current economic downturn, or if you don’t mind saying the R-word, “recession.”

One, a small ferrous agricultural firm, has seen no drop-off in the success that has propelled it over the past few years, recently building a new facility to crank out more castings. And a second, a larger producer of parts for the same industry situated not far across the rural landscape of Kansas, is forecasting continued growth, with new contracts being won regularly. It was a refreshing trip across the dusty planes.

For a different perspective, have a look at the June MODERN CASTING web poll. The majority of our readers apparently aren’t doing as well as those lucky agricultural suppliers.

“Judging by your current casting sales, do you believe the U.S. economy is going through a recession?” the web poll asked. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents (66.3%) answered yes. We can only assume that at least a few of the remaining 33.7% serve the agricultural market.

It’s possible that the paradox presented by these two unscientific samples of metalcasters’ opinions can be written off to the medium of communication through which they were gathered. In person, people are less likely to admit that they’ve fallen on hard times. With the anonymity of the internet protecting them, it’s far easier to click “yes” and admit that your business has seen better days.

However, what’s mostly at work is that agricultural suppliers really are doing well. Unfortunately, the lion’s share of metalcasting markets isn’t as successful, and the net result is an industry that is feeling the pinch of the slowdown. But it’s always nice to visit those ag guys, who think the R-word is “revitalization.”

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