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Offense and Defense

Football season has come and gone, but one of the principal aspects of the sport applies to business advocacy, as well. Football is a game of both offense and defense; a team that hopes to advance to the Super Bowl better be adept at both parts of the game.

The same has applied in the serious world of business advocacy. Businesses such as metalcasting are influenced heavily by public policy, and often for the negative. Regulations are frequently more sweeping and costly than necessary or advisable. Tax policies may discourage investment and hiring.

Permitting processes tend to slow many projects to a crawl. AFS, which has an active advocacy program on behalf of the metalcasting industry, has long had to devote a lot of resources to playing defense against such policies. Sometimes, as in the case of OSHA’s silica rule, we have even had to sue our own government.

Over the past eight years, the opportunities to play offense were few and far between. True enough, there were some important victories, such as the multi-year transportation infrastructure law and a tax package that included a permanent research and development credit. But most of the positive aspects of the AFS agenda were stuck in neutral.

Following the November elections, there is a new interest in Washington in advancing policies that encourage investment, economic opportunity, and business growth. AFS has been in touch with the Trump administration and every congressional office, emphasizing that the time is right for our policy agenda.

That agenda includes reducing regulatory burdens, implementing pro-growth tax reform, strict enforcement of trade laws, investment in infrastructure, smarter future rulemaking, maintaining a strong national defense, restoring voluntary programs at OSHA and EPA, and expanding domestic energy production.

The new opportunities to play offense don’t mean that we can let down our guard on defense. But they do mean that for the first time in eight years, a more positive business climate for the $30.3 billion metalcasting industry is possible. I invite all Modern Casting readers to join us in Washington, D.C. on June 20-21 as we stand together as an industry for a Government Affairs blitz in the nation’s capital.

Advocacy is one of the three pillars of the AFS vision, alongside education and innovation.

Click here to see this story as it appears in Modern Casting.


Flip the Calendar

Come January, it always takes me a couple weeks to get used to writing the new year when I’m signing something, writing a check or dating a letter. I know it’s not 2016 anymore, but by habit there I’ll scribble it, then cross it out and correct it. 

We do a lot of things by habit or routine in work and at home. It makes us efficient and frees up brain space to think about other non-rote things. We don’t need to process how to accomplish a task; the steps have already been mapped out, memorized and engaged.

Pulling together an issue of Modern Casting is the result of routines. Weekly editorial meetings. Daily check-ins. Standard deadlines, copyediting processes, and page design procedures. Before each issue, the magazine team does not have to answer the question, “How do we go about making a magazine? The template has been established.

But as helpful as habit and routine are, like 2016, eventually they become outdated. When that happens, quality—of life or product—suffers.

Because it’s the first month of a new year, January is when many of us think about a fresh start, as trite as that sounds. Fresh starts are needed. The last 12 months have some baggage and they will continue to load us down until we remember to flip to the next year. Perhaps it was the sale that took forever to close or position that could never stay filled or a bottleneck that was perpetually delaying delivery.

This is a good time to examine what continues to work well and what doesn’t. Sometimes, difficult projects are one-offs and just need to be let go. Other times they are signs that the current routine needs to be re-evaluated. So either move on or start figuring out a new way of accomplishing your goal. Don’t keep writing 2016 when it is 2017.

I invite you to share ways you or your company has created an improved routine by emailing me at swetzel@afsinc.org. And because Modern Casting is always looking for a fresh perspective, please send along your thoughts on what you’d like to see in the magazine.

Have a happy New Year.

Click here to see this story as it appears in MODERN CASTING.


Manage Your Time

Time management is one of the biggest issues facing employees and employers today. Whether it’s because of a growing list of tasks, increasingly complicated duties, non-work problems that need to be taken care of, or just an inability to get off Twitter or Facebook during business hours, it feels like managing those precious minutes gets harder by the month for anybody who has even a modicum of responsibility during work.

In his book “Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time,” New York Times bestselling author Rory Vaden writes knowingly and seems all too familiar with time crunches. He spells out in plain language ways to make your time matter more, and how not to waste it with surprisingly simple and intuitive ideas.

(Not that it matters, but the title of the book is ironic and catchy. It’s not iconic like “Steal This Book,” but certainly memorable.)

To get his points across to the reader, Vaden breaks up his advice into five “permissions” on what he calls a “Focus Funnel.” They are:
• Eliminate: The Permission to Ignore.
• Automate: The Permission to Invest.
• Delegate: The Permission of Imperfect.
• Procrastinate: The Permission of Incomplete.
• Concentrate: The Permission to Protect.

All of these ideas have value and Vaden gets them across impressively efficiently. The part that had the most relevance for me (of course, your mileage may vary) was on concentration. I have a habit of, well, wasting time until I need to get on deadline and have to accomplish something. Sometimes that means I’m rushing a lot more than I should be. And even though I end up getting things done, it’s more stressful than necessary.

It turns out, this is healthy, albeit in the reverse. In the chapter that focuses on this topic, Vaden goes into detail about working double-time at the start of a task when necessary, so you can have free time later. He also effectively mentioned farmers and how they harvest when they have to harvest, that at times there’s nothing they can do to avoid it and how it has to be a priority for them.

(Trust me, this makes sense in the context of the book.)

In general, “Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time” is a valuable book for any professional who struggles with managing their precious minutes. I certainly fall into that category and will take many of the lessons with me as I continue my writing. And maybe I’ll be more efficient on my next deadline.  

Click here to see this story as it appears in MODERN CASTING.


Time to Boost Economic Growth

In the late 1990s, dot-com companies that had yet to generate a profit were trading at astronomical valuations. Traditional measures like price-to-earning ratios, we were told, were obsolete in an era when eyeballs and clicks were the metrics du jour. It didn’t take long, though, for the market to crash. It turned out the longstanding investment rules developed by the likes of Benjamin Graham and Phillip Fisher were timeless and trusty, not outdated and crusty.

Over the past eight years, there has been another “new normal.” Over that time, the U.S. has failed to enjoy even a single year of 3% economic growth. Not surprisingly, this lackluster performance has led to diminished economic opportunity and tax revenues. Even as the unemployment rate gradually inched back to 4.9 percent, the numbers of people who dropped out of the workforce has been staggering.

This has been the slowest economic recovery over the last 75 years. Some people have bought into the argument that we are destined to perpetual growth rates of 1 to 2 percent. Yet, this seeming new normal need not be a permanent reality. With the right public policies, robust growth is again possible. With that growth would come more demand for products that contain cast metals, as well as other goods and services. Better opportunities for entrepreneurs, and more jobs would also result. In a phrase, a better future.

AFS is waging an aggressive effort to improve the public policies that affect the casting industry. We have taken OSHA to court over its crystalline silica rule, and are a part of separate litigation against EPA over its “clean power” and ozone rules. Our tax system has created an uncertain environment that hinders our industry’s ability to compete, and AFS is therefore advocating tax reform. Metalcasters face trade challenges from trade-distorting policies and practices abroad, and AFS is advocating a more aggressive trade policy to combat these practices to strengthen our manufacturing base.

AFS is also encouraging Congress and the Trump administration to make a commitment to long-overdue investments in infrastructure. Over 30 percent of casting production goes into infrastructure—accounting for 3 million annual tons of castings. Finally, AFS is opposing a recent Treasury Department draft rule that would remove legitimate valuation practices for estate, gift, and generation-skipping taxes.

On the workforce development front, a total of 38 classroom classes have been redesigned over the last several years. AFS is now offering e-learning that makes metalcasting industry talent development more affordable and convenient than ever.

AFS is also playing a leading role in technology development and transfer, which positions the casting industry to meet the ever-evolving technology needs of its customers for many years to come.

Click here to see this story as it appears in Modern Casting


Finding the Fun

Each October the last few years, our office has hosted an event for National Manufacturing Day.

Manufacturing Day’s goal is to celebrate careers in manufacturing and share with the community and students how these industries support our economy. It’s a chance for companies to share what they do with the public. Your organization might even hold an event. We host an open house with a hands-on metalcasting demonstration.

Man, it is fun.

In your jobs, the pressure is on to deliver safe, economic, and attractive parts, and it may not feel like any fun much of the time. Manufacturing Day is the chance to take a break from the deadlines and show others what you thought was so enjoyable about manufacturing and metalcasting in the first place.

Designing something, making a part that has a purpose in the world, is gratifying. The smiles on grade-school kids’ faces after pouring their first small casting is proof of that.

This issue of Modern Casting shares the 2016 AFS Hoyt Lecture from Richard Gundlach. Gundlach dives deep into the science of cast components and their properties with the vigor of someone who truly relishes the topic. For a lighter read, we’ve also included an article giving a glimpse of castings we rely on in the winter, from skiing to snow plowing. 

Once again this past October, AFS and Modern Casting held an open house, and I enjoyed seeing the community and students learn and be excited about the metalcasting industry.

Even more, I like watching those from the industry explain metalcasting and the opportunities it offers as a career and a manufacturing method.

If you are looking for an audience to share what your company is making or how you are solving your customer’s problems, you’ve found the place. Not all projects are headaches—let us know what’s got you smiling.

Click here to see this story as it appears in Modern Casting


Leading Where?

In the book “You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader,” author Mark Sanborn tries to lay out how anybody in any company can be a leader, regardless of shiny title, fancy business card or even a large salary. He does this by not following a single narrative, but brief vignette after brief vignette after brief vignette after...

Well, you get the point.

This isn’t really a knock against Sanborn, but his writing style in this very brief book of 102 pages didn’t help me to see what he was trying to get across. As I read this book, I kept waiting for repeated extended narratives (even one that would be a few pages), where I could see how somebody took some of the lessons in this book and improved their career and also the life of the business where they work. At least for me, that would give me time to see some parallels in my life and career, and perhaps see how they could be applied to make things even better for myself and my employers.

There are a couple very strong examples of this, and I won’t ruin them, but a few more would have been helpful for the reader.

That said, there are reasons to pick up this book.

Though it didn’t do much for me, Sanborn’s writing style could be helpful if you’re not looking for one story but numerous small snippets and examples of lessons. He breaks down his theory into “six principles of leadership” and then pings rapid-fire stories at the reader one after another.

Some valuable lessons can be learned in the pages of this book. Perhaps the most important is a very early passage in the book. It reads “It doesn’t matter what your position is, or how long you’ve worked at your job, whether you help to run your family, a PTA committee, or a Fortune 500 company. Anyone at any level can learn to be a leader and help to shape or influence the world around them.”

That’s pretty good, and something every employee of every company should take to heart. The six principles also provide value and the snippets do bring strong advice and tips. One that is especially strong is the chapter on the power of persuasive communication. During the nine-page section, Sanborn highlights how to communicate effectively, and stresses the importance of word selection.

In the end, there is a value to reading this book. Leadership is a tricky thing to define. It’s not tangible, and probably falls into the “you know it when you see it” category, and Sanborn does go a long way in illuminating some very helpful and important tactics. They are tactics that may seem obvious but aren’t, and they are tactics that are surprisingly easy to implement.

Click here to see this story as it appears in Modern Casting


Looking Forward for Metalcasters

Regardless of the results of the upcoming Presidential, Senate, and House elections, the next several years will bring significant changes to the metalcasting industry. The American Foundry Society (AFS)—led by President Jeff Cook of Eagle Alloy and an engaged Board of Directors, and ably supported by more than 800 volunteers and an excellent professional staff—is working aggressively to lead the industry through the changes.

Ours is a $28 billion industry, built mostly around small and mid-size businesses (both foundries and suppliers). The regulatory environment is unfriendly, as OSHA, EPA and other agencies continue to generate unnecessarily burdensome new regulations. That makes policy advocacy even more important.

As an industry, we employ more than 200,000 people in the U.S., and many more across North America. Many longtime metalcasting workers from the baby boomer generation will soon be retiring, taking with them vast amounts of knowledge and experience. That makes talent acquisition and development even more important.

Metalcasters are experts at making complex metal components and offering them at reasonable prices. In a dynamic marketplace, customer expectations in terms of light-weighting of metals, casting design and performance, and pricing continue to evolve. That means innovation and technical advances are even more important.

Those three priorities—advocacy, education, and innovation—form the three pillars of the AFS vision.

In the area of advocacy, AFS has a Washington office fighting for your interests on more than 25 policy issues. Not the least of those issues is OSHA’s scientifically unsound silica rule. AFS has taken OSHA to court, and hopes, at the least, to win changes in the rule. Enforcement is slated to begin in June 2018. A court decision is not expected until mid-2017, so in the interim, AFS is helping metalcasters understand their obligations. A recent silica webinar set a new AFS record for participation, and a two-day compliance workshop is slated for Nov. 9-10 in Schaumburg, Illinois.

AFS is also advocating for the industry by helping purchasers and designers realize the value of castings. The Metal Casting Supply Chain Summit in February and the Metal Casting Design and Purchasing magazine are channels for this work. AFS is helping educators and students understand the industry through Foundry-in-a-Box and the new Melting Point magazine.

In the area of education and workforce development, the AFS Institute has introduced 38 newly designed classroom courses. AFS also now offers unlimited access to a growing curriculum of metalcasting-related e-learning modules at special introductory rates. Further, a highly informative Human Resources and Labor Relations Conference is planned for Feb. 1-3 in Clearwater Beach, Florida.

To foster innovation, AFS is working to bolster the impact of its research endeavors, boost participation in technical committees, build on the success of the Casting Connection engagement community, provide the best technical publications, and consult with metalcasting businesses on technical issues. Some owners and managers tell me they view today’s challenges as opportunities to shape a better future and be ready when the market for castings becomes uniformly stronger. I have been pleased to see the level of determination to persevere on the part of many industry leaders. This was evident at the Foundry Executive Conference in Utah, where attendance was up 25% and the Environmental, Health and Safety Conference in Milwaukee, where attendance also increased.

That determination to achieve success is also evident each month in the pages of Modern Casting, where readers are exposed to stories about metalcasters achieving success in a changing marketplace. I trust you will enjoy this month’s issue, and I welcome your suggestions regarding Modern Casting and AFS.

Click here to see this story as it appears in Modern Casting


Ownership in Innovation

During a visit this summer to Saguenay Foundry (Saguenay, Quebec, Canada), which is featured in this issue on page 18, I was struck with how modern the place is. It wasn't because shiny new equipment recently had been installed, flat screens hung on the walls or robotic cells were humming in production (although robots were present). It felt modern because management strategically sought out how technology could advance processes and business while also being mindful of the development needed for personnel to grow into leaders within the company.

These two facets of business management have cropped up in conversations repeatedly over the last couple of months, and they are critical to how the metalcasting industry will push for innovation in the next 10 years.
The need for innovation in the industry's processes seems a given, but where do we focus that innovation? It will depend on your own business and niche, and Saguenay Foundry's story proves tech development isn't only for automotive and aerospace companies.  You can use technology in smarter patternmaking, casting design, maintenance, and scheduling, for starters.    

A few of our contributors are exploring how metalcasting facilities can benchmark the ways they use technology compared to other facilities. The idea is not for metalcasters to strive for a laundry list of ultra-modern technological principles, but to gain inspiration for where you might next implement a new technical tool.

A company constantly watching technology and considering how that can improve its operations will attract and keep an engaged workforce. This has proven itself at Saguenay Foundry, as it is fostering a new generation of leadership through young shareholders who are given opportunities to steer tech developments.

Ownership in the process is a main tenet of Sara Joyce's article on team building on page 24.  

"You can have the best equipment, best technology and best processes," Joyce writes, "But without the people they mean nothing."

Empowering employees to explore solutions to problems is a sure way to drive innovation.

One of MODERN CASTING's goals is to share as many stories from metalcasters like you to provide inspiration to the rest of the industry. My favorite part of the job might be visiting operations in person and seeing the innovative ways the industry has met its customer's needs. The staff here looks forward to sharing more of these stories with you in the months and years ahead. If you have a story, let us know.


Thank You, Goodbye & Good Luck

Click here to see this article as it appears in Modern Casting.

It is with a heavy heart that I pen this last editorial for Modern Casting. By the time you read this column, I will have left the magazine to pursue a new career.  After 19 years in metalcasting, a new challenge awaits me.

So let me start by thanking you, our loyal readers of Modern Casting.  Many of you have let me into your metalcasting facilities—your homes—so I can better understand the process, the technology and the metalcasting mindset.  I have visited hundreds of metalcasters across the globe and every one of you taught me something.  Your wisdom is what made me believe I was a metalcaster.

Goodbyes are always difficult.  We all invest sweat equity in our professions. But I can leave knowing that metalcasting is in its best position for success since I joined the industry in 1997.  While global competition isn’t going anywhere and our customers may always first think of castings as commodities, your efforts to educate and advocate for metalcasting are taking hold. Customers are understanding the value metal castings bring to the table. The next generation is looking to manufacturing and metalcasting more than ever before.  And society as a whole is looking to manufacturing as more of a solution than a problem.

But the advancement of metalcasting is not done.  Everyone is always looking to do things better, faster and stronger.  Additive manufacturing is changing the way all metalcasting conducts business.  While you have been one of the early and significant adopters of this technology from its first appearances in the 1990s to its full development today, newer and better technologies and processes await to steal the headlines as the wave of the future.


That is the challenge that awaits you.  You must be the drivers that move the industry forward because no one else is going to do it for you.  As business owners, entrepreneurs, manufacturing leaders, quality gurus and marketing professionals, this is the opportunity you must savor.  I have looked many of you in the eye and seen your passion for metalcasting.  Keep that fire burning and continue to apply it to advancing your business.


I truly wish you good luck as you continue to battle in the trenches. Metalcasting is the backbone of manufacturing, our economy and society.  The next generation is beginning to understand that fact and we can carry that understanding into the future.


Be proud of who you are and what you accomplish every day.  Creating engineered cast metal components from scrap and raw materials is an awesome accomplishment that few people in this world will ever truly understand.

Thank you, goodbye and good luck.


Impact on Society

We know metalcasting is a critical tool that helps advance our society.  From health care to space exploration to energy distribution to you name it, metal castings are a part of the machinery that allows us to reach new heights and make the world a better place.

Yes, this is flowery language and a bit grandiose. But it is true and makes me proud to be a part of this industry. Great examples of these successes include castings being used to replace human body parts (as read in the December 2015 Modern Casting) and castings used to make peanut butter accessible and affordable in the poorest areas of Africa (March 2014).

In this issue, we highlight a different segment of society in which metalcasting is trying to make a new impact. On p. 22 in the feature, “Casting a Solution for Football,” we examine a new design for the face masks of football helmets. These new designs utilize a metal casting instead of a weldment as the foundation of the face mask.  Based on preliminary tests, these new designs and manufacturing methods might help reduce concussions in our country’s most popular sport.

In initial testing, the cast face mask reportedly dissipates the energy from a collision better than a fabrication, resulting in a 25-30% reduction in the severity index, which means less energy being transferred to the head (and brain) of the player.  With the lifelong ramifications of concussions in sports becoming more understood, advancements such as this one are absolute necessities if our society continues to support playing sports like football, hockey and lacrosse.

While this advancement in sports face masks isn’t a giant leap forward, it is a success for the industry to hang its hat on. The incremental advancements are the foundation we must use to build our customer relationships. Can we thin the walls and design in a few holes to reduce the weight on that casting by 10%? Can we cast in that passageway to eliminate that extra machining step? Can we increase the strength of that aluminum component by 20% through metallurgical engineering to ensure it withstands a crash impact test?

Not every customer is going to accept the advancement metalcasting provides. Change is difficult for all of us.  But metalcasting provides you the power to make change happen every day.  Whether it is incremental or a giant leap forward, embrace the opportunity to impact society.

Click here to see this article as it appears in Modern Casting.


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