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On the Hunt for Zamak Treasure

In April, clever Seattle puzzle enthusiasts went on a clue-led hunt for treasure in the Emerald City Search. Their object of desire: a medallion cast in ZAMAK by Seattle-based metal casting company Morel Industries, owned by Steve and Mark Morel. First person to find the medallion in the week-long search won a year’s worth of cultural experiences in the city, totaling nearly $9,000.
 
The theme for this year’s Emerald City Search was the 1962 World’s Fair held in Seattle, and the organizers of the puzzle hunt were tickled to discover Morel Industries had ties to the fair. The owner’s grandfather Leon Morel had cast several large bronze pieces for it, including a well-known fountain sculpture in front of the Intiman Theatre.
 
You can read more about the Emerald City Search hunt–which sounds like a blast for the Robert Langdon in you–here.
 
According to emeraldcitysearch.org, an engraver etched the art into machined blanks, which were used to create the molds. The end result is impressive.


Metalcasting Industry Ready to Lead Again

At last week’s annual North American Metalcasting Congress, the mood was more than just optimistic. Folks were ready to become involved again or for the first time. For the last few years, metalcasters have been keeping their heads down, casting to the grinding wheel, striving to make it past the last recession in one, solvent piece.

Last year, everyone caught their breath. This year, they are ready to start thinking long-term again.

Most of my discussions with attendees at the Metalcasting Congress in Columbus, Ohio, last week centered on businesses’ and individuals’ plans for more investment in methods to improve operations, more research and development of casting technology, more involvement in industry committees and organizations, more metrics and analysis applied to pricing and cost estimating, and more emphasis on safety and ergonomics.

It was refreshing to hear the renewed vigor in everyone’s voices now that the value of investing in the health of the industry is considered to be worth the time, effort and talent. I think it could be an indication of great metalcasting advancements coming on the horizon.


Share the Love

When Olson Aluminum was looking to expand, it sent out a team to visit metalcasting facilities using the equipment and technologies it was considering installing in its facility in Rockford, Ill. The ability to see the equipment in a production environment helped Olson Aluminum’s staff visualize how to set up their own new molding operation.

In nearly every conversation I’ve had with metalcasters who recently expanded or made a significant capital investment, visits to other foundries were key to making their purchasing decisions. Sometimes it’s tough to let others in to sniff around your operation—there’s uneasiness in sharing solutions you feel give you an advantage over your competitors. But sharing is needed to advance the industry and put everyone in a better position to make money.

One related foundry story has stuck with me over the past several years. With less than a year as foundry manager under his belt, Kevin Leffew was tasked with researching and facilitating the installment of a complete new stainless steel nobake line at Urschel Laboratories’ captive facility. He grabbed the Casting Source Directory and started cold calling metalcasters pouring stainless steel to ask them for advice. Lucky for him, the advice came pouring in.

“I found this industry is the absolute best for quality people,” Leffew said back in 2007.

Take a look at the Foundry and Diecaster group forum on LinkedIn. The advice, industry experiences, and offers of help abound.

The metalcasting industry is full of knowledgeable individuals who understand sharing solutions and ideas doesn’t make their company weaker, but it does make the industry stronger. Are you planning on a major investment, having trouble with process control, or trying to decide on a mold cooling method? Ask your peers. And if you have insight that can help advance your fellow casters—share it.   

--by Shannon Wetzel, digital managing editor


These Shoes Weren't Made for Walkin'

British designer Tom Dixon designed shoes cast in aluminum with copper or black powder coating.

The shoes resemble a classic English style and are equipped with several fine details, including crease and wear lines. The collection may be available for production later this fall, but those details are not yet final, according to a fashion trends blog.

It’s a new spin on a classic design.  But, don’t expect to be walking around in freshly-cast shoes anytime soon—they would be terribly uncomfortable.

by: Jillian Knuerr, Assistant Editor


Cast in a Starring Roll

Metalcasting has very little to do with the movies, but their paths do cross from time to time on my desktop while Google searching “casting” news items. A search for “iron casting” will undoubtedly return an article about who’s starring in the next Iron Man movie. Our twitter account has a handful of followers who are hopeful actors looking for a breakthrough role.

Once or twice a year, however, a casting reference in the same sentence as “actors” truly points to the manufacturing process. Every February, a story pops up about the Oscar statuette cast at R.S. Owens, Chicago. Tonight, Chicago Tonight is even airing a segment about how the trophies are made. Some might say the foundry on the North Side is the most important casting agency in show business.

Another metalcasting/cinema marriage turned up this week. It seems this play on words has been turned into a play. “Centennial Casting,” written by Gino Dilorio and Nancy Bleemer, gives us the story of a metalcasting facility owner who often receives headshots from actors mistakenly believing his business is a casting agency. Smitten by one woman’s photo, the metalcaster holds a sham casting call to meet her. The play has been produced in various theaters since 2006. It’s now running through March 18 at the Seven Angels Theater for those of you in the Waterbury, Conn., area.

The stars have aligned this week for metalcasters. Feel free to go Hollywood a little—add a swagger to your step, demand your office be stocked with M&Ms and champagne, and take the time to thank everyone who helped you before you made it big.

--by Shannon Wetzel, digital managing editor

 


Metalcasting a Leader in Establishing Standards

When we talk about the metalcasting industry’s past, we’re talking millennia. It’s no wonder little-known aspects of this rich history are brought to our attention out of the blue from time to time.

And so it was when this nugget from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) came across my desk. Apparently, the metalcasting industry led the way in making materials safe for use on critical systems like the railways.

According to NIST’s Measures for Progress: A History of the National Bureau of Standards, “in 1905…the American Foundrymen’s Association turned over to the Bureau its work of preparing and distributing samples of standardized irons to its member industries.” This became the basis for the first-ever standard reference materials, “well-characterized, homogenous materials with specific physical and chemical properties.”

Such standards are still used today to ensure metalcasters and their customers agree on the products they exchange. For the most part, that means faulty parts like fractured cast iron wheels are history.

-Shea Gibbs, MODERN CASTING Managing Editor


Cast Bronze Football Trophies

 

A special group of trophies was handed out this year after the Superbowl. Beyond the Vince Lombardi and MVP trophies was a special, cast bronze and walnut trophy that was handed out to NFL owners as a thank you for making the season happen, according to an article in the Bangor Daily News.

These special trophies were hand-crafted from a small, 17-employee investment casting facility in Hiram, Maine. New England Casting has a variety of previous work under its belt, ranging from jewelry to turbine engine parts to medical surgical tools.

“We’re a little company in Maine with few employees doing quite remarkable things,” Walter Butler, president of New England Castings, told the Bangor Daily News.

The trophies are bronze footballs inlaid with walnut. Each is individually marked, with the name of the receiver cast into the material, rather than engraved. The company produced 20 of the castings, with a total project time of six weeks.


 

Jillian Knuerr, Assistant Editor  


Manufacturing Stars in Super Bowl Commercials

With manufacturing and jobs hot topics in the current elections, it was not surprising to see a healthy representation of American manufacturing in last night’s Super Bowl commercials.

General Electric aired two spots focusing on its appliances and energy-generation products and the people and facilities that make them. GE is a well-known casting customer—I’ve seen parts headed for its various applications on many a foundry visit.

Hyundai’s Rocky-themed commercial depicted an engineer struggling with a component design and encouraged by a chorus of Hyundai assembly plant workers, office peers and car salespeople. Was that a cast wheel I spotted in the engineer’s cubicle?

Chrysler’s Imported From Detroit ad featuring Clint Eastwood includes shots of large furnaces full of molten metal and assembly line workers building Chrysler vehicles. The automaker has made significant investments in its North American manufacturing plants as a whole in the last two years, including $27.2 million to its Etobicoke Casting Plant in Toronto and more than $300 million in its Kokomo, Ind., transmission plants, which includes a separate casting operation.

--by Shannon Wetzel, digital managing editor


Casting Buyers Sound Off

I had the opportunity to be a fly on the wall at a recent casting purchasing roundtable, and boy was it eye-opening. I knew metalcasters were passionate about castings, but these ladies and gentlemen have put as much thought into the metalcasting industry as anyone. Following is a look at a few things they had to say.

On industry capitalization:

  • “Most industries that were at 90% of capacity would be capitalizing like crazy.”
  • “With the recent industry growth, why are metalcasters not embarking on modernization?”
  • “I was recently in Brazil. They are recapitalizing and becoming competitive.”
  • “Metalcasters think, why capitalize for 5% ROI when the buyers are making several times that.”

On a lack of capacity:

  • “There isn’t a capacity problem if the relationships exist.”
  • “We don’t get responses to many of our requests for quote. The only way we can ensure we get the castings we need is if we have relationships already in place.”
  • “Many OEMs are forced to look outside the country because of a lack of capacity.”

On surcharges:

  • “Some metalcasters want to start surcharging for sand. You can’t surcharge everything that is variable. If you do, what’s the point of a base price?”

On foreign sourcing:

  • “Foundries need to think of new ways to add value, like vendor-managed inventory, to gain on their competition. This is the type of stuff that drives us back across the pond. “
  • “Most domestic sources have no appetite for taking control of the whole supply chain.”
  • “Tooling prices are increasing rapidly. Some metalcasters may need to move this in-house to become more competitive.”

—Shea Gibbs, MODERN CASTING Managing Editor


Will Expansions Keep Coming?

Take a look at the top stories on our web page this week. Two new foundry expansions, a new casting facility launch and a major new program won. It’s a stark contrast to where this industry was two years ago, and our recent forecast indicates we should see more good news in the next five years. The industry’s capacity shrank, but as manufacturing is seeing growth, much of that capacity must return.

What’s the outlook for your company over the next five years? Have you started planning for expansion or other investments to increase your capacity? Right now, MODERN CASTING is surveying North American metalcasters to hear what their purchasing plans are for 2012.

If you haven’t taken the survey, please do.  The results of the survey will offer a gauge of the industry’s level of confidence in the economy. We’re interested to see if the positive news releases and our personal discussions with industry folks match companies' individual growth plans. Can the end-users in the manufacturing industry count on their casting suppliers to muster up the capacity needed to fuel continued growth? 
 

--Shannon Wetzel, Digital Managing Editor


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