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What's Your Holy Grail?

The saying that the more you know the more you don't know has rung particularly true for me in these last two weeks. I spent one day at a manufacturer's exhibition alongside industry veteran Mark Morel, Morel Industries, Seattle, who spoke to each inquisitive soul with commanding knowledge about whether their part could be cast, should be cast, in what process and what alloy. Then this week, I sat in on an iron metallography testing workshop delving into the minutia of iron metallurgy, chemical analysis and microstructure. When I first began writing for Modern Casting eight years ago, I was aware I didn't know anything about the industry. But with each new nugget of information learned and understood, I am opened up to 50 times more metalcasting knowledge I have yet to process.

Of course, this concept is not new, but it hit home for me the necessity of continuing a quest for education, whether through mentoring, classroom training, workshops, or job shadowing.

With this importance in mind, AFS and its Institute has launched a new initiative to update its courses with new content and formats as well as add new classes to meet industry needs. These classes range from entry level to advanced and have been designed to be shorter, more interactive and more practical for the adult student who can take the ideas learned in class and apply them directly to the job. Maybe they can find the answer to why they keep producing a certain defect or how to improve casting throughput with processing software.

But knowledge is gained in more ways than in a classroom, and this is where mentoring is key. In a recent visit to O'Fallon Casting, O'Fallon, Mo., General Manager Vince Gimeno pointed out all the new technology the company has added in the last five years. He mentioned O'Fallon puts its young engineers and managers in charge of many of the projects, so they can exercise and develop their own inventive muscles--a skill strongly needed when they are the ones running the whole company.

The quest to fill the ever expanding black hole of the unknown is where innovation is born, so saddle up and start seeking.


Honk if You Love Castings

Metalcaster

ftfasilsmI was given an up-close tour of my car’s brake assemblies the other day.  It gave me a new reason to appreciate metalcasting professionals—and professional mechanics, one of whom said I’m lucky to be alive.

I took that as a joke.

But, for the sake of argument, it’s all thanks to the quality and performance of the brake rotors, wheel bearings and calipers that were dutifully clinging to their last moments of serviceable use. After more than 10 years on mean city streets, bad brake lines were the culprit. The brake drums merely needed to be remachined, no doubt thanks to the quality standards of the metalcaster who supplied them.  You saved me a few hundred, and possibly much more.  

I frequent a reputable shop, and I’ll take their word on that.


Let's Be Frank

Dollar Dollar Bills You All

This year’s AFS Hoyt Memorial Lecture was given by Gene Muratore, Rio Tinto Iron America, during CastExpo’13 in St. Louis, and since then I’ve been mulling over several of his points, particularly one in which he compared the salary of a recent college grad with a liberal arts degree vs. the salary of a recent college grad working in a metalcasting facility, which is generally significantly greater.

My background’s in writing—not metalcasting, so I’m a liberal arts grad. But that degree was paid for in large part by summer jobs I held in industry (paper and food packaging). These jobs paid several dollars per hour more than the available office and retail jobs; I was able to save more and accrue less student loan debt.

Why isn’t pay in manufacturing jobs—including those in the metalcasting industry, salaried and hourly—talked about more? The general feeling seems to be doctors, lawyers and brokers make the big bucks, teachers, accountants and public workers make middle class wages, and those in the manufacturing industry are the working class living paycheck to paycheck.

How can we change that perception? Would young high school and college students be more inclined to consider a career in metalcasting if they knew how much they could make? I think so. When you go to career days or host school groups, do you only talk about the job requirements?  Don’t these students deserve someone to tell them, frankly, “You will make twice as much money here than as a librarian”?

Construction is backbreaking work, but the guys in my high school knew it paid well. Why didn’t they know that about manufacturing?

I would not have thought of applying for my factory jobs without a push from my dad, who would not have thought of it without a conversation with a member of our church. Once I learned the pay, it was a no-brainer.

We can be shy or coy about pay. Let’s not be. It’s one of the industry’s strongest recruiting advantages.      


Manufacturing Has Been Here the Whole Time

It’s not hard to find an article online today about manufacturing’s return to the U.S. But to borrow a turn of phrase from the musician Prince, whoever is claiming they are bringing manufacturing back: manufacturing never left.

The attention to the industry is nice, and the hopefully helpful policies being set in place during this push for American manufacturing have been a long time coming. But one of the struggles of manufacturing and metalcasting has been to recruit qualified, dedicated workers to industry. The public perception that America is making a big push for the return of manufacturing holds with it some connotation that it is a risky industry to be in. After all, what if that push for a return, fails?

But manufacturing is not a startup company, nor is it an industry on its last legs. Potential new employees, particularly those considering a new career or a career change, need to be reassured the U.S. metalcasting industry can provide decades of job security.  So, when you are talking with your peers, the media, high school and college students, here are some facts about the state of the metalcasting industry to keep on hand:

  • The U.S. metalcasting industry employs more than 200,000.
  • The U.S. is the global leader in casting application and ranks second in casting production.
  • The U.S. produces 12 million tons of castings annually at a value of more than $30 billion.
  • Metalcasting has been an important facet of American manufacturing since before the Declaration of Independence was signed.
  • It’s true some casting production was moved offshore starting in the late ‘90s, but that seems to  have plateaued in 2007, and since then casting imports have remained relatively stable at about 22%.

It doesn’t hurt to add facts about your own facility—how long has it been in business? What do you make? Who do you employ? How many of those receive benefits?

Manufacturing is having a resurgence in public opinion. Let’s remind the public of manufacturing’s longevity.


Reaching the Next Generation Metalcaster

In another attempt to reach out to youngsters and spark their interest in metalcasting, AFS recently published a webpage devoted to just that. It is great for casters looking to reach out to their community or participate in school outreach programs. It is also a resource to explain to family and friends exactly what it is you do every day at work.

What’s neat about the page? It brings together multimedia resources designed to inform and excite those new to the industry. Some of the resources include:

  • The PBS special Spotlight on Metalcasting: This video was originally created for the Public Broadcast Station (PBS) and provides a rundown of the metalcasting industry from what is it to what products it produces.
  • An industry profile portion that includes demographics, production and application information, and metalcasting history.
  • A history of Foundry in a Box and information on how to order. This hands-on tool allows interested casters of all ages to dig in and create their own metal casting. 
  • A reusable Power Point presentation titled Metalcasting: Who We Are.

The wide array of resources that are great for elementary, high school and college students, making it easier to become more involved with new potential casters.


Casting With a Conscience

While hunting for a business management book to review for my next Novel Solutions column, I came across “Conscious Capitalism” by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia about businesses working toward a goal of making money as well as providing a higher good for society. I was about to brush it off for being touchy-feely, when several instances of metalcasting companies practicing conscious capitalism came effortlessly to mind. The book cites Whole Foods and Patagonia, but less trendy names in our realm of the universe are just as up to speed.

From Bremen Casting Inc.’s onsite health clinic to Sivyer Steel’s “Going Green Initiative” to EMSCO’s recognition for supporting a Naval Reservist employee, examples of companies in the metalcasting industry acting not just on an economic level but on a humanitarian level abound. In visits to plants throughout the year, I find businesses that are committed to employee safety and health, serious about reducing their environmental footprint and eager to support their community.

When asked what makes their company successful, nine times out of ten, executives in this industry will answer, “the people.” It seems cliché, but it’s that belief that buoys a company’s conscious policies. It is touchy-feely, but maybe that’s a necessary part of capitalism. 

I haven’t read the book yet, but I did buy it. I wonder how the metalcasting industry will stack up.


Keep Those Home Fires Burning

Metalcaster

backyardmetalcasting.com

Here’s an entertaining website for those who love metalcasting and just don’t get enough of it at work: backyardmetalcasting.com

DIY hobbyists can try small-scale casting techniques in their own backyards (and at their own risk).  Some of the casting equipment projects featured include flowerpot and coffee can furnaces, a mini iron melting cupola, homemade refractories and aluminum flask building. 

Have fun and don’t forget to wear your safety gear!


Collaboration Isn’t Just for Customers

Blog photo 11.20.12

Our editorials and blogs often preach about the need for casting customers to reach out to their metalcasting suppliers to establish a partnership in which both parties can benefit from design and engineering collaboration. Some of the onus for collaboration must fall on the casting supplier, as well.

In the last couple of months, I’ve spoken at length with three end-users from three different industries on real casting projects that were made possible and/or profitable thanks to collaboration with their casting supplier. Two of these instances were casting conversions, and two were unique rapid tooling developments. (One was both). The customers’ approach to these projects is commendable, from the initial creative spark to try out something new and unfamiliar, to the patient development work conducted between metalcasting supplier and customer.

On the flip side, the metalcasters involved in each project were up to the challenge of trying out something new. Many casting suppliers may be satisfied with accepting a finished design and supplying it in the same proven casting method, even if it means higher scrap rates and longer lead times. However, for those who wish to stand out from the group, a niche of casting customers looking for supplier partnerships exists.

In my conversations with the end-users, it was evident the collaboration was mutually beneficial. The customers ended up with casting designs that were less expensive, involved fewer parts, and had lower lead times—all of which gave them an edge over their competition. The metalcasting suppliers cut their own internal defect and machining costs, lowered their lead times, and gained more business and trust from their customers.

As much as we talk about casting end-users needing to be open to input from the metalcasting supplier, when they do approach you for collaboration, will you as metalcasters be ready, willing and able?


Sparking Creation Through Castings

Continuing Education/Training, Metalcaster

In an industry that is constantly conscious of its reputation, it’s nice to see when events in metalcasting appear in national, large-scale news outlets. Even nicer when the event involves the younger generation sparking interest as future casters. The icing on the cake: an AFS Chapter picking up on that spark and working to keep it going.

Recently, Calera High School Engineering Academy pre-engineering teacher Brian Copes was chosen by PEOPLE Magazine as one of five teachers of the year, for the spark he’s ignited among his students. In the classroom, Copes inspires his students to create. Under his direction, they created prosthetic legs from used car parts and even traveled to Honduras to fit amputees with the legs. Another trip is in the works for this summer. Check out PEOPLE Magazine’s article and video on Brian Copes! (begins at 3:24).

The AFS Birmingham Chapter also recently donated a metalcasting kit (Foundry-in-a-Box) to Calera High School, providing students with everything from safety equipment and melting units to crucibles and patterns. Working with local metalcasting facilities, these students have already designed and produced their own castings. With their Foundry-in-a-Box, students can work through each part of the metalcasting process in the comfort of their own classroom.

A big pat on the back to Brian Copes and the AFS Birmingham Chapter for rising above and helping to mold the future generation of metalcasters.



Aces for Missouri S&T

Casting Buyer, Metalcaster, Supplier to Metalcasters

The Metallurgical Lab at Missouri University of Science & Technology, Rolla, Mo., is staffed with qualified, knowledgeable Missouri S&T graduate students as trainers and mentors.  They ensure safe, continued operation of the lab facility, which enhances the hands-on education of those pursuing degrees in Metallurgical Engineering.  

The St. Louis Chapter of the American Foundry Society recently donated $10,000 to the Robert Wolf Foundry Account at Missouri S&T, to support the lab’s continued staffing and operation.  The funds were raised through private donations and supplements from the AFS treasury.  In addition, AFS member organizations contributed by sponsoring holes at the First Annual AFS/Rolla Alumni Golf Tournament held June 1.

“The St. Louis AFS Chapter is pleased to make this contribution to ensure the future talent of our industry personnel, and looks forward to future opportunities to support the endeavors of Missouri University of Science & Technology,” said Tom Rhoads, chairman.

The chapter presented the donation at a joint meeting with Missouri S&T on September 20.  Pictured (l. to r.):  Doug Imrie, Southern Cast; Von Richards, Missouri S&T; Tom Rhoads, American Railcar; Barry Craig, MetalTek; Bill Howells, St. Louis AFS board member.


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