Conveyor Dynamics: Turn slag waste into money. Learn more about our new slag quenching conveyor system.

Developing Passion

In February, seven colleges competed as part of a Great Lakes-area casting competition hosted by the AFS Wisconsin Regional Conference.  Student teams from Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech), Muskegon Community College, Purdue University, University of Northern Iowa, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Platteville and Western Michigan University designed and manufactured an engineered cast component to showcase their capabilities. Serving as a judge for this competition, I had the privilege of talking to each team about their casting and the development process behind their entry.

Through these discussions, the excitement and passion these students had for their projects was evident. These teams utilized additive manufacturing of molds and prototypes, simulation software, computer-aided engineering and design, finite element analysis and CNC machining to complement traditional pattern building, mold making and other casting production techniques.  They engineered and manufactured cast components for customers ranging from other students and university-based facilities to a racing team and a commercial metalcaster.

The criteria for judging each casting entry was focused on: benefits delivered to the casting customer, use of the unique capabilities of the casting process, and quality and workmanship.  Based on these factors, the team from the Univ. of Wisconsin-Platteville came out on top with its three cast part assembly that draws the windows shut at the former personal home and studio (named Taliesin) of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  The team was tasked with producing these historic reproductions as a replacement for the originals, installed in the home
in 1910.

While interviewing each of these student teams, I caught myself reflecting upon my years in school.  Did I have anywhere near the passion toward a potential profession these student groups were showcasing? Then, taking this a step further, how did this passion for metalcasting begin and, subsequently, develop so quickly in these students?

The reality is that the passion (for whatever profession they pursue) is developed differently for every individual.  For some, it is following in the steps of their parents.  For others, it is following in the steps of their idols or what Hollywood has spotlighted for them. Still others are influenced by a teacher or a fellow classmate.

After my interviews for the competition, I thought about what initially sparked my passion for journalism.  It was the movie All the President’s Men. While in high school, I rented it from the video store at the urging of my father (because I had little interest in watching a 20-year-old movie). News reporters were just like spies and secret agents...so cool. That was the profession for me.

Hopefully, a few of those 30-plus students representing those seven schools at the competition are thinking similarly about metallurgy and metalcasting.  This would result in the industry being the real winner.


Industry Wins in Casting Competition

One of my favorite parts of the year is the annual AFS/Metal Casting Design & Purchasing Casting Competition. The submissions start arriving in December and continue rolling in through the first part of February, and it feels a little like Christmas. The castings come from a range of processes, materials and markets but they all have something in common—they illustrate the capabilities of metalcasting technology. 

Many of the submissions are conversions from another manufacturing method and/or material. Some are the result of the adoption of new technology. Others display obvious design engineering skills. 

Judging has not begun yet—we have about a week left to accept submissions, but the crop we have this year appears to be just as exciting and worthy of recognition as the last.  

The casting competition is an important chance to allow the industry to shine a light on its ingenuity, collaborative spirit and customer service. Innovation isn’t only happening at the research level, but in the engineering offices and shop floors, as well. 

Metalcasters are in the business of making better parts for their customers. Sometimes the customers push for improvement; many times metalcasters approach customers with cost-saving ideas. The result just may be the next Casting of the Year.

The 2015 Casting of the Year will be announced in the April issue of Modern Casting and on display at Metalcasting Congress April 21-23 in Columbus, Ohio. In the meantime, browse through all of last year’s casting submissions here.


Patternmaker Sees Potential in Mentoring

It’s been nearly 15 years since Dave Rittmeyer finished his five-year patternmaking apprenticeship with Hoosier Pattern Inc., Decatur, Ind. Progressing from apprentice to shop supervisor to his current position as customer care additive manufacturing manager, he has seen changes in patternmaking and the metalcasting industry as a whole. One troubling trend: the number of patternmakers has decreased.

Whether due to consolidation within the metalcasting industry or shifting economic conditions, many metalcasters and pattern shops are having trouble finding qualified, capable individuals. To combat this growing concern, Rittmeyer was a founding member of the Adams Wells Manufacturing Alliance. The group brings together manufacturers, educators and community leaders in the Decatur area for monthly meetings to work toward improving technical training for skilled trades at the high school level.

“There are many great careers and opportunities available in pattern shops and even machine shops, but we haven’t done the best job of promoting ourselves and recruiting future employees,” Rittmeyer said. “Hoosier Pattern has now taken an active role in promoting ourselves to the local high schools and our prospective employees to show them the opportunities that are offered to them if they take a career path with us.”

In addition to the community outreach, Rittmeyer is involved with Hoosier’s apprenticeship program, of which he was the first graduate a decade and a half ago. The 10,000-hour, 36-credit hour program allows students to rotate through all phases of the pattern shop. An apprentice will cycle through the machining area, benching and rigging department, quality control/assurance and programming and design.

The goal is to produce a fully capable, well-rounded individual. Hoosier has four apprentices at a time, ensuring each receives proper training and instruction. Additionally, three potential apprentices are on the wait list. The industry has a long way to go in marketing itself to the next generation of skilled workers, but Rittmeyer’s experience, both as an apprentice and now as a mentor, shows that metalcasting can attract talent.

“Manufacturing isn’t a dirty, grimy job that nobody wants,” Rittmeyer said. “It’s highly skilled with lots of technology, like 3-D printing, CNC equipment and CAD. It’s cool stuff. We’re telling these high school kids that manufacturing in America is alive, it’s well, and it’s a great opportunity. We want to get the brightest. We want the best running a CNC mill or programming a sand printer that’s going to produce $14,000 of scrap in a single night if programmed improperly.”

Click here for the full interview between Dave Rittmeyer and metalcasting marketing expert Mark Mehling.


Know When to Ask for Help

When do you ask for help and when do you just plow through a project to complete it? Often the answer to this question comes down to how much time is available to produce a solution.

In the case of casting buyers and designers, this issue of Modern Casting shows us several examples of buyer-supplier relationships benefiting by questions being asked.

In the feature, “Castings on Stunning Display,” on page 27, a commodity manager for projector manufacturer Christie said the company aims to incorporate metalcasting facilities early in the design process. “There’s a high level of collaboration,” he said. “Identifying and eliminating problems early in the process can help streamline progress and control costs by limiting design iterations.”

In “Graphite Permanent Mold Process Cuts Lead Times, Costs,” on page 60, an engineering manager for a camera manufacturer said, “Being able to discuss the design with the engineers at Graphicast was very helpful. There was a lot of give and take, and we were able to really leverage their design expertise.”

A mechanical engineer for an industrial mining fan manufacturer had similar things to say in the feature, “Casting Conversion Simplifies Ventilation Hub,” on page 39: “Pier helped us develop a greater understanding of designing for metal castings.”

Your efforts are working.  You have been communicating with casting buyers about the value of upfront collaboration in casting design, and some are taking you up on your offers. While your job isn’t finished, a foundation is being built. This is great news.

Now, as customers, do you do the same with your suppliers? Do you reach out to your equipment, raw material and technology experts for their advice on how to improve your operation?

The feature, “D&L Goes Big,” on p. 21, looks at how a metalcaster can utilize a combination of in-house and outside supplier expertise to engineer and build a new metalcasting facility.

“Out of necessity, we’ve become pretty self-sufficient with modifying equipment and making things work,” said Jason McGowan, president, D&L, regarding engineering successes such as its new conveyors, electrical controls and computerized monitoring system. But, D&L also utilized its supply base when it engineered its melt deck for the new plant.

In the feature, “Controlling Pouring Through Automation,” on p. 33, the focus is on technology opportunities for autopouring from the sophisticated to the basic. The key to finding a solution is determining what the metalcasting facility wants to achieve, and aligning the technology to that need.

“A job shop may not have high speed or volume production but still wants to increase the accuracy of pouring, reduce costs and remove people from a hazardous area,” said Bill Pflug, Inductotherm Corp.

Every facility must know its core competencies to determine if it can solve a problem internally or if it must look outside for help.  Just be sure to apply the same philosophy when you work with your customers and your suppliers, and know when to ask for help.


Education Engagement

Education is one of the most effective tools metalcasters can use to improve their bottom line.

The obvious return on investment is seen with education of in-house staff. If properly deployed to your workforce, education can improve efficiencies by eliminating process issues and lowering scrap rates. Eliminating the guesswork on the plant floor by following the proven processes and procedures that lead to sound castings will increase your facility’s profitability.

In this editorial, however, I want to focus on a less obvious  angle than in-house education.  It is the education of your customer—buyers and designers of castings.

In many metalcasting facilities, this type of education falls under the direction of the marketing or sales department and will include customer presentations such as Casting 101 or the basics of casting processes and materials. While it is critical to provide this foundation education to customers (and something we provide to casting buyers as well), what is the next step?  How does the education engagement continue with current and prospective customers?

This question becomes paramount when you perform regular internet searches about metalcasting and review the information and videos being presented.  When your customers visit their go-to source for casting design and sourcing information, what are they learning?

Our sister publication, Metal Casting Design & Purchasing (MCDP), strives for engagement with every issue it publishes.  With an audience solely consisting of casting designers and buyers, the goal of this seven-time-a-year publication is to educate engineers and purchasing professionals on effective ways to design and source engineered cast metal components.  MCDP hits the basics, but it also tries to take it to the next level.

As an example, in the September/October issue of MCDP, an article titled, “Understanding Part Pricing,” was published that detailed seven different factors that affect how a metalcaster quotes a casting.  Written by a casting buyer and addressing issues such as parting lines, surface finish and section thickness, the article provides a three-page lesson for end-users who receive quotes from metalcasters and don’t understand “why the part price seems so high.”

In the November/December issue of MCDP, the focus was on rapid manufacturing and how this technology can be integrated into the casting supply chain in various different ways. With the exciting developments with rapid manufacturing, it is critical to illustrate to buyers and designers that metalcasting is embracing this technology.

If you aren’t familiar with MCDP, visit www.metalcastingdesign.com and page through the digital magazine archives. When you see something you like, take the opportunity to send links of relevant articles to your customers.  If you want to send issues of the magazine to customers, contact us to set up a subscription.

The key is to become more than a part supplier to your customer. Engaging them through education can help you to become their go-to knowledge resource on effective casting design and purchasing.


Metalcaster’s Fourth Generation Brings Fresh Ideas

In May 2012, Megan Kirsh joined the family business, an iron job shop in Beaver Dam, Wis, making her the fourth generation to punch the clock at Kirsh Foundry Inc. since it was opened by her great grandfather in 1937. To the outsider, joining the company, led by her father, Jim, and uncle, Steve, might have seemed like an obvious destination.

Megan, however, took a bit of a circuitous path to Beaver Dam. After receiving a master’s in marriage and family therapy from Northern Illinois Univ., Dekalb, Ill., she took her first steps in pursuit of a career—only to grow disenchanted with her field. The prospect of switching gears and joining the family business grew more appealing, until she finally seized the opportunity.

“For me, it was a huge opportunity to be a part of something that’s really cool,” Megan Kirsh said. “I pulled a 180 [to] see how I liked it. I stayed tentative for about a year. I always thought I could go back and do what I was doing. But so far, I’m still here. I’m still really excited.”

The director of marketing and sales, Kirsh has been focused primarily on the company’s value proposition. To this end, she has overseen an overhaul of the company’s website to be more client-oriented and distinguish Kirsh Foundry from other metalcasting facilities that offer similar products and services. Kirsh also has developed Foundry 101, a customer education program to build knowledge about metalcasting and the company’s specific capabilities that debut earlier this year.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been working hand in hand with Jim Kirsh, my father, on where he wants the company to go,” she said. “What are the priorities that are important to us? Where do we see ourselves in five or 10 years?”

Asking those questions, which some companies may avoid doing, can allow a metalcaster to better position themselves in the market. If price is similar among a few potential suppliers, a properly crafted message about value and additional benefits can lead to new customers.

“Asking yourself, ‘What makes our foundry different? What makes our company better than one very similar to us?’ opens an entire conversation,” she said. “It allows you to develop a script on what you can offer and why you’re different. Once you get that set, you can more easily develop a roadmap for a marketing plan.”

Bringing an outsider’s perspective to a business with generations of experience and knowledge, Kirsh hopes to help guide Kirsh Foundry along a path of sustainable growth and continued stability. As for her training in family systems therapy?

“It comes in handy every now and again,” she said. 

Click here for the full interview between Megan Kirsh and marketing expert Mark Mehling.


Watch the Pendulum Swing

The Annual Modern Casting Census of World Casting Production is one of our favorite projects each year.  Published in December, this feature (p. 21) provides a snapshot of the state of metalcasting globally. It is a one-of-a-kind feature that is much-relied upon throughout the industry.

This year, while reviewing the data, I was struck by the different perspective with which the North American metalcasting industry approaches the global market compared to five years ago.  A significant shift has occurred that few, if any, saw coming. This has brought a renewed energy to North American metalcasting.

“Manufacturing cost competitiveness around the world has changed dramatically over the past decade…so dramatically that many old perceptions of low-cost and high-cost nations no longer hold…Mexico now has lower average manufacturing costs than China…China’s manufacturing-cost advantage over the U.S. has shrunk to less than 5%. Costs in Eastern European nations are at parity or above costs in the U.S.”

This quote is from the report, Global Manufacturing Cost Competiveness Index, released by the Boston Consulting Group in April of this year. While it is about general manufacturing, these ideas resonate within our niche of casting manufacturing.

GE announced in November plans to invest $60 million into its recently acquired Lufkin, Texas, casting facility to expand and modernize the ductile and gray iron plant to create a simplified production flow, improve employee working conditions and provide customers with improved quality and delivery.  The plan is to add 72,000 sq. ft. of new casting space while refurbishing the remaining plant space. According to GE, “The goal is to make the facility as efficient as possible and help strengthen the competitive position of our business around the world.”

In the last 30 years, GE has been one of the leaders of the global sourcing movement, shipping many of its castings to suppliers across the globe. The shift across many of the GE manufacturing divisions to re-invest in North American manufacturing says that the pendulum has swung back to some extent.

The reasons cited in the report for the shift include:

  • Energy costs.
  • Currency value.
  • Productivity.
  • Wage rates.

While this information is positive as you look to the future, the success of your casting facility still depends as much on the decisions you and your management team make as on macroeconomic factors. Your casting facility must focus on what it can control—marketing, HR, production efficiencies, environmental and worker safety initiatives, to name a few—to be successful, because if those departments function at a world-class level, your casting facility can as well.


Can Sand Be Reclaimed for Use in Fracking?

With so much work being done to prove and establish beneficial uses of used metalcasting sand, you might have wondered if reclaimed sand could be used in the fracking industry. 

The question was recently posed to a member of the AFS technical department, who asked for input from a few sand experts. According to them, the sand needed for fracking has very specific properties that are too costly to replicate and verify with reclaimed sand—particularly when virgin sand still is readily available at a lower cost.  

“Frac fluids are formulated to have very specific rheological properties. Extremely large volumes of proppant (up to 10 MM lbs.) with very consistent physical and chemical properties are required to frac even one well,” said Dave Jablonski, Badger Mining Corp. “It would be difficult and expensive to get a large enough volume of reclaimed sand with uniform properties to a well site for potential use.

“Due to the high cost of the reclaimed sand at the well site, it wouldn’t even be worthwhile to use it for part of the proppant requirement as virgin sand would be less expensive and have more consistent properties. Engineers would be unwilling to adjust formulas site by site to accommodate the use of whatever reclaim sand was available to them. There would simply be no advantage to reclaim sand.” 

In the future, some periphery uses for reclaimed sand in fracking might be found, but presently, it is not cost or technically feasible.


What's Old Is New Again

In this issue of Modern Casting, the focus is on plant engineering—ways to upgrade, remodel, expand and advance your metalcasting facility.  Through four features, this issue examines a new steel casting facility in Omaha, rejuvenated facility Brillion Iron Works, trends in facility upgrades and a redefinition of investment priorities for metalcasters. As always, the goal is to provide you some food for thought as you evaluate your facility for ways to push forward.

My food for thought for this issue came when Senior Editor Shannon Wetzel and I visited Brillion Iron Works a few months ago for the story, “Brillion Iron Works Rejuvenation,” on p. 26. My first visit to Brillion more than 10 years ago occurred on a bitterly cold winter morning for which Northern Wisconsin is famous. While the facility was large with vast capabilities, it appeared as if its best times were a thing of the past.

“Brillion had tired equipment, an ineffective layout and a challenged operation,” Rick Dauch, president and CEO of Brillion’s parent Accuride, said this year.

When the industry was whispering that Brillion was coming alive again, I will admit we were skeptical. The key was to visit the facility firsthand to judge with our own eyes.  And with our first steps into the remodeled entrance and office buildings, the cold winter I experienced before seemed to fade away, replaced by the warmth and excitement of new beginnings.

“The last two to three years, we have been working to diligently fix the business.  And the culture of the management team has been to invest to make sure the technology is right,” said Brillion President Dave Adams.

The turnaround strategy has included applying lean manufacturing principles that improve financial performance, replacing tired equipment, enhancing communication with the workforce, and reevaluating the cost and pricing structure. Sounds like a straight-forward plan, but then consider the new management team at Brillion is trying to enact these changes at an 80-year-old facility that also happens to be one of the largest single-plant casting operations in the U.S.

The results show the new Brillion management team is on to something. The improvements at the facility have reduced the plant’s breakeven point in sales by 30%, a monumental achievement for a 140,000-ton-capacity metalcaster. Lead times also have been improved by more than 30%.

 “Managing for maturity … means moving beyond investing in equipment for capacity and growth. Instead, we need to focus on investing to shrink cost structures and boost competitiveness via improved quality and short lead times,” writes TDC Consulting’s Dan Marcus, an expert on turnarounds in metalcasting, in the feature, “ROI for the 21st Century,” on p. 34.

For Brillion, the focus is on costs, quality, lead times and profitability—with dramatic improvements in the first three, resulting in growth of the fourth. For this metalcaster, the turnaround does appear to be “transformational.”



It’s the Sum of the Data

You can’t judge a book by its cover.

We have all heard this adage hundreds of times. You look at the appearance of a person and make judgments about who they are, what they are and what they believe. Even though we all resist, it is hard not to fall in this trap.

The same trap exists within our metalcasting industry. We will hear about the type of casting operation (green sand automotive, ductile iron pipe, etc.) and we will assume we know most everything about it. But, if we take the time to dig a little deeper, we often will uncover information and nuggets of wisdom we never considered.

Take a look at our feature, “Knowledge Management Using Digital Dashboards,” on p. 40. Iron pipe producers often are viewed as “specialty” casting producers, not relatable to your typical job shop. But as this article digs a little deeper into developments at Atlantic States Cast Iron Pipe in Phillipsburg, N.J., it discusses the plant’s adoption and implementation of a knowledge management system that has redefined the operation and decision-making processes.

“Actual costs by tons for each cost center is a tremendous tool that gives our managers and fellow workers live information they can use to make real-time decisions on purchases and projects,” said Dan Fittro, Plant Manager.

“Atlantic States has become a ‘knowledge management’ driven foundry,” said Dale Schmelzle, general manager and senior vice president.

Every metalcaster knows the struggles involved with fully understanding your costs. But, every metalcaster also knows that once those costs are understood, business success can follow. Atlantic States Cast Iron Pipe is another example of this theory in action and shows metalcasters of all types and sizes the benefit to consistent and comprehensive data collection and analysis.

The adage at the start of this editorial has kept me awake recently because my 16-year-old daughter, Alyssa, is in the early stages of preparing her resume for prospective colleges. Like many high school juniors, she must find a way to come out from behind the cover of her book—her GPA and ACT (or SAT) scores that appear to still define who a student is.

The key is going to be her ability to present herself as a total package—a sum of all the data. From her community involvement and accomplishments to her athletic success to her current job and career aspirations, Alyssa has developed an impressive resume. Let’s hope she opens the eyes of college admissions counselors in the same way that Atlantic States Cast Iron Pipe opened the eyes of the industry to the fact that it is more than the cover of its book suggests.


Displaying 51 to 60 of 228 records

x