Common Questions, Expert Answers
Top industry experts in tooling and patternmaking discuss common concerns related to the metalcasting industry and casting end-users.
Nicholas Leider, Associate Editor
(Click here to see the story as it appears in the July issue of Modern Casting.)
Nearly infinite patterns and tooling have been produced for metalcasters over the years, yet certain topics seem to pop up time and again. Today, as hot subjects like additive manufacturing and decreased lead times aren’t far from the mouths of patternmakers, Modern Casting talked to three of the industry’s pattern and tooling experts about common concerns for metalcasting facilities and casting buyers. Here’s what we heard from John McIntyre, president, Anderson Global, Muskegon, Mich.; Brandon Lamoncha, sales manager, Humtown Products, Columbiana, Ohio; and Steve Murray, sales director, Hoosier Pattern, Decatur, Ind.
What should be a customer’s first step in locating a new source for tooling and patterns?
Lamoncha, Humtown Products: First of all, the customer needs to understand their needs. Are they making counterweights for the back of a forklift or highly engineered, complex cylinder heads that have geometrical tolerances down to a few thousandths? As the customer, you need to understand your needs first.
McIntyre, Anderson Global: They should look for expertise in the specific segment of castings they need. The toolmaker needs to have an extensive background in that particular type of casting, in that particular type of process, so they understand the processes that go into a quality casting. That way, they can design and build a tool that will give that metalcaster the biggest processing window possible.
Murray, Hoosier Pattern: Open mindedness is hard to gauge, but you need that to do new things in new and better ways. The mindset of “always doing something a certain way because you have always done it that way” is a death sentence. Also, it is not about being across town that is important. It is about being on top of the technology, methods and materials to get the job done in the most timely and cost-effective manner.
Have you noticed a specific trend in what metalcasters are demanding from you?
Murray, Hoosier Pattern: My customers are asking for solidification on demand, reverse engineering capabilities and laser scanning in the shop and at their facility. Oh, did I forget [they want it] faster? Always faster.
McIntyre, Anderson Global: Toolmakers need to have processes in place to compress the project into a shorter time period by streamlining design and build. This can be done a lot of ways, like through improved organization and better machinery.
Lamoncha, Humtown Products: Everything is trending toward CAD. Someone from a large OEM asked me: Is it the drawing or the CAD model that we’re working toward? For the most part, I don’t even get drawings anymore. When my grandfather made patterns off a drawing, he had to have that interaction with the foundry. Now, it’s a little bit different. If they see an area that has to be chilled or might shrink, they’re going to deal with that immediately.
How can a casting buyer determine a good pattern from a bad one? What are key things to look for to ensure quality?
McIntyre, Anderson Global: Depending on the personality of the casting buyer, he can insist on dimensional certification and proof that proper materials and heat treatment were used.
Lamoncha, Humtown Products: We’ve gotten away from simple measurements and verniers. We just do a scan of our pattern with a laser. We do a comparison and send that along with the pattern. The proof’s in the pudding. Everybody knows the pattern is not going to be absolutely perfect. But if you show you’re within the tolerances, they know if there’s any variation in a casting, it most likely is an in-house problem.
What missed opportunities/misconceptions do you see from customers?
McIntyre, Anderson Global: Not asking to participate. Many times, metalcasters will want a tool—and they won’t explain whether the castings will be low volume or high volume or they won’t detail its key characteristics. If that information isn’t communicated, the customer will get a generic tool that wasn’t specifically made to help them reach the goals of the casting.
Murray, Hoosier Pattern: Mixing and matching materials and manufacturing methods to get the best fit for the specific need is OK. Pattern shops are here to help with questions on new technologies, methods and materials. Ask why we still do things such-and-such way. Explore your options.
Lamoncha, Humtown Products: When people think of a patternmaker, they imagine someone gluing wood segments together or using a lathe. These are great tools that obviously still have their place, but we have so much more to offer. Our advanced methods are just additional tools in the toolbox. We are much more dynamic than that. We want to utilize all the technologies available. We want to have a CNC tooling shop and an advanced manufacturing shop in addition to our traditional pattern shop.
What should be the major considerations when choosing between offshore and domestic pattern suppliers?
Murray, Hoosier Pattern: The same things you use to choose between domestic suppliers. We compete in a world marketplace today. You must be on your game to be competitive and have the services your customers require.
McIntyre, Anderson Global: Materials. For overseas pattern shops, labor is inexpensive, so they focus on saving in terms of materials, which can lead to cutting corners. Also, being in the same time zone where you are speaking the same language can reduce complications in communication.
Lamoncha, Humtown Products: The biggest consideration is time. I don’t think anyone can deal with the time lag [with overseas suppliers]. If there’s a revision or a change, it takes way too long to go back and forth.
How have advancements in additive manufacturing affected your business?
Murray, Hoosier Pattern: It is not just another tool in the toolbox. It is another drawer in your toolbox. We want to show customers where and when to apply the technology and guide the customer through that maze of technological hype versus reality. Yes, we can print a pattern or corebox for low volume production, but you have to do a cost-benefit reality check. It has to make sense dollar and cents-wise.
Lamoncha, Humtown Products: We want our customers to understand that advanced manufacturing isn’t only additive, but it’s a fundamental tool. It’s the ruler, the tape measure—something you’ll be using very frequently. But some people get enamored with one technology and won’t look elsewhere. By keeping an open mind, you will be able to get better castings at a much lower cost.
What’s one surprising way for metalcasters to utilize pattern shops to streamline the supply chain?
McIntyre, Anderson Global: Have the toolmaker visit your foundry, your coreroom, your molding line. Have them talk to in-house maintenance people to find out what problems they’ve had in the past, what problems they’ve had in the foundry, so the tooling shop can use that knowledge to produce a better tool.
Murray, Hoosier Pattern: Establish standard prices so you know what you are getting into before you do something. Things like re-rigging, remounting and core box maintenance should all be fairly predictable. Try to eliminate surprises in that regard.
Lamoncha, Humtown Products: In terms of the supply chain, you really have to look at a pattern shop like a partner and not just a supplier. In the end, the goal is to make the end customer happy. If a tool shows up and it’s not working as expected, it’s easy to start pointing fingers and that’s counterproductive.
What’s a common misconception you encounter regarding tooling ownership and/or storage?
Murray, Hoosier Pattern: Tools will last forever and storage is free. The truth is much different. Old wood patterns and coreboxes dry out and degrade. Iron will rust and corrode. Regarding storage, there is a cost to bring tooling out of storage after many years and getting it ready for production.
What’s one unexpected benefit for a metalcasting facility to outsource its production of patterns and tooling?
Murray, Hoosier Pattern: Speed. If you can outsource a part when it makes sense, you can use the technologies offered by the pattern shop without owning the machinery.
Lamoncha, Humtown Products: You gain a lot of knowledge working with a pattern shop that builds tooling for all different industries. I’ve built 30-40 tools in the last few months in all different industries, so I have a different way of looking at a particular corebox or casting.