Soucy Invests in Metalcasting
By Shannon Wetzel, Managing Editor
Click here to see this story as it appears in Modern Casting
Soucy, (Drummondville, Quebec, Canada) a vertically integrated manufacturing group, wanted to add a metalcasting facility to its portfolio, alongside its plastic molding, rubber molding and compounding, polyurethane molding, machining, and assembly companies. The group makes parts and accessories for power sports, agriculture, defense and industrial sectors, and incorporates critical castings in many of the components. Soucy wanted a metalcasting facility that could supply some of these castings to the parent company as well as sell to other outside customers. Specifically, the manufacturing group had a need for a casting source of a large sprocket used in its track systems.
It didn’t have to look far. Within Soucy’s headquarters hometown, Drummondville, Canada, was an iron casting facility amenable to a purchase. In 2010, Soucy acquired the gray, ductile and austempered ductile iron plant with big plans in mind.
Originally, the Soucy Belgen metalcasting plant produced castings ranging from 0.5 to 125 lbs. on automatic green sand molding machines. It also had a small nobake molding line. But Soucy needed bigger castings for its track systems.
“Soucy Group founder, chairman of the board and CEO, Mr Gilles Soucy didn’t want a welded assembly for his track kits. He wanted castings to improve the products and he wanted large castings,” said Jasmin Villeneuve, General Manager, Soucy Belgen. “In 2010, the foundry did not have the capability to make the big castings on a large scale, but it had the expertise. We had the knowledge and the passion of the employees, so we just had to make the foundry bigger with more automation.”
The ramp-up started almost immediately after the acquisition. Soucy invested $30 million to build a brand new metalcasting facility around the existing one, adding 150,000 sq. ft. The expansion consisted of a new automated nobake line capable of handling much larger castings and a new floor molding area to handle even bigger parts (up to 12,000 lbs.).
“In the markets that we serve, like the agricultural tractors, the equipment gets larger and larger,” Villeneuve said. “This large nobake line was the perfect fit for us.”
Soucy is privately owned with 1,500 employees at 11 facilities in North America and Asia. The company started in 1967 as a distributor of parts and accessories for snowmobiles and it grew from there to track systems for equipment in the defense and agriculture segments. Starting in the 1990s, Soucy began adding companies to his manufacturing group in earnest, creating a vast vertically integrated network. Soucy Belgen is the latest of these acquisitions.
The integration is evident in its track kits. The rubber track is manufactured at Soucy Caoutchouc , the rubber compound produced at Soucy Techno, rubber bonding is conducted at Soucy Baron, the cast wheel made at Soucy Belgen, machining done at Soucy Rivalair, plastic parts made at Soucy Plastiques, and all the design, engineering, conception, painting, finishing and assembly completed through Soucy International.
“For the track systems in particular, most of the parts are made within the Soucy group,” Villeneuve said.
Each company within the group can utilize the capabilities of a sister company. If Soucy Belgen needs machining services, it may opt to source to Soucy Rivalair, or an independent machine shop , depending on capabilities, cost and availability. But the close access to the various other companies ensures customers they can source a complete part from Soucy Belgen, including machining, assembly and painting if needed.
Building a New Plant
Soucy Belgen’s investments are clear in the first step into the new metalcasting facility. The light is bright and abundant. The roof is high, make the building feel open. Sight lines stretch across the molding, melting and pouring departments. The employees are engaged in their jobs. They are pouring large amounts of molten iron; they work safely and carefully.
The facility features new induction furnaces, an automated nobake molding line and floor molding.
Villeneuve said the core business for Soucy Belgen falls in the range of 500 to 10,000 lbs. per part, and capable of producing up to 10 molds per hour. These castings are produced on the automatic nobake molding line built by IMF. Mold sizes can vary from 48 x 48 in. up to 100 x 76 in. The floor molding area can handle parts up to 12,000 lbs., and at the moment it’s the busiest part of the plant.
”We offer flexibility and agility to our customer base in terms of weight and sizes. Right now, we are busier in the floor molding area. Some products are simply too large for a molding line but we also invested to bring some automation in the floor molding area.” Eventually, Soucy Belgen will begin shifting the scale more to the efficient automated line and its marketing energy has been directed to filling that line for the last year.
The automated nobake molding line may not be filling as fast as floor molding, but Soucy Belgen chooses to be selective.
“We go forward only with parts that fall in the range where we are competitive on the market,” Villeneuve said. “If you are talking about a 100-lb. casting 20,000 times, it’s not for us—not our core business.”
In the melting area, Soucy Belgen uses two 3-ton furnaces and two 6-ton furnaces to melt 12 tons per hour. Two separate power lines were installed so that if one goes down, another one is available. A generator can cover the gap in the connection.
“With our electric substation installed, we could eventually double our melt rate,” Villeneuve said.
Soucy Belgen produces all its own cores and continues to also make castings on the 26 x 20-in. green sand automatic molding line and a standard flaskless nobake 52 x 60 in. molding line that existed in the original metalcasting plant. A quality department oversees inspections. At the front end, Magma software is used to design or verify designs of almost every part. Soucy Belgen also integrated thermal analysis in their production process to assess quality of the metal to be poured.
“Everything is documented and built to a standard,” said Patrick Hamel, quality assurance and engineering manager, Soucy Belgen. “Each time a deviation occurs, in melting, charging, or pouring, the system gives a warning and we begin trouble shooting. This is a big improvement. We then keep the knowledge and do not troubleshoot again and again.”
As part of the Soucy Group, Soucy Belgen keeps some capacity open for the sister companies, but is not captive. Every company in the group typically keeps some capacity open, but the metalcasting facility has trended more to commercial. With an annual production of 10,000 tons and a capacity of 50,000 tons, Soucy Belgen has a lot of room for future growth.
“We offer an integrated product, we make the casting, and can subcontract or use a sister company for machining, painting and assembly. We have the ability to make measurements and inspections via CMM or 3D scan,” Villeneuve said. “We are the ultimate one-stop shop in the foundry industry and our secret has been to bring the customers here and show them our state-of-the-art facility but also meet with our team of experts.”