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Investment Caster Now Monitoring Quality Attributes with Specialized Software Module

Sept. 7, 2010
Guardian Software Systems' new module is deployed for real-time performance monitoring.
Touch-screen HMIs at every workstation allow Craft Cast operators to take “control” to a new level of functionality.

Craft Cast Co. Inc. is an investment casting foundry in Jackson, WI, that produces ferrous and nonferrous castings. Its customers include heavy industrial operations, builders of specialized machinery for medical processes and food-service operations, and components for motorcycles and recreational vehicles. All of them rely on Craft Cast to maintain the highest product quality standards.

For the past two years Craft Cast has been operating the Guardian Foundry platform from Guardian Software Systems to process and track customers’ orders through the plant — which includes CAD capabilities, two induction melting units capable of 1,400-lb/hour of molten metal, multiple wax-injection presses, and numerous CNC machining centers for finished castings.

Recently, when Guardian Software Systems announced the release of its Quality Module, Craft Cast CEO Al Scargall was quick to decide that the investment casting operation should start incorporating its quality testing results into the Guardian Foundry System. “Since Craft Cast was already using the Guardian System throughout our manufacturing process, it was a natural fit for us to start monitoring our quality attributes and objectives within the Guardian Foundry System,” he relates.

Anthony Ansorge, Craft Cast’s operations manager, was assigned to direct the effort to integrate the Guardian Quality Module into everyday operations. The 22-year veteran believes that the key to quality is to replicate all of the processes used to produce the customers’ goods, consistently. He indicates that experience has shown him that Craft Cast and its customers must establish a baseline of the customers’ expectations, and then convey those expectations to all the Craft Cast employees. With all employees contributing to the effort at aligning all of the internal processes necessary to reach that baseline, they have developed an effective control of their manufacturing operation. Having achieved that, he continued, they could then control quality. “The Guardian Foundry System is the perfect tool to help us gain this control,” according to Ansorge.

Defining quality attributes
Together, Craft Cast’s Engineering and Quality departments work to define the quality attributes for each casting. They define the types of tests to be performed, check percentages, and determine if the test is qualitative (pass/fail) or quantitative (min/max). Ansorge explains: “The benefit of using this method of quality checking is that it gives Craft Cast better control over the instructions displayed on the employee’s workstation. No one in the shop can override these instructions without approval from the appropriate personnel.”

Having adopted touch-screen HMIs at every workstation, Craft Cast operators are able to take “control” to a new level of functionality. It allows them to reference numerous work instructions as well as pictures and related documents pertaining to the die, specifications, and gages of the various processes at their fingertips for reference. “The convenience for the employee, not having to leave the workstation to get information, is irreplaceable,” the operations manager confirmed.

Craft Cast decided its machine shop was the best department for the first implementation of the Quality Module; it allowed them to get an instant return on the investment. Instead of having “non-value-adding” inspectors check finished castings after the manufacturing process, the quality inspection is done within the cycle time of the machine. This not only reduces the labor required to complete the finished casting; it highlights any incorrect dimensions in real time. Errors or imperfections can be caught on the first ineffective piece rather than on the last.

Currently, Craft Cast is recording the quality of all the products coming through its machining operation. Now, Ansorge not only has the assurance that a job is being completed, but that it is being performed properly to the full requirements of the customer.

An important lesson for Craft Cast in this process has been recognizing the necessity of ensuring that its operators understand the importance of their individual role in the effort to achieve product quality — starting with entering accurate results. Employees must “buy in” to the tasks that are assigned to them. By incorporating to these assignments the critical task of measurement data entry, the operators gain a sense of their role in the quality process, too. Craft Cast now plans to begin entering and tracking criteria for measuring waxes, grinding, etc., to achieve the same “buy in” for all departments and all aspects of the investment casting process.