The foundry industry will undoubtedly have to overcome many obstacles in the next few years, as companies move away from traditional manufacturing to accommodate the new economy and downward pressure of consumerism. The large casting operations will need to reassess their capacity while the smaller ones look for specialty castings that cannot tolerate long lead times. All sectors will have to watch expenses and receivables.
So what can be done now to remain competitive at the manufacturing level? One solution is to evaluate the raw material being used. The alloys should allow new opportunities in specialty markets and should be designed to minimize costs related to rejects or quality complaints. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, including the use of alloys formulated specifically for your application.
The next step to ensuring quality is to use a reputable source with an in-house lab. For guaranteed performance and to maintain the properties required to create an alloy with superior casting traits, the alloy manufacturer must keep tight control over formulation through every step of production and assure control of critical trace elements. Complex details, such as multiple welds needed to create the final casting, become simple with the right material.
Numerous examples of custom alloys helping to create new business can be seen in many casting applications. One interesting example recently arose during a discussion with a worldrenowned antiquities firm looking to duplicate a priceless casting. A rare, copper-based, Chinese alloy was imported during the eighteenth century in very small quantities. It was sought after by craftsmen to create castings that imitated sterling silver. Belmont Metals was asked if it could duplicate this very special alloy from a small sample that was assayed. This alloy, to anyone’s knowledge, had not been produced in large quantities in the United States – until now.
Belmont used state-of–the-art equipment to determine that the assay presented to us for manufacturing was not the true alloy used in China. With the help of a century of manufacturing experience behind us, we were able to redesign the formula closer to the original. The customer believed that several elements were an integral part of the alloy’s makeup, but what they were actually measuring was segregation. In this example, the iron, zinc and lead would precipitate out and push to the surface. Since the ancient casting was quite detailed, the original casting’s flat spots would show a higher than normal lead content, while the valleys showed high iron or zinc. It was determined that lead was not a necessary component in the formula for color or castability. The project moved forward and the castings were eventually well received at gala openings throughout the world, obviously adding to the customer’s profitability.
A second example, though not as dramatic, was certainly just as important. Belmont was given the task to duplicate a very sophisticated formula that was used in high-quality wind instruments from the 19th century. Their metal composition was critical to the sound quality as well as the authenticity of the musical instrument. The brass formulation had to be exact. Belmont was able to meet their requirements. By using our ability to duplicate small batches for testing and then tonnage for production, this company was able to start from a prototype level and create a successful product line that continues to prosper.
So is it important in lean times to be creative and seek out new markets? Should we reduce our marketing budgets and cut back on R&D? Specialty alloys can create new opportunities. It may be prudent to aggressively advertise in those areas. By using brand name materials, you will be assured that the castings will be of the highest quality to the end user, allowing some value-added profits for you. By purchasing just the right amount of materials for the job, your control of inventory will help reduce the overhead of carrying large quantities of material that may continue to drop in value as the commodities markets sort themselves out. A savings of 10% on a container load today could easily be negated by a drop of 20% in the market just weeks after the purchase.
There are additional products that are beneficial to foundries, including master alloys for tight control of casting production and fluxing alloys that will improve the quality of the casting and extend the life of the reclaimed materials for additional use.