Most metalcasters are pragmatic about the work they do and the products they make. They certainly can appreciate the workmanship of an enameled cast-iron skillet or the graceful lines of new bathroom fixtures, but that alone will not let them fall for a premium mark-up. The world at large judges from a different perspective. It wants what is stylish and new. There may be real appreciation for the craftsmanship of those castings but it’s the patina of good taste that attaches to the buyer that allows Le Creuset and Kohler to style their foundry products as “good investments,” and price them accordingly.
In some research space at the Kohler iron foundry in Wisconsin, CNET.com reported, the manufacturer is working to connect its perfectly practical and stylistically exceptional products to the newest phase of consumer whimsy. The Smart Home Experience Lab there is developing kitchen and bathroom fixtures (sink, tub, shower, commode) that can be controlled by an app or voice command, allowing a user to command water to flow or to stop, to set a preferred water temperature or level, and to work with various providers’ technologies and devices to customize this phase of life even beyond the point that (of necessity) it always has been.
This is what the world thinks of — and credits — now as “new ideas”: How shall we take all that we already have and do and reposition it, with sensors and responders that will report performance results to a database for storage and analysis. A doorbell once announced the arrival of visitors; equipped with a camera and a motion sensor, and linked by an app to a phone or tablet, it’s now a surveillance and security device. How our baths and kitchens will be repurposed and then redefine us is still to be explained.
Let’s not review Kohler’s efforts too soon though. More than a foundry, it is a consumer products manufacturer and this is what consumers demand now – customized surroundings that affirm their wisdom and good taste without requiring them to think too long or hard about the decisions necessary to live from moment to moment. Like turning a faucet on or off. If they are thinking, it’s not really about the object but about themselves, their “needs”, their expectations. The processes of life seem to be what they find so challenging. They have enough aesthetic awareness or initiative to choose a fixture because of its lines or hand-rubbed finish, but now its performance must simultaneously confirm their good judgment and relieve them of further decisionmaking.
I am skeptical, in general, of the role for Smart technologies in the consumer realm, but this is progress. The consumers have gotten past the appearance of the products they buy. In another generation or two, perhaps, we may reasonably expect savvy buyers to care about the design software that finalized the riser placement for the castings installed in their home, or the binder used in the cores and molds that formed the chassis of whatever vehicle concept has then prevailed.
For now, process is the purview of the metalcasters who care about manufacturing quality parts, efficiently and reliably. Of course, they care about workmanship, because that is the testament of the process and the persons who defined and executed it.
What most of the world today cannot see is that “ideas” are not new because they revamp or reimagine something that is old, but because they link people around something that is constant, reliable, and universal.
We present the 2018 Metalcasting Idea Book as a link to the long history of metalcasting and a spotlight on its potential. Here, the ideas are not valuable because they have commercial impact but because they reveal more about technologies and methods that shape an industry – making them more practical, more efficient, more adaptable, or more viable. These new ideas do not replace decisionmaking, they inform it.