A few weeks ago one of the metalcasting industries’ most venerated businesses, Lodge Manufacturing Co., bought a promising start-up company called Finex. Most readers will know the buyer is a foundry company, but the wider world esteems Lodge for its products, cast iron cookware. As it happens, an artisanal approach to cast iron cookware was the basis for the start-up business too, and apparently for its growth and success, and obviously of its value to Lodge Manufacturing. Now, the production of cast iron cookware will be consolidated at Lodge’s foundries.
I have been wondering when and why being known as a “foundry” became less appealing to some operators of such businesses, or at least less appealing than being known for their products or capabilities. Lately, it’s more likely that a new venture will be tagged with “automotive castings”, “precision products”, or “advanced technologies”, than as Your Foundry. True, Waupaca Foundry upholds its legacy well and proudly, and there are signals that the Grede Foundries brand may return. That would be a good sign.
But if you doubt the value of the “foundry” label then a look around: manufacturers of silicon chips for semiconductors long ago adopted the “foundry” brand, mostly unironically it seems. Chip production bears no resemblance to molding, coremaking, pouring, filtering, etc., but there is similarity in the evolution of the two product categories. The earliest microelectronic devices were manufactured by companies that both designed and produced silicon chips devoted to their particular application. Before long, economics of allowed separation of manufacturing and design, and commodity-grade producers emerged so that today we see “merchant foundries” of chips for broad application, and “pure-play foundries” that custom produce chips for specific applications. One of the most notable of the latter calls itself Global Foundries.
The label is clever but calling themselves foundries also emphasizes the design and reliability of their products, the originality of their work, and the stability of their enterprises.
Now the high-tech world has prompted others to brand themselves. Sonic Foundry emerged first as a media software developer, though now it is known for webcasting and presentation software products.
The investment community sees the value of the name. Foundry Partners LLC is a highly recognizable, “boutique asset management company that specializes in active management and delivering positive risk adjusted returns for our clients.”
One of the hottest trends in business development centers around “maker culture”, a do-it-yourself ethos imbued with high-tech and advanced technology resources. Makers frequently pursue their efforts in “maker spaces” — one of which is the Idea Foundry in Columbus, OH.
And, sensing the far-reaching potential of such an approach, the California NanoSystems Institute at the University of California – Santa Barbara recently snagged a $25-million grant by the National Science Foundation to set up the first “Quantum Foundry” in the U.S., to develop materials for quantum information-based technologies.
Do not suppose that innovators’ and entrepreneurs’ embrace of the virtuous implications is new. One of this nation’s most famous religious institutions arose from the bequests of a foundryman, the Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, DC, and the same tenor of stability is evident in the name of a 12-month recovery program with a Christian “curriculum focused on life-long thought, habit and behavior change.” That would be The Foundry Ministries.
Let’s not overlook the creative implications. The Foundry Art Space is a not-for-profit gallery and instruction studio in Victoria, Australia; The Miners Foundry Cultural Center is a historic landmark and arts and community events center in Nevada County, CA; and Foundry is a hard-rock band based in Las Vegas.
The name is appealing even to people who don’t want to work or create. It brings a vicarious sense of integrity to The Foundry Hotel in Asheville, NC, a restored and “seamless blend of industrial history, local culture, and warm hospitality.” It confers authenticity to the corn whiskey being produced by Iowa’s Foundry Distilling Co.
Integrity, creativity, reliability, and authenticity take time to be recognized, and their qualities must be maintained and reaffirmed. The metalcasting industry has earned the recognition, and should not let it get away.