Kimura Foundry America Inc. is a novelty, for now: a start-up metalcasting operation that relies entirely on 3D-printed sand patterns and molds to produce rapid prototypes and small-lot castings, for a more recognizable range of large and small manufacturers across the industrial landscape — automakers and their suppliers; manufacturers of engines, industrial pumps, and machine tools; suppliers of agricultural, mining, and off-road equipment; and oil-and-gas and renewable energy projects.
The Kimura Group opened a U.S. sales office near Chicago five years ago, and late last year it opened the first U.S. manufacturing plant in Shelbyville, IN. The group operates three foundries in Japan, producing iron castings for dies for stamping and diecasting, machine tool beds and frame structures, automotive engine parts, pumps, compressors and energy industry components. It also operates three pattern shops and three specialty-machining operations.
The group’s goal is to be the “world’s number one clean foundry,” simplifying the casting process by minimizing production sequences, and streamlining everything to reduce risks to productivity and safety.
At the Indiana plant, a pair of ExOne binder-jet printers form the patterns and molds that are the foundation of the U.S. operation’s activity: a larger-dimension unit that prints sand molds and patterns, and a smaller unit for cores and special design work.
“Before a new part, component, or product hits the market, extensive research, development, and testing must take place,” according to Cody White, environmental health and safety coordinator. "Here at Kimura, we are responsible for manufacturing those items prior to mass production. We employ the latest information technology to increase productivity. As a result, we can provide more value-added RP castings and small lot production services to our customers.”
Shorter lead-times are a selling point for the enterprise, and automation and handling within the 45,000-ft2 plant support that objective. Working above the plant floor are six R&M Materials Handling Inc. overhead crane systems. Service Crane Co., which provides industrial cranes, workstation cranes and hoist systems, installed the R&M crane components in just three weeks prior to the start-up late last year.
Kimura Foundry America is pioneering the "5S" manufacturing concept: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. White, who oversaw installation of the cranes and conducted operator training, said Kimura’s automated systems are recognized for reducing performance variation and increasing safety, as well as improving productivity. A “clean factory” is expected to reduce workplace accidents and risks, according to the concept.
Due to the short lead-times Kimura promises its customers, they count on having crane components and parts that are readily available, easily serviced, and dependable, while maintaining the safe working environment.
According to Service Crane Co.’s Mark Drake, the project design originally called for five top-running cranes — two three-ton systems and three two-ton systems — but Kimura Foundry requested an additional, three-ton unit after the others had been already installed. Each of the larger cranes has a bridge span of 63.1 ft.
“We continue to embrace the varied material-handling challenges of Kimura, which has already involved supplying below-the-hook equipment to connect our lifting machinery to the facility’s varied loads.”
The novelty of the Kimura Foundry America operating concept may not last once competitors take note of the flexibility and speed it offers casting buyers. But the simplicity of the 5S manufacturing concept should continue to set the pattern, overhead and on the factory floor.