The past two years have been memorable in many ways, but at the MacLean Power Systems foundry in Alabaster, AL, it has been a period of expansion and growth.
MacLean Power Systems casts engineered metal parts for electric utility, communication, and civil infrastructure — and the improvements conducted there were part of a $5.3-million improvement program, launched in 2019 and completed early in 2020, resulting in new automatic molding and mold-handling operations that surpassed one million molds in October 2021.
“We were looking to upgrade our foundry and to really come into the 21st century with newer, better automation and technology, and to really transform our factory to the factory of the future,” explained manufacturing engineer Blake Wallace.
The central piece of equipment is a Sinto America Inc. FBO-IIIS flaskless molding machine designed for large molds (20×24×8/8 inches) and capable of producing 150 molds/hour – or 24 seconds per mold. The optional aeration sand filling technology that helps to achieve that productivity rate is performed at much lower pressure than what is used for sand-blowing molding machines: Air is blown through the side walls of a sand tank to fluidize the molding sand, as well as to establish uniform pressure in the sand tank.
The FBO molding machine is designed with safeguards against molds shifting, and it allows system operators to vary the molding height, meaning they can effectively adapt the mold size to various pattern profiles – all of which contribute to more efficient use of sand and help to reduce foundry scrap.
“In the past, we dealt with downtime for alignment issues but with the FBO we do not have to worry about that. The FBO gives us the reliability of no alignment issues and the uniformity of the squeeze has reduced downtime dramatically,” according to operations manager Kerry Smitherman.
The molding machine is paired with a customized mold-handling system that Sinto developed to pair with the 150 molds/hour rate. Molding and pouring operations are elevated, and together with sand-containment and automatic sand-collection features, help to reduce clean-up requirements. Pouring sequences are coordinated with an automatic dosing capability, and mold tracking and early push-off options are available, too.
“We’ve seen a big difference before and after we implemented the FBO and custom mold-handling line,” Wallace offered. “We had two automatic machines at our Pelham (AL) facility and two manual lines, and we were actually able to replace those with the one Sinto molding handling line here at Alabaster. This has helped us to be able to reduce our overhead by eliminating the manual pours, the manual lines that we had at Pelham, and the overall number of operators we need to produce the quantity and quality of the castings we manufacture.”
With the automatic molding machine and mold-handling system MacLean is now producing up to 3,000 molds per day, about 1,000 molds per shift, up from about 650 molds per shift prior to the installation. The greater productivity has meant that the foundry has more parts ready for shipment, improving its customer satisfaction.
Another element of MacLean Power Systems’ update was its adoption of the ePVS software tool, part of the Sinto Smart Foundry platform, which presents complete visibility of the molding process and allows operators to visualize any process issues as they emerge in real time. ePVS also generates clear, actionable resolutions to such issues, which allows the foundry to reduce downtime and maintenance costs.
“We were one of the fastest companies to ever reach a million molds,” Wallace observed. “We did that in less than two years and we are really proud of that. We run 24/7 so that has allowed us to hit that milestone, as well as with the support of the Sinto team.”
He continued: “They are able to customize the monitoring system that we have on the machine for any data that we’re looking for, and we just continue to have a great experience working with them.”
Blake added that the performance and user satisfaction has MacLean Power Systems considering a second Sinto automatic molding line for the Alabaster foundry, and expecting to duplicate the results it has recorded in the past two years.