Annual check-up

Annual check-up

Robert E. Brooks

Every year the September issue of FM&T presents the Where-to- Buy Directory of equipment, supplies, and services for metalcasting operations; and the announcement of the individuals we’ve added to the FM&T Hall of Honor. It makes an interesting and memorable presentation, but the two subjects are not obviously related.

Yet, for the several years that I’ve been editing FM&T, this aspect of the September combination has struck me as notable: the vitality of the metalcasting industry — I supposed it’s true of every industry — is determined by the volume and vigor of its commercial activity. Thriving companies earn revenue and invest in their assets, and they spend money on equipment, supplies, and services.

Furthermore, thriving metalcasting companies (again, probably all thriving companies) are staffed and led by great talent: strong, resourceful executives; creative and energetic managers; determined, insightful researchers; and attentive, dedicated workers.

For the past year, this wholesome understanding has been hard to maintain. Lots of good metalcasting operations have been substantially damaged by the financial decline that began last September. Their difficulties have spread to the equipment and product suppliers who are just as much a part of the industry’s vitality as the producers themselves. The demise of dozens of operations in the past 12 months (and many careers) is more than just a theory.

Even in the weeks leading up to the September 2008 “crash,” metalcasting and all manufacturing operations were growing tense with concern about the challenge of lower-cost foreign competition; the cost and availability of capital; and the growing discontent of labor groups. The emergence of federal policies that seem indifferent to the concerns of small and mid-sized manufacturing companies has made these anxieties more acute.

And yet, there is hope to be found in the second half of my equation. Example: Richmond Casting Co., a gray and ductile iron foundry in Richmond, IN, has been bought by company president Gil McBride. The foundry produces components for military, railroad, and truck and construction equipment manufacturing. McBride is a 26-year veteran of the company, having started there as a quality inspector in 1983.

The reported sale price for Richmond Casting was not high. Nor have been the values of several other notable sales of metalcasting operations in the recent weeks, many of these at bankruptcy auctions. This is an unfortunate fact, but it’s not the point I’d emphasize.

I’d point instead to the encouraging effect of individuals who want to invest in the future of domestic metalcasting. They’re linking their own fortunes to the future of foundries and diecasters, because they understand the details of the industry, and they know how it works and how it will thrive. Their examples are worthy of our gratitude. In time, they may be deserving of even greater recognition.

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