In the more than 20 years since solidification simulation software has been available to metalcasting operations it has grown from a “nice-tohave” showpiece to a “need-to-have” engineering tool. At that time, simulation required expensive investments for both the software and the computer hardware to run it, the latter of which sometimes cost more than the software. Simulation appeared to be expensive, it took a long time to calculate data, and the results showed almost nothing that was useful.
A lot has changed since then, especially in today’s world of casting process simulation and autonomous optimization. Computer hardware is not as expensive or as large as a semi-truck anymore. Project turnaround has been reduced from six weeks to six hours or less on standard computer equipment — and to a fraction of this time when using high-end computer hardware. Result resolution has increased twentyfold. The accuracy of the results and the additional features that are available now were not even considered years ago.
The primary roadblock to foundries adopting simulation tools is their perception that the software is too expensive. The cost of casting process simulation software may be shocking if one does not look past the sticker price. Once the price is presented, many foundry managers will reject the idea and never realize the benefits. Here is an example all metalcasters will appreciate: An imaginary foundry with a $5-million/year operation produces 5% of scrap castings. If simulation can reduce the scrap from 5% to 4%, the potential savings are $50,000.00. No commercially available simulation tool will cost that much, assuming a one-year return on investment (ROI).
What other savings can be considered? Some managers will maintain that for the cost of simulations, they can run several trials and still save costs, making simulation software seem costineffective. How accurate is this?
A pattern is designed and built, shipped to the foundry and put onto the molding line. Samples are made and checked, but then may have to be scrapped due to poor quality. Possible pattern changes are discussed: perhaps some can be implemented instantly – but perhaps not. Maybe the pattern has to be returned to the tool shop. The next sampling is planned soon and will be better (one hopes.)
Thoughout all this, the customer needs to be kept informed, given explanations as to what is happening and why it is not working, what are the problems, what are the possible solutions – and how much longer it will take before he can receive the high quality casting that he ordered, and that the foundry wants to supply.
All of these steps represent waste for the foundry, including wasted production time, wasted tool shop time, and wasted engineering capability averaging $1,200-$2,500/trial (at least.) Most important, however, this procedure is risking the customer’s trust in the metalcaster.
Customers rightly expect their jobs to be done right the first time, without explanations or delays. Why should they return to this foundry when they can receive high-quality castings the first time at a shop that uses simulation? Customer satisfaction means customer retention – and simulation software helps to assure customer satisfaction.
How do you find the simulation software that best suits your needs — and your budget? For a company that has never considered simulation software, the selection process can be a tough one. Start by contacting the vendors you recognize by name, search published reports and case studies, attend meetings and presentations. Better still, ask your customers or successful competitors what they recommend. Once you have the right names, apply the selection processes you use for other vendors.
Consider the history and structure of the supplier: How long has it been supplying sofware? Is it an independent vendor or a small department in a large firm? Is it profitable? Can it continue to develop and supply software even when a key team member leaves?
Consider the specific needs of your operation. Where is the vendor located? It’s difficult to work with someone who’s operation is several time zones away. Review the size of the company and the level of support it provides: Do they have enough competent engineers who understand your casting process? Two or three engineers might seem enough – as long as one isn’t in the field, a second at an exhibition, and the third is unfamiliar with your process. Your business can’t afford to wait days for the right answer.
Obviously, consider the software itself. In advertisements and brochures, every software supplier seems to promise the same thing: Their software is the fastest and easiest to use, with the most features, and they provide the best results, perfect customer support, and training, etc. You will be lost in details faster than you can throw the brochures in the trash.
Select two or three vendors, invite them to your plant, give the engineer the required CAD files of a part you have now in a production, and watch them set up the project. The simulation should run to the end and the vendor should give you a result presentation and recommendations about their findings at your facility. Rule out any vendors who do not do this. Then, compare the results and recommendations to your experiences with the same casting.
After all this, you’ll understand what it takes to simulate your process and how accurate the results may be. Select the most promising simulation software and take a three-month trial license. If you are not completely satisfied with the results or service, test the next software. You cannot afford software that seems affordable but costs more because it delivers the wrong results. It’s a challenge, but these steps will lead you to the software that suits you best and to a vendor with whom you can work for a long time. Once you’ve found the right software, you’ll realize benefits almost from the first day. The right software, used consistently creates an efficient process, reduces overall costs, satisfies current customers, and brings in new customers — and it will take a lot of tension out of your day.
Christof Heisser is president, and Ralf Kind is diecasting application manager, both with MAGMA Foundry Technologies, Schaumburg, IL. Visit www.magmasoft.com